The spring flowers have given me extra pleasure this year. It hasn’t been a particularly bleak winter but the various assorted crocuses, daffodils and snowdrops that have dutifully popped up about the place have really brought a smile to my face. It’s clear my gardening horizons are broadening.
Many of these, like the pioneering foxglove, have just moved into my garden by themselves over the years. The celandines are a new visitor – right now they seem to be rudely strangling one of my rhubarb plants, but they are a very pretty woodland flower so I’m going to simply move them to the very back of the garden where they can spread and smother away. I can also see the Welsh poppy foliage beginning to emerge along with that of the aquilegias – a tantalising promise of things to come.
I’m keen to bring more of the wilder horticultural elements of my adopted country into my back garden so I decided to visit the National Botanical Gardens of Wales for some inspiration.
The team at the gardens do a lot of excellent work conserving endangered native wildflowers and have taken great care to recreate some of the protected habitats around Wales where they grow. They’ve learnt to propagate dozens of wild plants from nature reserves such as their own wildflower meadow, Waun Las. Some of these plants are so rare there are only a handful still in existence and as senior horticulturist Ann Maloney explained as she was showing me about; “the worry is that with climate change they could soon disappear altogether”.
Their displays are not your standard wildflower mixes, and at this time of year their recreation of the mountainous habitat of Cwm Idwal in Snowdonia impresses me the most. I have quite a bit of stone and slate in my garden already so I start to wonder what I could do myself at home.
There are some of the rarest plants in the country here but the purple saxifrage is a pretty little alpine plant that is widely available, as is mossy saxifrage which is also rather lovely with its yellow-eyed white flowers.
I follow Ann’s advice to speak to John Fitzpatrick of the Alpine Garden Society to find out what other native Welsh alpines are worth considering for my plot. He recommends Dryas octopetala (also known as mountain avens or creeping oak) which grows in two locations in Snowdonia. It’s an easily spreading white-flowered evergreen. Then there’s Sedum rosea (my favourite alternative names for which include Aaron’s rod and king’s crown), a perennial flowering plant with yellow-green petals which lives at high altitudes. Then finally Silene acaulis (moss campion or the rather twee sounding, cushion pink), which is a hardy alpine evergreen with pink star flowers.
I’m sold on the idea of giving this a go but don’t think a classic rockery is for me. John suggests trying out a crevice garden instead, which sounds appealing. The Welsh slate that I have in relative abundance will work well for this purpose and the key to getting this right (according to John) will be to ensure there is sufficient drainage for the plants; as alpines will not prosper otherwise. I’m rather excited about the prospect of giving it a go and plan to start in an old Belfast sink that we found lying about.
I’m not getting on well with all of the natives however. Some voles that have been overwintering in one of my polytunnels have somehow figured out how to scale the potting benches (which are up high) and have dug out and eaten many of the pea, pumpkin, artichoke and most annoyingly, the entire batch of dhudi seed, that I had recently sown. This has never happened before and I’m baffled as to how these apparently acrobatic creatures have managed it.
While at the Botanic gardens a chat with Blue Barnes-Thomas who works in the double walled garden gives me an idea. He uses garlic spray around and over their newly planted out seedlings as it protects against attack from slugs. They hate it apparently and stay well clear, as do the rabbits. A quick search on the internet later that evening and I find out to my delight that other rodents also hate the smell. We get through a lot of garlic in this house so this is the perfect excuse for me to plant even more. This way I’ll be able to issue a polite but pungent eviction notice to old squeaky and seed-munching pals.
After hearing that slugs are liable to be a tad rampant this year following a relatively mild winter, I’m also going to plant some cloves in each of the raised beds on the veg patch and will probably make up a batch of garlic spray just be on the safe side.
I’m all for getting a bit wild in the garden but sometimes the natives really do need to be tamed.
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