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A North Wales Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 30 June 2013 - Entry 6 by John Good

Better late than never!

In keeping with the very late season this year, this May diary contribution slides in on the very last day of the month! This is mainly because we have been away from home a lot, and I have had various pressing things to do in addition to trying to keep on top of the gardening jobs when here. Anyway, when the spring finally arrived it was a bumper one as far as flowers in the garden were concerned, probably because of last year's long cool, wet (!) growing season; shrubs in particular produced masses of well filled flower buds as a result, but I have already showed some of these in all their glory in earlier postings. So what can I show you this month? Well, like our Northumberland diarist I am an enthusiast for New Zealand plants, although unfortunately unlike him I have yet to visit the Antipodes. As you would expect, these plants mostly enjoy the cool, damp N. Wales climate, as I hope the following pictures of a few examples show. Leucogenes grandiceps, the so-called South Island edelweiss because of it's restriction to the South Island and Stewart Island, where it grows at altitudes from 800-2000m on exposed cliffs and crags, grows luxuriantly in a damp raised crevice bed here, hanging down over the supporting wall and flowering freely in most years. I shear it over occasionally after flowering to keep it compact and use the shearings that have not flowered as cuttings, stripping off the 'wool' from the stems and inserting them in a gritty, peaty compost in a closed propagator where with luck they root by the autumn. 

The North Island species (Leucogenes leontopodium), which is actually also found on a few scattered mountains in the northern part of the South Island, is a much more compact plant with harder, shinier rosettes and larger, but in my garden at least fewer flowers. In nature it too grows at quite high elevations, from 1200-2000m, generally on exposed windswept rocks, but apt to be found in more sheltered situations at its higher stations.   It is growing in the same raised bed but while satisfactory it is not quite as robustly healthy as its southern cousin. I propagate it in the same way as L. grandiceps, but there is generally less propagating material available and the cuttings are more difficult to root.

While on New Zealanders I will show you a few celmisias, some but not all of which do well with me. Pride of place must be given to C. spedenii which is usually seen growing in a pot as a first class foliage plant, often winning prizes in the classes for silver foliage plants at our shows, but this year my plant growing in the open, which usually either produces no flowers or just a few, decided to throw caution to the wind and covered itself with blooms.

Not all celmisias are as photogenic in flower as C. spedenii, so you must take my word for it that C. gracilenta, C. semi-cordata, C. sessiliflora and C. viscosa were almost equally well flowered. I can show you C. incana, which is one of my favourites, and C. bellidioides, which needs permanent moisture and is easily lost in a drought (what's that I hear you cry!).

Sticking with the mainly silver foliage theme for a moment, but moving away from New Zealand, we have another alpine daisy but this time from the Atlas Mountains of Marocco, Anacyclus pyrethrum ssp. depressus (syn. A. maroccanus). It is easily grown in any sunny spot in well drained soil and is quite long-lived, although inclined to become woody with age. Cuttings can be rooted in pure sand at almost any time of the year. As you can see, the very large daisies are well set off by the silvery, ferny foliage.

A plant that is not really an alpine at all, but which fits in well at the back of a largish alpine or gravel bed is one of my favourite sea hollies, and therefore automatically one of my favourite foliage plants, Maroccan sea holly, Eryngium variifolium, unlike many of its kind is a sound perennial forming gradually enlarging clumps, and when the 2 foot flower stems, which are not especially attractive, die away it retires to a group of tight resting buds. Everyone who sees it asks about it and most want to grow it so I collect seed and  grow a few plants for myself and envious visitors.   

Finally, for the grandfather clock in the hall is remorselessly ticking towards midnight as July approaches ('Oh let not time deceive you, you can not conquer time'), some silver saxifrages. What a wonderful group of plants they are, and how wonderfully they have flowered in the garden this year. In their order of occurrence in the photographs that follow they are: S. paniculata, S. paniculata 'Rosea', S, cotyledon ''Canis Dalmatica', S. cotyledon 'Major', S. cochlearis, S. 'Whitehills'. Grow all of these and any more that you can lay your hands on as they are easy, long-lived, well behaved and beautiful whether in flower or not. 

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