Cambridge University Botanics Mountain Plants Diary
This entry: November 2012 and still flowering by Helen Seal and Simon Wallis
Late November 2012 ?.and still flowering
Here we are in late November and the midday temperature is nearly 10º C. The relatives of our potted alpine plants growing wild on mountainsides will be blanketed by snow, relying on a variety of adaptations for winter survival, and storing energy for re-growth in spring. Without experiencing the climatic triggers of their natural environment, some of our plants here in Cambridge continue flowering, and provide some rival colour to the geophytes on display in the Mountains House.
Most prolific in flowers is Chaenorrhinum organifolium, which has been on display almost continuously since late May. It was cut back hard after the main summer blooming, but sprang back to flower again. We expect it will flower itself to death; but then it was easy to grow from seed. In the wild it grows on calcareous rocks and walls in the Pyrenees, and it has established well on our Rock Garden.
Campanula barbata, centre, with C. scheuchzeri and
Some young Campanula plants, also grown from seed, give us a second, if sparse, flowering. Sporting whiskers rather than the beard of its Latin name, Campanula barbata has proved too small a plant to survive the fiercely competitive environment of the Rock Garden, but we hope to keep it in our collection in the more cosseted environment of the reserve collection.
Veronica (peduncularis) ?Georgia Blue?
Also in the blue flower range is the evergreen Veronica (peduncularis) ‘Georgia Blue’. In autumn its leaves usually darken to a burnished crimson-purple, but few have so far this mild year. This Veronica covers itself in a cascade of flowers in the spring, and re-grows after the usual hard cut-back.
Flowering for the third time this year (it’s easy to lose count), is the most miniature of roses, Rosa ‘Roulettii’, which we grow along with other horticultural alpines in the central raised tufa bed in the Mountains House. Like most roses its origin is uncertain, but it was found growing in the window boxes of Swiss villagers by Henry Correvon nearly a hundred years ago.
Erigeron compositus var discoideus
Another almost non-stop flowerer is Erigeron compositus var discoideus. So far it has not survived on the North American bed of the Rock Garden, but we will try again because we think it should!
Hirpicium armerioides, the mountain gerbera, grows well on the lakeside South African bed of the Rock Garden, so we have potted some up and it is now also thriving with pot culture. The advantage of viewing it at waist height is that the striped reverse of the petals can be appreciated.
Androsace vandellii would easily be overlooked in a rock garden, but beautifully illustrates a classic alpine cushion form in the Display House.
This we grow from seed, but the Cretan dittany, Oreganum dictamnus, is easy to propagate from cuttings. We expect that the plants in the new Greek bed in the Mediterranean planting will be killed by the winter, and these young plants will be ready to restock the bed in late spring next year.
Serratula tinctoria forma dissecta
Meanwhile, the Serratula tinctoria forma dissecta has survived in the Rock Garden since 1959! It always flowers late in the year, but this year has broken its own record for lateness. However, it grows poorly as a potted plant with a far shorter flowering season.
And so we experiment with the different growing conditions offered by the Rock Garden and by pot culture in protected environments and hope to find growing regimes that suit a wide range of mountain plants.