The Magnolia season is well and truly with us, the weather conditions have been perfect for these magnificent deciduous trees to bloom in profusion and for such an extended period with no damaging frost to talk of.
Magnolia campbellii is native to the Himalayas and western China. Associating well with the tree species Rhododendron predominantly around 2500 – 3300m on mountain sides.
The cultivar ‘Charles Raffill’ has much deeper colour through the tepals, a deep rosy purple.
It pays to look up into the canopies at this time of year although; quite often it is the carpet of fallen petals at your feet that gives away the beauty above.
This is the time of year for young growth to exhibit some, not all, of their best characteristics. The young foliage of Anemone x hybrid is pushing through the soil. Sturdy leaf petioles are covered in dense fine hairs. The leaves, a delicate bronze upper surface and showing a frosty white reverse.
An interesting article, it puts our Garden into perspective, here we cultivate plants. Also our role to explore and explain the world of plants becomes all the more essential in promoting the importance of the plant kingdom.
Filling an alpine trough with colour is Primula marginata, a native to the Alps. The rosette of evergreen foliage is toothed around the edges and white farina is found on both the upper and underside of the leaves. Older plants gain a woody appearance as the stem elongates with each growing season, shedding the lower leaves.
A variable species in flower, having a colour range from dark purple through to white, resulting in many named cultivars within the horticultural trade.
On a warm day a faint, most unusual scent, a mix of wood smoke and aged tobacco can be discerned emanating from the flowers. Several flowers are held on a flimsy peduncle.
Maintain a weed free root zone.
Water establishing plants in a prolonged dry spell.
Only cut when the bird nesting season is over.
Forming the shape
Initial pruning should be with sharp secateurs. As the hedge thickens use hand shears. When the shape is formed electric or petrol hedge trimmers. It goes without saying that all blades should be sharp and clean. Sap builds up and dries on blades, this then results in a poor cut.
Showing up as shredded cut ends that brown off in the wind.
Straight sides and an even flat top are the easiest to cut.
If you let the hedge grow above 1.8m tall then consider tapering the top to a point. This allows cutting from the ground, saving time and effort with a ladder.
At the end of the day you are the one looking at the hedge, the shape you form it is your choice.
Deciding on ultimate height
What do you want to screen? From where?
Sit in the garden and decide on your sight lines to block out undesirable views.
When to cut
Evergreens in very early spring; deciduous species when dormant.
Never during the nesting season. Avoid cutting during freezing conditions.
How to cut
Stay firmly on the ground cutting as much as possible. Once you go above ground level onto steps stability becomes an issue and the propensity for an accident increases.
Always make sure steps are well grounded and do not stretch to reach and cut the last section; move the steps. We don’t all have access to a mobile elevated work platform!
Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna, the stock fence on farmland. Deciduous, spiny, flowering, berrying and impenetrable to livestock. These days, often cut with a tractor mounted flail mower. Craftsmen traditionally lay a hedge to strengthen the base and promote fresh growth. Equally suited as a garden boundary hedge and will respond well to an annual trim. The other way to use it is part of a mixed species hedge, combined with a selection of evergreen and deciduous species.
Ilex aquifolium, Prunus lusitanica, Viburnum opulus, Fagus sylvatica, Rosa rugosa. Source a selection of these plants. Mix them randomly and plant in a double staggered row to form the hedge. Over the years these will knit together and provide year round interest.
Tsuga heterophylla, the Western Hemlock, neat and dense, withstands close clipping and retains its shape. A tree of forest proportions in its native Western North America. A Pacific coast plant introduced to Scotland in 1852 as seed from the collector John Jeffrey, previously a gardener at RBGE.Jeffrey, although not as famous as David Douglas, travelled extensively from Hudson Bay in 1850 through North America until he was no longer heard from in 1854.
T. heterophylla has two other characteristics as a hedge, by mid-summer the even fresh growth gives the hedge a soft appearance. During autumn myriad cobwebs cling to the sides of the hedge and show up in the seasonal droplets of mist that cling to the webs. At the Bio Blitz of June 2013, 15 species of spiders were recorded – 14 of them were new Garden records. Hedges again proving their worth as ecological habitat.
If you have been watching the Masters 2014 Golf from Augusta, Georgia, USA you may have spotted the Rhododendrons (Azaleas) in flower particularly at the 12 and 13 holes; there will be an equally spectacular display at RBGE in the coming weeks. One of the first to flower on the Azalea Lawn is Rhododendron (Azalea) albrechtii from Japan.
When does a hedge become a windbreak? The attached image illustrates Ilex growing in the Garden. As a windbreak the plants are left to grow, gaining not just height but spread also. An increase in width, annually encroaching into the surrounding planting, if not curtailed will smother out desirable plantings. On a regular cycle these gigantic Holly’s are pruned back ruthlessly, always re-growing to shelter the garden and its collection. As a hedge we cut the Holly once a year, composting the clippings.
Hedges are integral to the design and ecology of the garden. Forget the quick fix provided by larchlap panels, take time to make a choice of the many species that will give privacy, act as a windbreak, divide areas and provide a home to insects, birds and shelter to many mammals. A hedge is indeed greater than the sum of its parts, and adds to the biodiversity of the area. Hedges are structures that benefit from initial soil preparation, remember these are planted by you and have the potential to be in place a century later. Double dig the stretch of ground incorporating, ideally, well-rotted farm yard manure into the bottom of the trench. The roots will soon draw down into this zone and your investment in this preparation will soon show in extension growth. A favoured species to plant as a hedge; Beech, Fagus sylvatica. One proviso, choose seedlings that are collected from a tree of low elevation provenance. The Beech hedge in the Garden here has a leaf unfurling date around mid-April. There are seasonal variations depending on the weather, 10th April being the earliest and 28th the latest. Keep your eyes open as you travel about Edinburgh and compare when other Beech hedges leaf out. There is a 6 week variation between earliest and latest date. Choose wisely, ask the nurseryman. The longer growing season from an early flushing plant will result in a better formed hedge sooner than later. At the end of the first growing season when dormancy has set in and outwith a spell of heavy frost, with secateurs, lightly cut back the previous season’s growth to form the shape of the hedge. If the hedge is at the back of a border the young plants are easily swamped by competing vegetation. Through the summer make sure this does not occlude light from the base of the hedge. The lower shoots when young are susceptible to die back when swamped with competing foliage. If this happens there will be an open bare base to the hedge. Not a desirable look. It will take three growing seasons for the individual plants form a hedge that provides a worthwhile screen and depth of cover to attract nesting birds. From the first season there will be habitat benefit, raising the ecological stakes in your garden.
The mature specimens of Maytenus boaria seen in the garden are laden with flower buds. As these open the four yellow anthers are prominently displayed proud of the sepals. Should the sun make an appearance the nectar glands at the base of the flower will provide plentiful food for bees.
These minute globular flower buds cluster the leaf axils on last season’s growth. An evergreen tree with substantial trunk the canopy develops into a pendulous, wide spreading mass of branches.
A native to Chile and Argentina where cattle feed on the leafy growth forming a characteristic browse line.