A North Wales Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: August 2016 - Entry 48
'The English winter, ending in July to recommence
While August has not been quite as bad as Lord Byron suggested it was wont to be here in North Wales, neither has it been particularly benign. We have had more wind than usual, sometimes with damaging consequences for still sappy new growth on trees and shrubs, and the greenness of the lawn tells its own story as far as rainfall is concerned. But we have had some lovely days, allowing cutting back. clearing and some limited planting to be done. In particular, I have tackled a number of trees and large shrubs, including large specimems of Magnolia 'Heaven Scent' and M. wilsonii, Rhododendron neriiflorum and R. ambiguum, that had begun to obstruct the pathways through the wild garden. I should, of course, have done this work immediately after flowering in spring so that the plants had plenty of time to make new growth and flower buds for next year, but there is never enough time to do every gardening job when it should be done, and there will be no shortage of flowers on these big old trees and shrubs anyway, well that's my excuse. I have also spent some time, along with my very part time (one day a fortnight) but excellent gardener (Jenny), cleaning up the pots in the frame and pricking out or separating pot contents where necessary. This can be a pretty tedious job but is much more pleasant when spent sitting on the edge of the frame in the sunshine talking about gardening, plant hunting and much else. Jenny also did an invaluable job helping me (she did most of the work!) to clear up the alpine house. All manner of old pots, seed trays, cracked propagator
covers, bags of long-forgotten compost, and all sorts of other bits and pieces have been bagged up and taken to the recycling centre. I doubt I would ever have got round to doing this had Jenny not suggested it on a rainy day when little could be done outside. We also took the bull by the horns and cut down a 12-year-old specimen of the ornamental but far from dwarf (as promised in catalogues!) Prunus incisa 'Kojo-no-Mai', the name of which translates as 'Flight of Butterflies'. Despite regular pruning it had outgrown its allotted space and was in a position where it could not be dug out without lossing much of its root mass, so I cut it down and will now have to remove the stumps as best as possible. The diameter of the trunk at ground level was 14 cm, probably not much different than a standard Japanese cherry would have achieved by the same age. I might plant another one in a more suitable spot as it is very pretty during its short period in flower in May and turns nice shades of yellow and red before leaf all. Also removed after many stays of execution was an old bush of the charming miniature cabbage rose, 'De Meaux', which despite my continuous efforts to remove them succumbed in the end to a forest of root suckers.
Talking of shrubs, the delightful but none too free flowering Daphne 'Kilmeston' (D. petraea 'Grandiflora' x D. jasminea) has produced a second flush of flowers. I grow this on top of a raised stone-walled bed where it took several seasons to settle down but now looks happy (feeling for some wood to touch when writing this!). D. 'Eternal Fragrance', on the other hand, is as vigorous and free-flowering as anyone could hope for and until the last week or so has had a very good covering of its sweetly scented blooms. This too I have to prune regularly to keep it in bounds and it hardly seems to notice, responding to the shears with a flush of new growth that usually flowers a few weeks later, a truly wonderful plant.
Daphne 'Eternal Fragrance'
Crassula sarcocaulis and Origanum rotundifolium
Two other dwarf shrubs at their best in ugust are Crassula sarcocaulis and Origanum rotundifolium, both of which require full sun and well drained soil to give of their best. The crassula, which goes woody and needs replacing after a few years, conveniently seeds itself around mildly here, something the origanum, which is very long lived, never does. The latter only requires a shearing over after flowering to keep it compact and tidy, a very accommodating plant.
Acis (Leucojum) autumnalis
This delightful little plant, with its tiny 'fairies thimbles' flowers, is the first autumn bulb to flower here. Despite its very fragile appearance it is actually as tough as old boots and my clumps have been increasing steadily for a decade or more in sun or part shade. I give them a light dressing of gritty compost when the first growth begins to appear and that is all.
Cyclamen purpurascens 'Silver Leaf'
This is one of my favourite cyclamen, not least because of its rich honey scent which adds appeal to the winning combination of unifromly mid crimson flowers against the silver foliage; note that it is growing here with Rupicapnos africanus, a member of the fumitory clan, which provides most of the silvery backdrop in this image. C. purpurascens never seeds itself about here, but individual corms live for many years; nevertheless, I should like to have a lot more of it scattered around the garden.
I have a number of eryngiums, having always loved their spikiness and generally silvery hues of foliage and flowers, enhanced of course in the best species and selections by a stunning steely blueness. Our own native Sea holly (Eryngium maritimum) is among the best, but I do not grow it in the garden as I prefer to see it in ints native sand dune habitat a mile or two from home. I have shown you E, variifolium before but this year it has excelled itself, producing a cluster of spiky flower stalks above the ever intriguing foliage. Much more lax in growth is E. bourgattii 'Picos Amethyst', with beautifully variegated, dissected foliage and nice blue flowerheads. This and E, 'Miss Wilmot's Ghost' are the only two that self-seed here.
Eryngium bourgattii 'Picos Amethyst'
Eryngium 'Miss Wilmot's Ghost'
Finally, a little plant which always draws attention to itself at this time of year, not least because it's carpet of sparkling creamy white flowers remains in good fettle for a month or more. Sempervivella alba, like all its ilk, will stand more or less continuous drought and any rosettes taken off at almost any time will root with alacrity; what more can you ask for in a late summer flowering alpine?