Sunday, 27 November 2016

gravel gardening

There was a slight hiatus in the great compost turning project, because I went out for the day on Friday and meanwhile the Systems Administrator was unable to get out to buy any more long screws because by mid-morning the lane was blocked in both directions by road mending equipment.  But yesterday I painted the repairs to the latest bin to be emptied, and this morning I turned the contents of the next bay along into the empty one.  I did not find any rats.  I painted the newly empty bin with dark brown wood stain and asked the SA hopefully if the SA could repair the front, which I had discovered was not so much retaining the contents of the bin as resting on it.  The SA muttered ominously that there weren't many usable lengths of plank left in the stack on the concrete, and I kicked myself that it never occurred to me to scrounge my parents' old decking when they had it renewed in the summer.  I am sure the SA will manage to find something to fix the front of the bin, but it could be nip and tuck by the time we get to the end of the row, as I saw this morning that the next one along has sprung three planks at the back.

Then, as it was quite warm for the time of the year, I spent the rest of the day weeding the garden railway, and managed to find useful homes for five of my tray of twenty-four rooted sedum cuttings.  They are Sedum album 'Coral Carpet', which grown outdoors in sunlight has leaves of a nice reddish bronze, but grown in a slightly shaded greenhouse in late November goes an unremarkable shade of green.  The leaves are tiny, fat and juicy, and it makes steadily spreading mats grown in the gravel that should halt most seedling weeds in their tracks.  It roots ridiculously easily.  I bought one plant in 2014 and could by now have hundreds of them if I wanted to.  I have not tried propagating it from a single leaf, but the tiniest pieces stuck in compost will root in no time, and I don't think I have ever had a single one die.

All sedums are not equally obliging.  I stuck a divided tray with small cuttings of  Sedum oreganum at the same time, and every one of them shrivelled and died.  I have got it to take in the past using larger and thicker sections of stem, but it didn't respond at all well to having the last inch or so nipped off and put in compost.  It doesn't tolerate over watering in its pot, either, even when rooted, and will show its unhappiness by dropping all it leaves.  Generally sedums are very easy to propagate, but it goes to show that it's worth testing your method on a particular variety before going all out and taking loads of cuttings.  I reused the S. oreganum tray for a dark red, prostrate form left over from my experiments with a green roof on the pot shed, whose name unfortunately got lost during the period it was on the roof.  I now have some in pots and more growing in the gravel, and it seems happy with both situations.  I haven't tweaked any of the cuttings yet to see if they're taking, but it normally roots very obligingly.

I picked leaves out of the gravel as I went, now that they are mostly off the trees, and dead headed some of the prostrate thymes I hadn't already done, and reflected once again how gravel gardening is not a low maintenance option.  Or at least, if you use it as a purely decorative mulch on top of Mypex fabric and are able to rake up the leaves, it could be a lower maintenance option than true gravel gardening.  You have to not mind the sight of bits of Mypex popping up round the edges of your planting holes, and you won't get the effect of things self seeding or be able to grow any dwarf bulbs (unless you cut so many holes in the Mypex that it might as well not be there).  But spreading a couple of inches of gravel on top of the soil will not suppress weeds, on the contrary it will provide a wonderful seed bed, and if the area is anywhere near any deciduous trees or shrubs or hedge then at this time of the year you will find dead leaves lodged in every little drought loving miniature pink and thyme plant.

The new generation of cats do seem to have brought the rabbit problem near the house back under control, and I didn't find any freshly nibbled pinks.  Next year we might get some more flowers from the railway garden, and I might buy some more plants to help fill the gaps.  The last trio of prostrate veronica I planted vanished within days, and that kind of thing puts you off rather.

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