The Systems Administrator gave some of the gravel back to me. The return loop on the garden railway was deemed an engineering failure, the curve of the loop being too tight so that trains kept derailing and the total length of track being more than the SA could maintain. Instead the little trains will go out and back up one side of the gravel behind the long bed, with some sidings, and the SA has been ripping up the extra track over the summer. I get a bonus space, previously bisected by the turning loop, where I can find homes for some more sun and drainage loving plants.
First off the blocks was an agapanthus. I think it is probably A. inapertus, but I am not quite sure. Originally it was in a pot, where it didn't do much, so I planted it in the gravel of the turning circle, optimistically shoehorning it into a gap where it was overshadowed by lavenders in the summer and still didn't do much. While it was in its pot it lost its label, since when and until it does something more decisive I am not sure which sort of agapanthus it is. It has slender leaves, more evergreen than some varieties, which fits the description of A. inapertus, and my records tell me I did have one in a pot, but I'd be more confident of the identification if it would flower. I turfed all the agapanthus out of their pots into the ground a couple of years ago, apart from the fat leaved tender evergreen ones, after noticing how much better the ragtag and bobtail of mostly nameless seedlings were flowering in the gravel than their cossetted named cousins in pots. Greenhouse space is always at a premium in the winter, so wasting it on plants that didn't even perform as well as the ones grown outside seemed silly.
The agapanthus lifted out of the ground much more easily than I was afraid it would, proof of how little it had done to establish itself since I planted it out. I worked some mushroom compost into the planting hole and might have to go and water it occasionally in the summer, but I hope it will be happier in its new home. The roots looked white and healthy enough, so with any luck it will get going next year. A dark blue one and a white that were liberated at the same time flowered generously this year, after doing practically nothing in their pots.
Next in were five Rhodiola rosea, rooted from bits chiselled off a parent plant that is gradually disappearing under a conifer. This used to be classed as a sedum, and has the same general vibe. From a central, fleshy, lumpy, pinkish-purple rootstock emerge radiating arms in spring, from which fleshy, grey, wavy edged leaves stick out at right angles. At the end of each shoot is carried a tuft of small yellow flowers. By this stage of the year the arms have shrivelled to thin wisps, and after I'd planted my first crown in the gravel I spent some time looking for it as it disappeared into the pinkish, brownish background of chippings. I found it again after a fingertip search of the area, peering over the top of my gardening spectacles, eyes watering copiously in the cold wind.
I wanted to get them planted out now because I was worried about overwintering them in their small pots. It's so easy to over water that sort of thing and find come spring that it has rotted, or else let it dry out completely in the attempt to not over water it and so kill it that way. I was vaguely worried that they might be slightly tender and I might be pushing it planting them out in November but that is completely wrong according to Wikipedia. In the wild they grow in the cold regions of the world including much of the Arctic, the Alps, the Carpathian Mountains, the Pyrenees and Iceland. On that basis I am sure that north Essex will be absolutely fine.
I never realised until I Googled it just now that Rhodiola possesses all sorts of medicinal properties (or at least is credited with them). For promoting physical and cognitive vitality, lightening your skin, promoting fat loss, combating hair loss, fighting depression, strengthening the nervous system, and balancing the body's stress response system, Rhodiola rosea is good for them all. I am not sure it will cure housemaid's knee, but it seems it will treat everything else.
I was pushing my luck more with the latest batch of seed raised Belamcanda chinensis, now Iris domestica. If we get a hard winter I may yet lose the lot, but I wanted to get them planted out for much the same reason. I certainly couldn't leave them in their pots on the concrete, which meant finding them space in the greenhouse or one of the cold frames. All are going to be stuffed to the gunnels as it is, and I risked the iris either rotting or dessicating. The superb drainage provided by the gravel in the front garden has kept some potentially tricky characters like Morina longifolia going for years, and I thought the Iris domestica would be as safe there as anywhere.