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A North Wales Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 20 February 2013 - Entry 2 by John Good

Oh what a dreary winter it has been! So much so that a few dry days seem like manna from heaven, even though the East wind is whistling through our hillside garden. Well, at least it will be drying up some of the overabundant water that oozes from every footfall on the lawn and makes even my well-drained soil into a claggy mess that is best left undisturbed until wind and warmth bring it into better condition. Keats's line 'Oh for a beaker of the warm south'  suddenly seems even more apposite than usual! Enough of my complaining, there must be something good to talk about, and as for most of you at this time of year it is the snowdrops that lift the gloom. I have a very modest collection by the standards of true galanthophiles, but the pleasure they give is great and the effort required to realise it minimal, the chief labour (unless one has a bottomless purse) being in their acquisition. Hence my recent decision to open up an online swopshop in this discussion area of our website and to name some snowdrops as my inaugural offering. The idea of the swopshop is, to paraphrase the oft repeated advertisement, 'to do what it says on the tin' . Thus it is for swopping plants and other things of interest to members, not for selling them, and if it takes off it could enable many of us to obtain plants and other things which might otherwise remain in that little notebook of  'wants' that many of us have and carry with us on our travels.

Of the snowdrops that delight in my garden at this time of year, probably my favourites are the old timers 'Straffan', 'Magnet' and 'S. Arnott'. Galanthus 'Straffan' is so good because it has good sized flowers arising on proportionate stalks from clumps that rapidly increase, so enabling a good patch to be achieved in a few years. I like 'Magnet' because it has such delicate yet boldly marked flowers borne on long arching pedicels that ensure that they dance in the faintest breeze. Galanthus 'S. Arnott' has thicker and broader leaves than the other two and more rounded flowers of great substance, and it too increases freely. Another favourite, given to me a few years ago by our Northumberland diarist, is one of the many forms of G. nivalis in which all the green parts on the flowers are replaced with yellow. I had it as G. nivalis 'Howick Yellow', but whether that is a valid name I'm not sure.  

More recent acquisitions include G. 'Merlin', a tall, strong-growing plant with solid green markings on the inner tepals, and G. 'Augustus', named for theat great gardener and bulb enthusiast of the past, Edward Augustus Bowles. Galanthus 'Augustus' has very broad green leaves and good large flowers on short stems.

As I said in my January posting, I grow a few bulbs in pots for display in my small alpine house and one that is lovely just now is the very common and readily available Crocus sieberi 'Firefly'.

It is easy to undervalue the contribution that dwarf shrubs can make to the winter garden, particulalry those with good evergree (or grey) foliage. Convolvulus cneorum is a common enough shrub, and eady to grow in a sunny spot in freely draining soil, although you may loose it in a very hard spell. But it has come through this dismal winter unscathed (so far!) and the silvery foliage glistening in the low February sun makes a very bright spot in a raised bed.

I hope (and trust?) that by this time next month I shall have rather more interesting plants to talk about, but should the worst come to the worst and we have an extended winter I shall hopefully be able to transport you to the wonderful sub-tropical garden at Tresco in the Silly Isles whence we wing our way next week, cameras at the ready!

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