A North Wales Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: August 2015 - Entry 35
Whatever takes your fancy
Because August is such a difficult month in the alpine garden I am taking the liberty of assembling a rag bag of largely unrelated plants, mostly not alpines by any stretch of the imagination, so as to provide at least something of interest to lighten the gloom imposed by the nights drawing in and the contemplation of another season drawing to its inevitable end. Don't get me wrong, I like the autumn, or at least September and October, it is the ending of summer that upsets my normally cheerful equilibrium, especialy when, as this year, it has been pretty much a non-event. You wait and wait for those long warm sunny days, thinking maybe tomorrow, next week, nest month.....and then its over. Anyway, there have been some nice plants to enjoy in the garden, some of them old favourites such as that most charming little autumn bulb, formerly Leucojum autumnale, now to be called Acis autumnalis. In the wild it occurs sporadically throughout the Western Mediterannean region where it grows in light scrub and meadows as well as persisting in cultivated fields. The clump shown has taken 6 years to increase from three bulbs and is growing on a raised bed in full sunlight. It is one of those plants that repay very close attention, being easily overlooked on a casual inspection, but get down close and you will see how delicately the alabaster elfin caps are carried aloft on the thinnest of pedicels. In my experience the clumps last for 'ever', slowly increasing in size, and require no care other than remembering that the bulbs are there during their long dormant period. I suppose you could increase it from seed, but I never seem to get much, but it is much easier and quicker just to detach some bulbs
Epicotyl dormancy in peonies
It is well known that many peony species exhibit the phenomenon known as Epicotyl dormancy, whereby only the seed root (hypocotyl) develops in the first season of germination, the seed shoot (epicotyl) not develping until the second year. Generally plants exhibiting this charactersitic, and peonies are no exception, have large seeds which help to tide the developing root system over the 'hungry gap' until the new shoot can start to produce food by photosynthesis. Some of our large-seeded trees, such as oak, hazel, and Horse chestnut fall into this category. Anyway, for our purposes it is clearly important not to throw pots of peony seeds away when no signs of germination are seen above ground at the end of the season following sowing! My practise with peonies is generally to sow the large seeds close together about 25 cm deep in a pan of very sandy soil as soon as I get them (September/October if saved from my own plants) and leave them open to all weathers until the following autumn when I turn them out of the seed pot and pot up individually those that have produced a hypocotyl. Just to show you what they are like I took the accompanying photo of seeds of Paeonia delavayii ssp. potaninii var. trollioides (what a mouthful, the name not the seeds!) today and you can see that the hypocotyls were at varying stages of develpment - I was pleased that in this instance almost every seed had germinated. The label gives a good idea of the size of the seeds which were more than twice as big as when I sowed them as a result of water imbibition prior to germination - the seeds that had failed to germinate were as they were when I sowed them. One piece of advice is always to protect pans containing large seeds such as these from predation by squirrels, mice and other rodents.
Some (more) dwarf shrubs
Brachyglottis (Pachystegia) insignis
Those who regularly read this blog will know that I am expecially fond of dwarf shrubs, indeed of all shrubs big or small and of trees too! One I have had for many years and is now a substantial bush approx. 1.5 m wide x 1.0 m high is Brachyglottis (Pachystegia) insignis.In nature it grows on exposed cliffs and coarse rock falls and screes near the coast in the Marlborough and Canterbury regions of the S, Island of New Zealand. It has a reduced form sometimes known as f. minor which I grew once long ago and which was certainly slower growing than the plant I have now. As its very thick leaves, covered on the upper surface with a thick waxy cuticle, on the lower with a felt-like silvery indumentum, indicate, it is very tolerant of drought; not so tolerant of wetness at the root though, my plant is growing in a large open.bottomed container of coarse gritty compost through which the roots have long since penetrated down to the well drained soil below. It is a very free flowering plant and is quite spectacular when at its best. Propagation is best from new unflowered shoots taken at about this time of year. They root quite well in pure gritty sand and will soon make good plants, but it is often difficult to find unflowered shoots!
This is another very long-lived and easy sub-shrub which is best cut hard back after flowering, which finishes in September. I prefer it to the often recommended O. 'Kent Beauty', but I will leave it to you to decide which you like best.
Origanum 'Kent Beauty'
Smaller and more refined, and just as easy outside here as long as full sun and sharply drained soil are provided to remind it of its Turkish homeland is Origanum amanum. I had the albino form, which is also very nice, for a long time, but eventually lost it.
Origanum vulgare 'Aurea'
After the above this might seem 'vulgar' indeed, being but a golden-leaved form of the herb Oregano, but it is a cheerful plant at this time of year and does not take up much space - the leaves are just as tasty as the normal green variety!
Sanguisorba hakusanensis BSWJ8709
The famous Crug Farm nursery is very close to us and I quite often pop over there and pick up a few plants, mostly woodlanders as they don't really do alpines. When the RHS/AGS/SRGC Joint Rock Garden Plant Committee visited N. Wales in April this year I arranged a visit for them to Crug and while there I asked Bleddyn if he could suggest something a bit different for a choice spot in a semi-shaded bed. "Try that", he said, "you won't be disappointed". He was right, for what he had recommended to me was the plant illustrated here, which he and Sue collected in S. Korea some years ago. The foliage is pretty good but the tassels of spiaraea-like flowers on long arching pedicels are exceptional, glistening as the light strikes them.I have not tried propagating this plant yet but I suspect that pieces could be split off from the plant quite easily; whether seed is a possibility I don't yet know as my plant has not had time to set any.
Epilobium (Zauschneria) canum 'Dublin'
This doughty sub-shrub is a bit of a creeper, but I have never found it invasive being easily removed when required. It provides a really bright accent in what by this time of year is a rather unremarkable mix of plants, shining out through the gathering gloom.
Cyclamen purpurascens 'Silver Leaf'
Finally for this month I leave you with this gorgeous little cyclamen which invariably comes true from seed here. I have it in various spots around the garden but like to place it in a raised bed or trough where one does not have to stoop too low to take in its delicately sweet perfume.