Wednesday, 7 April 2010
A primrose by a river's brim...
This morning I had the pleasure of showing James Hitchmough, Professor of Horticultural Ecology at the University of Sheffield (see http://shef.ac.uk/landscape/staff_minisites/james/), round the gardens here and at Colesbourne Park. His work creating naturalistic communities of herbaceous plants on large scales is extremely exciting, not only through its visual effect but in the diligent science that goes into understanding how such communities work and can be put together, so different to the average unthinking horticultural practice.
The creation of attractive meadow gardens has been a long-standing interest of mine, in a comparatively amateurish way, so it was fascinating to learn more about James's views and research, and to compare notes. In 2003 I acquired a plug tray of about fifty robust plants of Primula rosea (a native of the north-western Himalaya). Inspired by Sir Frederick Stern's account of their success in his garden at Highdown, I planted them in short turf along the edge of the Colesbourne Park lake. Seven years later they are thriving, and provide a flash of remarkably bright colour amid the greens and yellows of the surrounding vegetation. What I can't tell is whether they are self-sowing or not, but the numbers are not diminishing. That area is cut in late June or early July and the primulas evidently don't mind a jot.
One of James Hitchmough's experimental plantings was to establish a mixture of primulas in grass at the RHS Garden Harlow Carr in Harrogate - it was written up in The Plantsman in June 2007, with striking images. Among the species used was P. rosea and it was interesting to learn that it was one of the most persistent of all, despite being overshadowed through the summer by other, leafier species. The conclusion has to be that this is a plant that gets its work done early in the season and can then go dormant without detriment to its growth the following season, despite the retention of apparently useful foliage through the summer (if not cut down or shaded out).