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March 2013

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Daphne, star magnolia, trillium seedlings and excessive moisture

Notebook East

Barry Murphy

This year saw a dramatic display of winter-flowering Daphne
‘Jacqueline Postill' and sweet box or sarcococca, both valuable shrubs with
highly fragrant flowers which will carry on over a longer period. These were
joined by hellebores, winter aconites and the superb early robust flowering
snowdrop, Galanthus atkinsii. How
more enjoyable this early winter woodland garden is with the fragrance of the
daphnes in particular, making tasks such as clearing up Bowles' Golden sedge
and other grasses much more enjoyable.

I had previously transplanted several very large specimens of the daphne together with other
evergreens, including Aucuba japonica and Myrtus lechleriana early last
autumn. The daphne rootballs were undercut earlier in the year and this
technique has already guaranteed success with this difficult-to-transplant
plant. I also planted several new choice Cotoneaster x watereri from cuttings taken a year ago. This is a superb cotoneaster, a small tree about five metres high and as much across, giving a magnificent display of scarlet berries every year from October to December where the berries ultimately provide a feast for birds.
This contrasts well with several specimens of the equally good Cotoneaster ‘Exburiensis' with its
yellow berries.

I also transplanted later in November deciduous Magnolia ‘Leonard
Messel' (shown) and Magnolia stellata through
the hellebore beds. Magnolia stellata
is perhaps the very best magnolia for a small garden as it is very compact,
slow-growing and thrives in heavy limy soils when enriched with lots of organic
matter. It flowers from a very early stage in March and April, an added bonus.
These benefited from undercutting earlier in the year also.

I made up several new beds to accommodate trillium seedlings. These beds were dug to 50cm deep and
filled with new loamy soil and well enriched with organic matter. Newly made
beds can take some time to settle down to restore the normal capillary actions
that draws up moisture. Companion planting, especially those with roots of a
fibrous nature will considerably aid this process, as well as organic matter
together with tree and shrub roots. When almost continuous rainfall occurs
after making up such beds, as during last year from autumn and over the winter
period, then newly constructed areas can hold excess moisture for a
considerable time and susceptible species including trilliums and other bulbous
plants can be lost. As precaution, I covered such areas with plastic to shed
water last November and will take the covers off before the onset of growth in

The majority of bulbous species, such as snowdrops, anemone daffodil, crocus, scilla,
colchicum, sternbergia and even nerines, can tolerate our fluctuating rainfall
conditions. The snakeshead fritillary and camassia will even thrive in wetter conditions. However, choice types, such as Narcissus cyclamineus and dwarf hybrids derived from this species, trilliums, erythroniums and most fritillaria species are intolerant of wet conditions over a prolonged period.


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