Plants

Bluebells

For all the rare and unusual pants that we grow at Aberglasney there is still something special about our bluebell woodlands. Bluebells are a British native that are dear to most people. With good management they make an excellent native plant display in most woodland but in Beech woodland they are especially good. 

At Aberglasney we try to keep as many as possible and integrate them with our woodland plant schemes. This does often mean that we have to lift and transplant large numbers when they spread too far. You will either be a gardener who has to weed them out or coax them along. At Aberglasney they are either an aggressive invader or well behaved depending on the spot. 

We find Trollius and Ranunculus to be particularly good partners which is no surprise as these are close relatives of the common buttercup. Both these plants form dense mounds of leaves that disguise the unsightly old leaves of the bluebells. 

There are many more plants that you can mix with bluebells and it usually depends on how wild you want your garden to be. One thing to remember is that mulching will not reduce the amount of bluebells you have in fact it will probably help them multiply. One easy way to keep bluebells in check is to dead head them after flowering. This won’t get rid of them but rather slow down their spread. It really is up to you what you do with bluebells but you can have a good combination of native and exotics that is both tidy and good for the environment. Really it’s a case of the old saying ‘A weed is just a plant in the wrong place’. 

Bolt upright flower spikes of star-shaped, blue or creamy flowers push through the grassy leaves of this elegant bulbous perennial in late spring. It’s vigorous enough to use in a wildflower meadow but does need damp soil. 

Bulbs can be planted in autumn, arranging in drifts for a natural effect. The leaves die back soon after flowering. Camassia leichtlinii and Camassia leichtlinii Semiplena are two beautiful new additions to our woodland areas. 

No matter what the weather they seem to give a good display from late May into early June with certain varieties flowering later in June. What is especially good about them is the wetter the weather the longer they seem to flower. 

Crocus are one of the best early bulbs for bridging the gap between the snowdrops and Narcissus. At Aberglasney we grow a range of different ones and use them in many different ways. 

Crocus ‘Vanguard’ is one of the best performers and is a real stand out in the genus or group that is called Crocus. It is a vernus type and has much larger flowers than the tomasinianus types that we grow a great many of. However what is great about this one is that it is so early, nearly three weeks before other vernus types. The combination of large flowers early in the season means that they stand out far more than the other Crocus. The other advantage is that they flower before the grass really starts to grow so you don’t have issues with mowing. 

Aberglasney has developed a comprehensive collection of Daffodils with representations of all of the different sub-sections of plants in the Narcissus genus. These are seen around the Gardens in galleries and walks. 

The collection currently contains nearly four hundred different types including rare varieties such as Narcissus ‘Segovia’ and will continue to grow over the coming years. The Narcissus or daffodil is the National flower for Wales hence we feel we should have such a large collection. They also have a flowering period which starts in November with Narcissus ‘Cedric Morris’ and finishes in June. In season a map is available which will give you information on where to find all of the different Narcissus in our collection. 

Today there is a huge range of Hellebore (x hybridus types) available in a range of colours from black to pink to yellow; you’ll even find spotted types within the Gardens. 

Unlike many plants Hellebores are mainly grown as strains from seed not named cultivars. This means that each one is an individual and will have its own colour or markings. Once planted Hellebore flower from December through to May in some cases and provide lush green foliage that makes good ground cover for the rest of the year. At Aberglasney they are one of our favourite plants and we use them throughout the Gardens.

What horse chestnuts best offer gardeners is nice young foliage that is often tinged as red or pink as many an Acer. The foliage is followed by striking flowers, conkers and then good autumn foliage. All these different qualities make them really good garden plants. 

A particular favourite at Aberglasney is Aesculus wilsonii which has very neat dark green foliage and huge white flowers. A better one for a small garden is Aesculus californica which spreads from the base and generally has no trunk with more flowers, although these are smaller. If you want something for a particularly small garden then any of the dwarf varieties work well, for example Aesculus pavia ‘Rosea nana’ which is only about two meters tall and covered in apricot pink flowers. There is also a purple leaved form that is even better. The parent plant Aesculus pavia is more of a shrub and fills a large space well. 

So far all the types we have tried at Aberglasney have done well although we find it is best to keep them out of the wind. They seem fine on most soils and even take boggy ground. Buying them is not so simple and you will need to visit a specialist tree or shrub nursery as they are surprisingly uncommon.

We grow several different types of Hydrenga at Aberglasney. The first to flower are the climbing types which are soon followed by the serrata type which are miniature lace caps. From late July through to October the more typical lace caps and mop heads come into flower. There are also more unusual types like the velvety leaved villosa group or the dainty arborescens type. All of which make excellent garden plants especially as they flower in mid and late summer. 

We have used them in an informal way at Aberglasney where they are dotted through different parts of the Gardens. They suit so many different areas including exotic woodlands, typical shrub borders, Asiatic borders and mixed borders. They also mix well with other shrubs especially spring flowering ones and therefore spread the season of interest. We have planted the sprawling Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snow Queen’ next to large leaved yellow Azalea to particularly good effect. 

Other types like the paniculata can be kept quite small – about a metre and a half, and are grown next to foliage plants like Catalpa. These types are useful in large borders near the front as they can add real impact. 

The arborescens types are excellent in shade where the white heads light up the area in mid-summer when colour can be hard to find. These Hydrangea also stay quite short only getting to about a metre and a half and they require very little pruning. 

It is however the very large villosa types that steal the show as they create tremendous impact with their purple lace caps and hairy leaves. We find these do best in sheltered woodland areas at the back of the border and they also seem to hold a respectable flower head for about two months. 

By using different types of Hydrangea through a large area or a whole garden you can create a striking effect. We find it best not to plant them together as is traditionally done; by planting them separately they can be admired individually. These splashes of colour also look good from a distance especially as you always seem to see more than one clump. 

There are many varieties of Iris at Aberglasney, some of our favourite types are Iris bucharica and Iris reticulata ‘Joyce’. The taller types do tend to fall over in our rich soil but they are still well worth trying. Generally the first ones come into flower at the end of January and can often be seen poking through late snow falls, the frost never seems to damage the flowers. 

As a group, early flowering Iris have very different growing requirements to the moisture loving and woodland types we normally grow. They prefer open sunny spots in free draining soil. Generally we grow ours in south facing spots in the ‘Alpinum’ rock garden. Normally they are planted in clumps or closely packed drifts to give the best effect. The bulbs are planted just below the soil surface with a generous covering of gravel over the top. This reduces weeds and helps with drainage, we also find digging plenty of sand into the soil beforehand is a help. 

Generally these types of Iris have rounded leaves rather than flattened fans and look very like onions or leeks. They tend to be short – about fifteen centimetres in height, although there are some types that grow to about a meter tall. They have typical Iris flowers and come in shades of blue, purple and yellow. Some also have a combination of colours or are two toned in the flowers. Most also have exquisite scents that are quite different from other perfumes, although they are subtle so you often need to be on bended knee to enjoy them. 

Aberglasney boasts many rare and unusual types of Magnolia. Amongst our visitors’ favourites are Magnolia ‘Felix Jury‘ and Magnolia macrophylla.  

Magnolia ‘Felix Jury’ was bred in New Zealand by leading Magnolia breeders, Felix and Mark Jury, ‘Felix’ is a stunning new form which, once it reaches 5 – 6 years in age, will produce huge (up to 30cm across) bright pink flowers in early spring. Each flower is impressive in itself but as they appear in good numbers then the overall effect is really spectacular. It will perform best in a sunny spot with protection from strong winds. 

Magnolia macrophylla is rare even in its native habitat of South Carolina, USA, and has the largest leaves of any Magnolia which can be up to 1 metre long, green above and silvery-grey beneath. Established plants have huge and fragrant creamy-white flowers, sometimes up to 30cm in diameter. With such bold foliage Magnolia macrophylla must be grown out of the wind in a sheltered situation and is susceptible to damage by spring frosts until mature. Once established it is fully hardy and a stunning tree. During the spring a map is available which will give you information on where to find all of our different Magnolia. 

Aberglasney’s Malus sargentii Arbour is one of the Gardens most striking features when in full flower. This stunning Crab Apple from Mororan in Japan is situated in Aberglasney’s Lower Walled Garden and is a wonderful sight when it is alive with bees and hums like some kind of natural electric motor. The single white flowers are followed by small cherry-like fruits, which last well into the autumn. 

As a feature it is one of the most asked about in the Gardens and people are always fascinated about how you achieve something like this. 

In fact building features with fruit is quite easy and they can last for a very long time. The important thing is to start with a good solid structure. We nearly always go for galvanised steel or wrought iron as the structure needs to last longer than the tree. The next thing to do is select a suitable fruit tree, in our case we have used an ornamental crab apple but many varieties will work depending on what you want to achieve. 

The next step is to choose the right rootstock for the variety you like; this will determine how quickly it grows. This is important as if it’s too slow it won’t cover the structure and if it’s too vigorous it will outgrow the structure and you will be forever pruning it. The best way to make these decisions is to speak to an expert fruit nursery so that you get the right thing; they can even make one up to order within twelve months. 

Planting is also important as you want the stem close to the upright of your structure, so make sure they don’t have huge footings. Use really good topsoil and then annually mulch with manure so that the tree gets away to a good start. The next thing to do is train the tree up the upright by tying in with string. If you have an arch the stems should be flexible enough to bend over it once they have ripened. Prune off all the shoots that go in the wrong direction to three buds and train side shoots along your cross bars. Then each year in summer and again in winter spur prune (back to three buds) all the one year old growth, keep training the main shoot where you want it to go. 

Over time this will develop into a really good garden feature giving you fruit and interest, it will also really impress the neighbours! 

We also grow many ramblers which provide a wonderful burst of colour as well as scent in early summer. As they are so vigorous they make a big impact and are excellent for covering large walls. They can also be grown as free standing shrubs but they do take up a huge amount of room. 

There are some excellent shrub roses that are much more manageable, we grow the Gallica roses in the formal cloisters where mixed with Lavandula angustifolia and Erigeron karvinskianus put on a wonderful display. 

In recent years we have done a great deal of work with roses – building a rose arbour and planting a huge rose wall. This has led to us looking at how we can use roses in other areas of the Gardens, primarily by mixing them into other mainly informal displays. 

The Rugosa types are extremely useful plants as they flower all summer and make a good foliage plant with hips and autumn colour. They make excellent hedges or screens, we often use them at the back of borders to add height too. 

The great advantage of these roses is that they suffer less disease. Many also have attractive foliage, nice hips and sometimes autumn colour and this means they can be mixed with other shrubs. Another bonus is that many flower in midsummer, a time when it is often hard to get flower in the shrub border. 

We are also trying a great number of old fashioned and wild roses in different areas of the Gardens. This is really exciting as they allow for new combinations and add interest at different times of the year. Generally roses need a fair amount of sun and therefore what you grow with them needs to have the same requirements. When you use shrub roses in borders there is the opportunity to plant next to and under them to give a long season of interest. So far we have tried snowdrops and Hellebore for early spring, Narcissus and Tulip for mid spring and Allium ‘Purple sensation’ for late spring. By this time the roses come into flower and with some variety you will have blooms all season. Cranesbill, Delphinium and Hollyhocks will make great midsummer companions.

For a welcome assurance that the brighter days of spring are on their way, look no further than snowdrops, Galanthus. They are surprisingly varied in height, flower size, shape and even colouring.  

Given a moist soil they will multiply into drifts. Plant freshly-lifted snowdrops when the foliage is just dying back in late spring. If it is not possible to plant in late spring, buying just after flowering when the leaves are still green (‘in the green’) is the next best way of establishing snowdrops. Plant snowdrops in a partly-shaded position in a moist, but well-drained soil with ‘leafmould’ or garden compost incorporated. It is important that the soil does not dry out in summer. 

One of the highlights of spring at Aberglasney is the Tulips. Probably their biggest strength is that they come in a range of colours that are easy to mix. It is not often you see two or three Tulips that don’t match. They also work well with other spring bedding plants which means you can create good displays by mixing Tulip colours that suit the other plants that are in flower. 

In traditional bedding displays we mix Tulips with wall flowers that are usually cream in colour on the parterre. In other parts of the Gardens we mix Tulips with blue Forget-me-nots which look great in large pots or traditional displays. Tulipa ‘Anthracite’ and many of the other maroon varieties look good with forget-me-nots. Although these are not the only spring bedding plants they can be mixed with, combining Tulips with Pansy and Primula can also work well. These types of bedding displays do not need to be formal but can also be inter planted between herbaceous plants and removed and cut back as they finish. This is especially effective in borders that are late into leaf where some early colour is needed. 

One of the best ways of using Tulips is in a border where they mix with early flowering perennials like Pulmonaria, another plant they compliment. We have many different colour combinations at Aberglasney in various borders where they increase the season of interest. You should however always be careful that the colour of the Tulips matches the colour display of the perennials in case they clash. 

Elsewhere in the gardens we have planted wild Tulips called Tulipa sylvestris in the grass in the Cloister Garden. The grass must be left uncut after flowering to allow the bulbs to die back which is an inconvenience but worth it while they flower. There are also many early flowering species of Tulips that are great for the rock garden. We use them in the Alpinum where they are planted in natural drifts. This is something that can be done quite easily at home in a sunny spot. 

One of the best uses of Tulips is in pots and this is something new we have experimented with this year. We plant the bulbs in layers with the tallest at the bottom and the shortest at the top followed by the spring bedding plants. All Tulips really need is free draining soil and a sunny spot and they have a multitude of uses making them excellent garden plants. 

One of our newest projects has been the development of a Wisteria Arch which is truly a long term project. It would be no surprise if the Aberglasney gardeners were still pruning it in one hundred years time. A great deal of thought went into the design of the area and especially the choice of Wisteria.  

After much deliberation we decided to go for the most flamboyant type which is Wisteria floribunda ‘Macrobotrys’ which has arguably the longest racemes of flowers. These huge tassels of blue pea like flowers can get to over a meter in length. However it will be a few years before the plants make full maturity which is when flowering will be at its best. 

The arch, which is more of a tunnel, is just short of thirty meters long and inspired by the famous Wisteria tunnels seen in Kawachi Fuji Garden in Japan. The under planting is a continuation of the Sunken Garden’s hot colour scheme. The idea being that the visitor will work through the cool blue colours and then be greeted by the vibrant oranges, reds and yellows of the Sunken Garden. The adjacent west facing wall is also planted with late flowering Clematis for a second burst of colour latter in the year. 

As a group, Witch Hazel (Hamamelis) are one of the best early flowering shrubs for flower and scent. The flowers appear before the leaves, usually in January, and last until March which means they really stand out.  

They come in a range of colours from red to orange or yellow and also have great autumn colour. Their growth habit can also be useful as they are quite wide without getting too high which avoids concerns about shade and health and safety. 

This characteristic also makes them great for screens or filling corners. When placed next to a dark evergreen leaved shrub the flowers and autumn colour are also set off really well. Equally when backed by blue sky the flowers look fantastic and usually have excellent scent.