A Major Conversion Project.

Yet another Epimedium project to report on, I’m afraid. Wishing to make as good a National Collection as possible and and having acquired a considerable number of new Epimediums, we have been looking for more suitable areas to plant them out, within our limited space.

Once again, the aquatic side of our garden has taken a hit.

There were three concrete raised ponds arranged so that pumped water would over flow from the highest to the lowest.These were built nearly forty years ago and all were leaking, to the point that major repairs would be needed for them to function properly again, as ponds. Also over those years they have become rather shaded by surrounding Magnolias, for aquatic plants to give of their best.

Therefore back in mid September, we started the not inconsiderable task of converting the highest of the three ponds into a raised bed for Epimediums and other shade tolerant plants.

The first job was to pump out the water and to remove the aquatic plants. There were a couple of Peltandra plants which we moved to a new home, but a car full of mostly Iris pseudacorus var.bastardii went to be recycled at our local rubbish tip.

There were three brick built waterlily boxes and a brick retaining wall holding back coarse gravel in an ‘under-gravel’ filter. The soil from the lily boxes was bagged up for later use as was the gravel. The brick boxes and wall were then broken up with a sledge hammer.

I have been hankering for a concrete breaker for years to be told by the better half, I didn’t have enough possible future use to justify buying one. In a fantastic piece of syncronicity or fate, on the day I needed to start breaking up the bottom of the pond, Screwfix sent me an E-mail where their budget concrete breaker was £20.00 off, as a deal of the day. I was permitted to buy this impressive tool, and wasn’t I glad I did? I had forgotten that I had built the pond to hopefully see me out. The bottom was about 6 inches thick of good concrete, reinforced with chicken wire. The chicken wire would have made it nigh on impossible for an old man with a sledgehammer to break it up. As it was, it took quite a few sessions to puncture through the majority of the concrete bottom with the breaker. The broken bricks were spread over the broken concrete, plus other hardcore from around the garden and donated by our friendly builder. Over this went the filter gravel, some odd bags of dirty pea shingle and old aquarium gravel. We also had two sacks of old nylon pot scourers which had formed a ‘state of the art’ koi filter in the 1980s which went in the hole to help fill the void. The lily box muddy earth went over this.

Eighteen months earlier our next door neighbour got us to remove his small front lawn, as it was constantly being dug up by badgers. When we did this we found a lot of cockchaffer grubs which were obviously the cause of the badger activity.

About a cubic yard of the turf and soil which had been in plastic bags for well over a year was used next in the pond. Much to our surprise, there were cockchafer grubs still alive in the long dead turf. With all the above materials in the hole, there was still about 20 inches of soil and growing medium needed, to fill the remainder of the bed. At the end of the day it took 5 ton bags of soil, 20 builders’ bags of sharp sand, 6 x 150 litre bails of peat and 6 x 75 litre bags of multipurpose compost, to complete the job.

Three Japanese Maples have now been planted for structure and about thirty Epimediums plus a few Roscoeas, snowdrops and Cyclamen, to give a longer season of interest. A dozen or so of the Epimediums are new French hybrids from Thierry Dellabroye.We are waiting with a good deal of anticipation to hopefully see many of them flower for the first time for us.

When we are feeling strong again, we may start changing the other two ponds into raised woodland beds. Fortunately from the work and back filling point of view, the two together are probably smaller than the one we have completed.

Up Date to Saint Jude Storm Post.

As I suspected would happen, the Magnolia ‘Royal Crown which snapped off at about six feet, in the Saint Jude Storm, has re-grown with a vengeance. Some of the many shoots are now close to an inch thick and six feet tall. They have had very large leaves and I have been worried that some of the vigorous new growths might have broken out in strong winds, but so far so good. When all the leaves have fallen off, we will be able to see which of the many new shoots are best placed to form a new framework of trunks and branches to form a pleasantly shaped new tree. The remaining excessive growth will be cut off cleanly at the trunk or shortened back to form minor branches.  I am hopeful that the tree may produce flowers in the spring of 2016.

More Epimedium News!

The new bed just described, has been planted for several weeks, with our order of bare-root Epimedium plants from Koen Van Poucke. The plants received from him last autumn and planted in the air-raid shelter greenhouse, have been assessed and the strongest ones lifted and carefully divided. This has given us between 2 and 4 good plants with the odd extra little piece needing closed case care, following planting in tiny pots. Some of these have rooted out within a few weeks.

A second smaller fibre glass pond has also been converted into an additional Epimedium Nursery bed, by having drainage holes drilled in the base and filling with a suitable compost mix. The bed is now on the greenhouse bench, where it should be safe from badger activity. It has had a few small holes dug in it, I think, by squirrels. The bed has been planted with some of rhe divided Koen Van Poucke plants which were too many for the air-raid shelter green house.

Five round polypropylene water tanks have been converted from water plant tanks to planting tubs by adding drainage holes and soil etc. Where they are sited is now too shady for aquatics, but should be fine for Epimediums. We have planted running root types such as E. leptorrhizum ‘Mariko’, E.shuichengense and E. macrosepalum which will be contained nicely by the tubs.