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A North Wales Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 27 April 2013 - Entry 4 by John Good

Spring ...at last!

As the old saying goes,"It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good", well we have had an "ill wind" from the north or east almost continuously since the New Year, and it requires a "glass half full" mentality to look for the "silver lining"! But I've tried to remain positive throughout this unprecedentedly awful winter/early spring and the best I can come up with is that those flowers that have weathered the vicissitudes of the unrelenting cold weather have remained in good condition much longer than usual. Probably like you, I still have late narcissi in perfect condition in my garden, while the Porphyrion saxifrages go on and on. One of my favourites among the latter is a plant given to me by the Late Dr George Smith (whom I am sure many of you will remember) as Saxifraga ferdinandi-coburgii var pravislawii, which he collected in the Pirin Mountains in the 1970s or 1980s. I don't believe the varietal name is valid, but that, as the image of it flowering in one of my raised beds illustrates, in no way detracts from the attractiveness of the plant. One of the great appeals of these plants to me is that they just go on and on, slowly making larger mats or domes as the years pass by, never seeming to run out of steam as so many other alpines do. As I said in an earlier diary entry, the only thing to avoid in their cultivation is a too sunny site if the soil is ever likely to dry out, as they are liable to sun scorch - some cultivars more than others. 

Saxifraga ferdinandi-coburgii

A few seedling hepaticas

Hepaticas too have lasted a long time and while I don't have a great collection, I have quite a few, nearly all of them raised from seed, chiefly from Ashwood Nurseries who are happy to provide it fresh as soon as it ripens, which is necessary for good germination. I find they take 2-3 years to flower and then go on getting bigger and not seeming to require division to retain their vigour. The colours to be found in this genus are quite outstanding - I remember finding a population of plants in woodland on limestone near the Grand Canyon du Verdon in S.E. France many years ago, with whites as well as pinks and blues freely intermingled; a most beautiful sight. Unfortunately that was in the days of film cameras and I have lost the pictures that proved the point! They grow well in full sun in my cool garden, but do even better in some shade. I find they will stand surprisingly dry conditions, although the foliage suffers. Here are a few photos taken at random recently in my garden.

Trillium (or should it be Pseudotrillium) rivale,

Pseudotrillium is a proposed monotypic genus of flowering plants containing the single species Pseudotrillium rivale, which is known in its native USA by the common name brook wakerobin. The genus was proposed in 2002 on the basis of morphology and molecular evidence that suggest the plant should no longer be included in genus Trillium.This species is endemic to the Siskiyou Mountains of southern Oregon and northern California, usually on soils of ultramafic origin, such as serpentine, often on wooded streamside slopes.Whatever the name, this is one of my favourite early spring flowers, and I have several different forms, illustrated below. It is a very easy plant to grow in any semi- to deeply-shaded spot in 'woodsy' soil that does not dry out. It also makes a splendid pot plant as the many fine specimens exhibited at the Society's shows indicate. In the wild the white form is predominant, with or without reddish spots at the base of the flower, but the proportion of red can be dramatically increased as in the seedling of T. rivale 'Purple Heart' shown below. It can also be pure pale pink, the form shown having been given to me many years ago by Gladys Stallard, another name remembered with fondness by all older AGS members.

A wonderful year for primroses and their ilk

Everywhere I have travelled in the UK this month I have seen unprecedented displays of our common primrose (Primula vulgaris) adorning roadside verges, railway embankments and their more usual woodland habitat. Other members of the genus have done well too in my garden, including one of my favourites, the P. juliae x elatior hybrid 'David Valentine', which was given to me some years ago by our Northumberland diarist. Like all primroses it benefits greatly from being divided regularly and it doesn't take long to build up a nice patch.

Primula 'Peter Klein' (P. clarkei x rosea) has also turned up trumps again, as usual. This has the great benefit of hybrid vigour as it marries the delicacy of P. clarkei with the robustness of P. rosea, but is more compact than the latter and will tolerate a much drier site. 

All these primulas should be divided regularly and replanted into soil enriched with additional organic matter.

Anemonella thalictroides 'Schoaf's Double' or 'Osc

It is not often that I like the double form of a flower as much as the single, but this is one such case. While the single form of Anemonella thalictroides is a lovely plant, and one that I treasure in the garden, the flowers are fleeting, whereas those of the double forms last for several weeks in perfect condition. Of the two double pinks that are readily available I would find it hard to choose between the pale 'Cameo' and the darker, strawberry pink 'Schoaf's Double', but as I don't have 'Cameo' at present it is 'Schoaf's Double' that I illustratge here. Grow it like any other woodlander, but remember that the depth of colur is influenced quite significantly by the amount of sun received, being darker in more shade.

Adonis vernalis

The plant of Adonis vernalis shown in the illustration is c. 10 years old and each year the clump gets bigger, seeming to like its position in a well-drained moraine bed with water trickling through an underground pipe below. It usually flowers in late March but is just coming to its best a month later. Once it has flowered the shoots will elongate to about 45 cm and then the foliage will start to die down, disappearing without trace by midsummer. It gets very little attention apart from a biennial top dressing with my usual feed of 12 parts bonemeal, 2 parts superphosphate and 2 parts sulphate of potash, sprinkled on in Jan./Feb. at a rate of c. 30g to the square metre. It doesn't seem to set any seed, but that may be because I only have one clone, and I have never tried dividing the clump, although I might steel myself and do that this season.

The WOW factor!

Some plants have it, others don't, and tulips definitely do! I grow a few 'miniatures' in pots in a frame and the bigger Dutch tulips in containers around the house. To finish this month's offering I give you Tulip 'Little Princess', a real stunner if ever I saw one and only 15 cm high in flower.

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