A pound hole for a penny plant

I had never heard this expression before Monday evening when it was used by Kevin Hughes in his talk to the Surrey PH group about Woodland Gardening.  The truth of the saying – concerning the importance of preparation, can apparently allow plants, normally described as disliking alkaline soils, to survive in chalky earth – good news for someone who gardens on the slopes of the North Downs.

There was also some myth busting about hardiness – some plants can survive the occasional short sharp shock of minus 18oC, but a prolonged spell of minus 2oC will finish something off, especially if combined with NE winds where desiccation can be the final insult.

However not all pH advice can be ignored and if you have an alkaline soil and yearn to grow Hamamelis, Cornus officinalis ‘Kintoki’ is a very good substitute.  Similar flowers on naked stems, it ‘likes’ dry alkaline soils, although it will also grow in damp soils, it has fruits which can be made into jam, it has good autumn colour and attractive peeling bark in winter.  It sounds like one of those plants that people ask for on GQT.  All it is lacking is scent.

For perfume you need a Daphne and Kevin recommended D. bholua ‘Darjeeling’,  which starts flowering at or before Christmas and has a delicious fragrance.  D. ‘Jacqueline Postill’ is the one everyone knows and is generally recommended, but apparently since the major propagator of this cultivar stopped producing, there is a shortage, despite 34 nurseries being listed in the Plant Finder as carrying it.  Although Kevin does supply it, he has to disappoint many customers every year.

The talk continued with many suggestions as alternatives to the more well-known cultivars.  Mahonia x media ‘Lionel Fortescue’ outperforms M. ‘Charity’.  Magnolia stellata ‘Jane Platt’ flowering now misses most of the frosts and is one of the plants which can cope in an alkaline soil if it is deep and fertile.   Ribes laurifolium Rosemoor form, also flowering now with lime green blossom which stands out well in shade, it is a lax shrub which can be used as ground cover or grown around a tree and some leaves colour up in autumn.

For daffodils Kevin favours the natural look and recommended Narcissus bulbocodium var. citrinus  as one of the best for naturalising; mostly grown from seed it takes three years to flower.  Narcissus bulbocodium ‘Ice Warrior’ a white hoop daffodil is sterile and has to be grown from bulbs  and Narcissus moschatus the beautifully named swan necked daffodil from the Pyrenees adds cool and subtle elegance to the mix.

Plants which ‘sulk’ might not be because of the situation or your treatment – they might just be poor specimens.  Kevin says many Trilliums are taken from the wild and so have suffered poor treatment en route to the sales table.  With patience Trillium cuneatum will grow and clump up, a good specimen of Trillium grandiflorum f. polymerum ‘Flore Pleno’ is never cheap and a superior clone, if ethically sourced, is the group of Trillium rugelii Askival hybrids.  Kevin suggested using small evergreens to act as windbreaks for your Trilliums.

With no pictures to break it up, you’ve probably had enough text by now, (there is a list of most of the plants suggested at the end of this post) – so here’s a photo of the fabulous ‘Flower of the Month’ competition held by the Surrey group at their winter talks.

Flower of the Month

Points are awarded and there is a trophy at the end of the year.  April’s selection was particularly good; in first place the white Camellia, second the classically shaped tulip and third the Narcissus on the left of the picture.

Keith’s list of Woodland Plants

Allium unifoliumvery pretty and flowers over other things.
Holboellia latifoliaevergreen climber can be clipped, flowers until May, powerfully fragrant.
Akebia quinatacream flowered – keep pruning to get spurs which flower in the spring. Magnolia × loebneri ‘Wildcat’ Magnolia ‘Mary Bee’ – has seed pods 80cm long and almost never suffers with frost.
Magnolia ‘Daphne’ – is a really good yellow which grows througout the UK.
Magnolia liliiflora ‘Raven’ a dark form which looks best against its leaves.
Magnolia laevifoliadwarf from Yunnan, evergreen, v hardy, scented and has red fruit. Magnolia × wiesenerimassive flowers and perfume.
Sanguinaria canadensis f. multiplex – often written as a peat loving but likes a neutral or slightly alkaline, sunny well drained soil.
Sanguinaria canadensisex Tennessee is even better.
Erythronium are supposed not to like alkaline soil. E. revolutumdoes very well on an alkaline soil if it is rich and deep.
Uvularia grandifloracan cope with sunshine, but not competition. It is vulnerable when first planted, once established it is fine – keep slugs away for the first couple of years. Kevin uses coffee as slug deterrent.
Arisaema utilespectacular.
Cypripedium formosanum – wild orchid.
Hylomecon japonicaneeds well drained soils but OK with alkaline soil.
Anemone sylvestris – despite its name doesn’t really like woodland, likes open ground, even coast.
Anemonella thalictroidesex Ozarks – some is now available by micropropagation. Thalictrum ichangenseslug prone.
Thalictrum tuberosumhappy in alkaline soil.
Corydalis ‘Spinners’ – very durable and can been grown in hanging baskets smells of gardenias.
Aconitum napellus Anglicum Group – have lovely lime green leaves, foil for other plants. Fothergilla × intermedia ‘Mount Airy’ – does need an acid soil.
Viburnum plicatum ‘Thunbergs Original’ – double version.
V. plicatum f. tomentosum ‘Mariesii’ needs space, don’t grow it where it will have to be pruned back.
Viburnum sargentii ‘Onondaga’ – gives autumn colour even on alkaline soil.
Dipelta yunnanensis – needs sun or light shade, has good seed heads and autumn colour. Desmodium elegansdeciduous shrub with pea like pink flowers.
Schizophragma integrifoliuma better option than climbing hydrangeas.
Paeonia lactiflora ‘Cringley White’ – grows better in the shade which also gives some frost protection.
Impatiens tinctoriagrows to 1.5 m if the stems are buried deep in warm woodland. Gardenia jasminoides ‘Kleim’s Hardy’ – hardy

Enjoy your Easter Gardening – the rain in the South East has forced me indoors today after two brilliant days making inroads in the list of jobs.


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