As I weeded by the entrance to the garden and chopped at bramble roots with my pick axe, reflecting regretfully that tinier and weedier stems of bramble would grow back from the small remaining pieces of root and that there was nothing to be done about that short of an excavation larger and deeper than I was prepared to carry out, I got to the point where some of the roots I wanted to attack were underneath the large builders' bag of gravel that has been sitting there for months. I was afraid when I ordered two bags that it would take me for ever to use both of them, but the hassle of having gravel delivered is so great that I decided to double up anyway, then I wouldn't have to do it again for longer.
Weeding the railway gravel made a nice change from digging out bramble and sea buckthorn roots, all that finger tip tweaking. It is real finger tip work: by yesterday afternoon I'd worn through the index finger of my right hand glove doing it. Once a patch of gravel is clean there is the pleasure of tipping a top-up shovelful of new gravel over it, tucking it carefully around the crowns of the plants and brushing any stray stones off them.
The Whetman pinks are starting to do very nicely, now that they are not being grazed off by rabbits as fast as they can grow. I gave them a sprinkling of blood, fish, and bone back in the spring, which they seem to have appreciated. They are now good bushy little plants and flowered this year, though they are not yet meeting up to form a continuous mat of foliage, which was the idea when I planted them.
The perennial, spiny, grey leaved, pink flowered Alyssum spinosum 'Roseum' has perked up too after feeding and a few really good showers through the growing season. They are still very tiny, but at least they are no longer half full of small dead branches. They are supposed to like good drainage, but there is good drainage and then there is our garden. Antennaria dioica is truly happy, making spreading mats of grey, spoon shaped leaves. Earlier in the summer they were covered in fluffy, pink clusters of flowers on little stalks. Other alpines have found the whole desert experience too much. I have lists, rather depressing in the circumstances, of what I planted there and in many cases I should be hard pressed to match up the names with the sorry remains. Dwarf hebes do not cope with dry sand beyond a certain point, whatever articles about plants for dry gardens may say.
Round the corner from the railway and towards the entrance, the southern African species Berkheya purpurea is making ever spreading clumps of grey, scallop edged leaves, flowering, and in a sign that it likes conditions in the gravel is seeding itself about. So is the rosette forming Eryngium eburneum, so named because the small, prickly ball shaped flowers are white rather than the more usual bluish grey. There is one Eryngium of the sea holly type that has flowers of a more electrifying shade of blue than any of the others, and I must try and work out which it is so that I can add some more. I planted several different sorts, and since I didn't want the hamsters' graveyard effect of labelling them all individually it can be tricky several years down the road to work out which is which.
All of the dwarf pines are doing very well. If you have an extremely sandy site you could do much worse than dedicate it to a collection of small pines. I sometimes think I should have done the entire front garden as gravel with south African exotics, flints and pines, and not had a conventional border at all, then I remember how much work weeding the gravel is.