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December 2004

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Nepalese lilies, mulching, sempervivums and a special peony.

The trees guarding the western boundary of my garden are mostly birch and they form a pleasing light and airy background. In the past two years they have made a great leap forward and I've had to wade in and trim the lower branches. More drastic action was called for with a
sycamore which had suddenly expanded. Previous experience had taught me to act sooner rather than later and so one sycamore has bit the dust. Some of the branches will be used to renew path edgings in the woodland area. I'm hoping that with all this culling and cutting back more light will penetrate this area and help to encourage better flowering by the underlying plants. It is astonishing how much darker and drier this area has become in a few years. The most striking new plant to flower here this year was Lilium nepalense, green-tinged with purple at the base of the flower. More leaf mould is prescribed for this beauty. Although I have been giving the area a generous mulch every spring it soon disappears and constant topping up is necessary to preserve the woodland effect.

Some plants such as this lily instantly appeal. I often refer to it as the ‘wow' factor. The genus Sempervivum has a more subtle, gentle appeal with rosettes of varying sizes and hues. The flowers are of minor consequence. Over the years I have accumulated quite a range and even though the names have mostly disappeared I enjoy their quiet charm. Plants that I bought a few years ago have been slowly expanding into decent-sized clumps. Up to now they have been scattered through the alpines on four raised beds and are somewhat lacking in impact. I have decided to increase this impact by building a new raised bed and planting it almost exclusively with sempervivums. The situation is more shady than I would like but I have given the plants the good drainage they deserve. It is rather small, being just about two metres square, but big enough to display my modest collection. My only concession to bright colour will be a few dwarf bulbs for early spring. In any event I'm always glad to have a reason to plant more of these. Puschkinia and chionodoxa die down fairly quickly and should be ideal.

The most striking new plant to flower here this year was Lilium nepalense...

A genus that definitely has the ‘wow' factor is Paeonia. The many hybrids are grown for their startling colours and beauty of form, but the species are even more desirable. I have been slowly assembling some choice species here. Many of the best peonies are difficult to locate and expensive. Growing from seed is easy but painfully slow. My favourite at present is Paeonia obovata var. alba, probably the most beautiful plant in the garden.

 

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