A North Wales Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: August 2014 - Entry 24
A very average August
After a long and generally quite hot period through June and July, August has reverted to type, at least as far as North Wales is concerned, with frequent, though mostly not particularly heavy rainfall, many cloudy days, and cool nights. This has meant that many of the later flowering plants have not shown of their best, flowers often not opening fully and seed not ripening well. For that reason most of the plants I am showing this month are not alpines, but then at least half the plants in my garden fall into this category, with probably a half of those being shrubs and trees. An unusual shrub which does well for me and in fact needs to be taken in hand as many of its flowers are at head height or above, is Colquhonia coccinea, a striking plant when bearing its red/orange flowers from grey buds over greyish, sage-like leaves. It come from the himalayas where its range stretches from Tibet to Burma and was named for Sir Robert Colquhoun who was a lieutenant in the British Army in India in the 19th century, but also a plant collector and a patron of the Calcutta Botanical Gardens. It roots readily from semi-hardwood cuttings but you might have to wait up to 10 years for it to flower. Why it is so slow in reaching maturity I don't know, but I do know that this is generally the case and not just in my garden. My plant has a little bit of extra interest in that the friend who gave it to me more than 25 years ago obtained his cuttings from the famous garden of the late Arthur Tysilio (A.T.) Johnson at Roewen, about 10 miles from here, which Johnson, who was one of the foremost horticultural writers of his time, wrote about in a series of books with such titles as: A Garden in Wales (1927), A Woodland Garden (1937), The Garden Today (1938), and The Mill garden (1938). Copies of these minor masterpieces are among my most treasured books, for they are packed with knowledge which is presented in a uniquely personal style. If you look for them online you will find them and I don't think you will be disappointed.
This rarely seen medium to large sized deciduous shrub provides little interest in the garden until the end of August, but from then until it sheds its leaves in October it is a real gem by virtue of its clusters of dangling reddish-pink fruits and fiery autumn colour, which covers all shades from dark green through orange to a deep fiery red. I grew my plant from seeds kindly 'donated' by a gardener at Cambridge Botanic Garden who was 'sweeping up' under the large bush which provided the finest splash of autumn colour in what is a garden blessed with many fine contenders for that honour, notably among the Witch hazels. As is my custom with most trees and shrubs, I have been gradually 'lifting' the crown by removing the lower branches, allowing light in below so that other plants can be grown there; otherwise it would cast a very dense shade.
Daphne x whiteorum 'Kilmeston'
Talking of shrubs, here is a true alpine with impeccable pedigree (D. petraea 'Grandiflora' x D. jasminea), raised by Robin White who has produced and introduced so many wonderful daphne forms and hybrids over the last 30 years. I also have D. x whiteorum 'Beauworth' of the same parentage and while 'Kilmeston' tends towards D. jasminea, 'Beauworth' is more like D. petraea', with more shiny dark green leaves and flatter flowers. While 'Beauworth' settled in quickly here and flowers freely every april/May, but with few flowers thereafter, 'Kilmeston' took much longer to establish and has its main flush of flowers in July/August with some blooms early and late. 'Kilmeston' is said to be susceptible to wet weather in winter but as it grows outside in a sharply drained raised bed here in Wales without protection I think we can knock that particular suggestion on the head! Half-ripe cuttings of non-flowering shoots (if you can find them!) taken in July/August will root reasonably well, but in my experience the rooted cuttings are best left undisturbed until the following spring as they are very small and may well die if disturbed too soon. I follow Robin White's advice and spray the cuttings with a weak fungicide solution from time to time, botrytis (Grey mould) is the chief enemy and can easily destroy a whole batch if left unchecked.
Daphne longilobata - a good stock for grafting oth
Like many keen growers of daphnes I have dabbled in grafting a bit from time to time, never with outstanding success I have to say, but I have generally got a few successful 'takes'. This is not really the time of year to be discussing grafting techniques, I find early spring when the sap is beginning to flow is the best time to do it, but of course in order to do some grafting you have to have 'stocks', i.e. seedlings of a suitable 'host' daphne onto which you will graft the 'scions'. You may be lucky and find some seedlings around the base of your Daphne mezereum (if you have one!), in which case you can pot them up now to use next spring, or you can collect the seeds and start from scratch. But there are other species that regularly set good crops of fruits and I have found D. longilobata to be easy to germinate and it produces seedlings which make excellent stocks in about 18 months to two years. The seeds are ripe now as shown by the bright orange-red colour of the fruits, even though there are still quite a few flowers, so take them off before the birds do! I always sow my daphne seed fresh so I clean the bulk of the flesh off the seeds with my fingers and then put them on a sieve under running water for a few hours to wash out any inhibitors (hormones that prevent germination), after which I dry them on kitchen towels and sow them directly in my usual mix of 2 parts John Innes No. 2 and 1 part perlite or grit; they mostly germinate the following spring.
A number of choice peonys have now opened their pods to reveal their seeds, and what a welcome sight they are, for who does not love a peony and wish to grow more. In some species all the seeds that develop in a pod are fertile, and they are usually black, the example here being P. coriacea, but in others the open pod reveals a wonderul mix of fertile black or blue-black seeds and infertile red ones, presumably the contrast draws the attention of potential distributors of the seeds to the feast to be had for the taking. One of these is among my favourite peonys, P. obovata ''Alba', whose creamy-white chalices filled with a bowl of soft yellow anthers emphasized by a vivid magenta trifid stigma are a highlight of the late April garden. I have written of the collection and germination of peony seeds before, so will not repeat myself.
I don't thnk I know of a garden that does not have some of the late flowering Japanese anemones, and mine is no exception. These are available in white as well as various shades of pink, and there are doubles, although they are not to my taste. Two of my favourites are the relatively dwarf A. hupehensis 'Hadspen Abundance', with very vivid saucer-shaped flowers, and everyone's favourite white, A. x hybrida 'Honorine Jobert'. Japanese anemonese did not originate in Japan but were first seen there by Europeans at the end of the 17th C. who not unreasonably assumed they did! In fact they come from central China, notably the province of Hubei (formerly known in the West as Hupeh), hence the name A. hupehensis. In 1947, Bowles and Stearn published The History of Anemone japonica in the Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society, which perhaps surprisingly is, to this day, the most comprehensive commentary on the origin and naming of autumn-blooming anemones. As to the names of these two cultivars, 'Hadspen Abundance' presumably cropped up in the garden of the late Penelope Hobhouse at Hadspen House in Somerset, or perhaps it was named for that garden, while 'Honorine Jobert' was found in the garden of the gentleman of that name in Verdun, France, in 1865. Like all Japanese anemones, these two can become thugs if not watched carefully, and the thongy roots are difficult to remove from among other plants that they are striving to suppress, so be warned, but they are such a feature of the early autumn garden that they are easily forgiven. The fact that they will grow and flower quite well in even very dry soil beneath trees further endears them to us, although of course they need better conditions to really thrive.
Acis autumnalis - Autumn snowflake
Nothing could be less like the thuggish Japanese anemones than this slowly clump forming little bulb (formerly know as Leucojum autumnale), with its tiny but bewitching white bells demanding close observation. I have grown this plant for many years and always await its appearance in August with pleasure. It likes good drainage but will thrive in less well drained soil, and prefers a little shade.
I have shown this plant in other diary entries at this time of year, but it makes such a fitting end to this August's entry as, once again it has provided the highlight in terms of impact created by a single alpine plant. What is more, it is one of the easiest of all gentians to grow, and very long-lived, its only bad characterisitc (at least in the form that I grow) being that it sprawls about, covering other plants and looking a little inelegant, but the blue of those flowers.........