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A North Wales Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 24 March 2013 -Entry 3 by John Good

If winter comes can spring be far behind - YES!

Well, here we are nearly at the end of March (the coldest for nearly a century here in N. Wales), and the daffodils (when you can see them poking their heads up above the snow!) are still not in full flower. The photograph of N. 'Surfside', my favourite small hybrid, shows what I mean. Fortunately the plum blossom is not out yet as last year, as in most places in S. Britain, there were air frosts in early April which destroyed all the flowers, kept insect pollinators in their shelters, and resulted in the worst plum (and sloe for sloe gin!) crop anyone can remember. Oh dear, where will it all end. Usually I am eagerly scanning my pots of seed sown in January every day during March for signs of germination, but I have given up this most pleasing little task for the time being. Perhaps the good long cold spell the seed has received will result in super germination when the weather eventually warms up, at least in the case of those high alpines (not that many, actually)  that require a cold spell to trigger the chemical changes in the dormant seed that stimulates it to start into growth. Most will germinate eventually even if they do not receive the cold stimulus, but more unevenly and probably with fewer healthy seedlings as a result. If you have access to the Bulletin (now the Alpine Gardener) for September 1975 (No 181 [Vol. 43, No. 3], pp 246-258), either in hard copy or electronically, you will find there a list of germination requirements of  quite a wide range of alpines that I compiled from my own research at home, supplemented by records kindly provided by other Members interested in raising their alpines from seed. Among those genera which had a high proportion of species responding to cold treatment were (as expected), AndrosaceGentiana, Primula (only high altitude species), SaxifragaVaccinium (needing cold followed by heat).

Saxifrages under the snow

Saxifrages under the snow

Remarkable recovery after the snow and ice have me

Saxifrage 'Peter Burrow'

Saxifraga 'Peter Burrow', named by my good friend Brian who raised it, for his son, is one of the very best kabschias for outside cultivation (or in a pot for that matter). This was it in a crevice garden in a trough just before the snow came.

But every cloud has a silver (or white) lining!

The continuing cold weather has meant that the snowdrops have gone on for much longer than usual, and a very good year it has been for them. One fine form of G. plicatus  that I have as G. 'Augustus' (should it be called G. 'E.A. Bowles'?) was still flaunting it's beautiful globular blossoms until the snow came. I particularly like the contrast between the pure white flowers and the broad, bright green leaves. As an aside, I found when digging up a few bulbs for a visiting friend, that this must have one of the biggest bulbs of any snowdrop, fully 3cm in diameter. 

But every cloud has a silver (or white) lining!

Galanthus gracilis

I had a couple of bulbs of this very nice late-season snowdrop many years ago from a lovely Irishman who lived in Northumberland and whom some of you may remember, his name was Paddy Ryan. He told me to treasure it as there was not much of it about, and I have done so. Seen at close quarters the shape of the inner tube (corona) of the flower is particulalrly nice. I'm not absolutely sure that the name G. gracilis is valid, if not I apologise for misleading you, dear reader!

Galanthus gracilis

Branch sport on Rhododendron 'Praecox'

It's always interesting when a branch sport turns up on a plant in one's garden; I spotted this one on Rhododendron 'Praecox' a few days ago and thought it was quite nice - a pale form would be nice to have in the garden so early in the year. Whether a cutting taken from the sported branch would remain true is very much open to question, it might well be an unstable mutation in some of the cells in one meristem that produced it, in which case a cutting might produce the normal dark flowers after a year or two. I suppose the only way to find out is to try and root the sporting shoot and grow it on - watch this space.......for some time....!

Branch sport on Rhododendron 'Praecox'

What 3 weeks of constant cold winds and freezing n

Paeonia ostii always comes into growth early and is usually in flower in early April, so its new growths with their enclosed flower buds are aways vulnerable to cold weather in late winter, but I have never seen this old plant suffer like this before! But then, we have NEVER (even in the middle of winter) experienced 6 weeks of winds constatly coming from an easterly direction, and 3 weeks of nights with temperatures never above -1C or days above +5.

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