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A touch of light

28 March 2014

By Jamie Cable


I WAS reminded this week to praise God "for dappled things", as Gerard Manley Hopkins put it. I was working in the Goldsmiths' Company garden, in London, under two mature plane-trees in a microcosm of flickering light. The spring sun has gained sufficient elevation to reach over the surrounding buildings, and, with leaves on the trees only just emerging, the clear light can briefly saturate the woodland planting before the summer canopy is in place.

Ground level has something of a seabed quality to it, and certain plants are shining now, and belong to this twinkly world that peaks in April. The gardener's touch needs to be especially light in this habitat, and, even then, Nature's bluebell woods and hedgerows will outshine us. As always, it is to wild-plant habitats we need to turn for inspiration.

Epimediums are native to woodlands and shady rocky places, from Turkey to eastern Asia. Their flowers quiver in the breeze, which explains their common name, Fairy Wings. Other common names for the same plant are Bishop's Hat, and a string containing words such as "rowdy", "randy", and most explicitly, "horny". These relate to the genus containing icariin, akin to the active ingredient of Viagra; but I digress. Best stick with Latin.

Euphorbia x versicolor "Sulphureum", which has sprays of yellow, is perhaps the most reliable garden performer. Epimedium x warleyense is less vigorous, but more striking, with coppery orange and yellow flowers. Both contrast well with violet-blue Aquilegia alpina, the first of the columbines to bloom.

The white dicentra is getting into its stride: its fleshy, glaucous shoots unfurl day by day, tipped by buds that will soon become lockets dangling from arching stems. I am not keen on the candy-pink of the straight species, but the crimson cultivar "Bacchanal" is sumptuous in a spotlight of sun.

Uvularia grandiflora is equally dainty, but less commonly seen. The drooping clusters of slim, clear-yellow bells are showing against a foil of the fresh ferny foliage of Sweet Cicely, Myrrhis odorata. The latter is a beautiful plant if you want the cow-parsley look without such rampant self-seeding.

The scene under the planes is held together by late daffodils: pale varieties that do not outdo the herbaceous woodlanders. "W. P. Milner" shifts from pale straw to creamy white, and "Thalia" is pure white - it is a triandrus type; so it has several blooms to each stem, giving a feeling of abundance. Both have a quaint, old-fashioned quality.

As a contrast to the pale yellows and whites, Anemone blanda "Ingramii", and Brunnera macrophylla provide splashes of intense blue.

If parts of your garden have the promise to be a dappled underworld, but have become too heavy and dingy with evergreens, April is the perfect month to get the loppers out and redress the balance. Shrubs such as laurel, privet, and yew all respond well to drastic pruning to reduce their height or thin their framework. Let there be light!


Sat 28 May @ 16:41
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