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A North Wales Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 26 August 2013 Entry 8 by John Good

Back to 'normal'

After a very hot and dry July which broke several records for numbers of days with high day and night temperatures, the weather here on the N. Wales coast returned to something approaching normal for August, although with less rain than we would normally expect. Some plants in the garden, notably a splendid Cornus kousa, still look decidedly 'sunburnt' and may never recover, but others which lost some foliage during the drought, such as the shrubby potentillas, have returned to normal. Some dwarf shrubs, including several dwarf rhododendrons, have responded by flowering for a second time, which makes me worried that they will put on a lesser show next spring. I am less concerned that this will happen in the case of Dryas octopetala var. minor, which has plenty of room on it's spreading mat for new flower buds to form before the winter is upon us.  

Dryas octopetala var minor

Other sub-shrubs that have also come into flower again, although not so freely as in the spring, include Verbascum 'Letitia' and the still-rare Rhodothamnus sessilifolius, which I have to confess looks the same as R. chamaecistus to me, although I have not yet subjected them to microscopic comparison. Flowering at their 'proper' time in midsummer are the marjorams, of which I have several, although I lost the white form of Origanum amanum last winter. The type form with bright pink flowers is doing fine in a crevice 

Much more robust and frost hardy are O. rotundifolium and its hybrids. The following photographs show O. rotundifolium itself, O. rotundifolium x scabrum 'Kent Beauty', and O. tournerfortii x rotundifolium 'Barbara Tingey'. I have had all three, but lost 'Barbara Tingey' in the cold winter of 2011-12, whereas the other two have come through the last two hard winters unscathed. All are best grown in full sun in gritty soil and look best falling over the edge of a wall or raised bed. They will, not surprisingly given their mediterranean origins, stand a good deal of drought, but waterlogging is anathema to them. All are easily propagated from cuttings of new growth taken in spring.


As you will see, O. 'Barbara Tingey' is the most colourful of the trio by virtue of its broader, brighter pink bracts, but I should be interested to hear from others whether they too have found it to be the least hardy.

A pretty little summer flowering bulb that seeds itself around in my garden to the point where it is almost (but not quite) becoming a nuisance, is Freesia (syn. Anomathecalaxa. The typical dark brick red form is less prolific with its seeds here than the other form that I grow, which is white with a red flare on each of the lower three tepals. It comes very true from seed and resembles very closely the form normally labelled F. laxa 'Joan Evans'. As the foregoing suggests, this plant is very easily raised from seed, or you can winkle out some of the corms  when dormant.


The tulbaghias also come from southern Africa and over the years I have tried many from seed in the Society's exchange, but the regular cold wet winters have winkled them down to two, both forms of T. violacea, a nice violet pink cultivar called 'John Rider', and a pure white form that came to me as 'Alba' and which is less robust than 'John Rider.' These form very large perennial clumps which do not seem to weaken in the centre as they age but continue to produce flower stems all over. They are a bit tall for the rock garden but I tolerate them there because of their July-September flowering period.

Tulbaghis violacea 'John Rider' Tulbaghia violacea 'John Rider' close-up Tulbaghia violacea 'Alba'

If the tulbaghias are rather large for inclusion in this log then crinums are definitely outside what I would normally regard as its scope, but Crinum x powellii is making such an impact this year that I feel impelled to show it to you! The bulbs carrying these heads of lily-sized flowers are each as big as a the biggest prize-winning show onion, and they are crammed in cheek by jowel at the base of a stone wall with very little soil, and that very poor. All I do to maintain them is throw a handful of general granular fertilizer onto them each spring as the strap-like leaves start into growth, and cut everything off at the top of the bulbs in late autumn. If you want to see these in all their glory, including the lovely white form (which I do not have), Bodnant Garden near Conwy in N. Wales is as good a place as any to visit. Coincidentally there are also pools with very good waterlilies at Bodnant and as their flowering coincides with that of the crinums a floral feast may be anticipated. If that were not enough, in recent years many dieramas (Angel's fishing rods) have been planted in the terrace borders at Bodnant and these too flower at this time. Why not combine a late summer visit to Bodnant with a raid on Aberconwy Nursery, which is only a five minute drive away and surely one of the best alpine nurseries in the country (no commission received, honest!).

Crinum x powellii

Crinum x powellii close-up

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