A North Wales Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: Blithe spring - May 2016 - Entry 44
Spring was a long time coming this year here in N. Wales, but with the arrival of May - my favourite month - things looked up and it has been, by and large, a fine and very pleasant time. We have had sufficient rain to keep most plants happy, and enough sun and (intermittent) warmth to make them grow, so a very sorry, bedraggled looking garden at the end of April has been transformed into a delight at the end of May. Such transformations are, of course, the chief reason why we all love the spring so much, and for the alpine gardener, most of whose treasures bloom at this season, there is unalloyed delight as each new (or forgotten), or improved plant joins the party. There is hardly time to take it all in, let alone deal with all those pesky weeds that also delight in the arrival of warm weather. Best, really, to simply enjoy the spectacle and not worry too much, soon summer will be at its height and there will be time then to attend to the tedious monotony of keeping the garden tidy. So I generally adopt the policy of ecelctic weeding in May, concentrating on removing plants before they set seed rather than removing every weed in a bed, and this I generally do in a fairly piecemeal manner as I wander around the garden admiring the alpines (and others) that are doing well and deciding what to do about those that are less happy and may need propagating, or replacement if they have gone past that stage. Of course, it is a relatively easy matter deciding what should be done, quite another doing it, and every year I curse myself for not having followed my own advice.
As far as propagation is concerned I have definitely 'taken my foot of the gas' as our American friends would say, as times winged chariot has begun to gather pace, Is it worth my while propagating that magnolia that took 15 years to reach a decent size and flower properly? Should I sow seed of cushion raoulias that are unlikely to reach more then golaf ball size before I shuffle off this mortal coil? Will I have time to develop a solid carpet of erythroniums below my taller rhododendrons like that which captivated me at Bodnant this April? Such questions should not really be asked, but they have a way of worming their way into the mind at vulnerable moments..... but. hey. its spring and we should live for the day, so enough of melancholy, let's look at some plants.
Where better to launch into a festival of May flowers than with some rhododendrons, almost all of which I love whether species or hybrid, and almost regardless of colour, although I do draw the line at those (many) so-called 'blues' that in fact have an unpleasantly large admixture of pink. But I have one really good blue, 'St Tudy' (R. impeditum x R. augustinii ssp. augustinii) that draws all eyes when in full flower. It was raised in 1936 by the noted rhododendron hybridist E.J.P. Magor at St. Tudy in Cornwall, and if he had never raised another worthwhile hybrid he would still deserve our thanks for this splendid plant. That shown has been growing in my garden for >25 years, having been given to me by a Franciscan friar and keen gardener who brough it as a gift when visiting my former garden in Penmaenmawr at least 30 years ago. His name is long forgotten by me but his kindness and love of plants are not. In fact Magor registered more than a hundred hybrids and selections of species, most of which have been lost and/or are no longer available, but another good blue of the same parentae as 'St Tudy' is 'St Breward', which is still to be had. Quite different but also lovely and well worth growing is his hybrid 'Cinnkeys' (R. cinnabarinum ssp. cinnabarinum x R. keysii), with elongated, waxy, yellow-tipped orange flowers, borne in hanging clusters. I have grown this plant but do not have it now, so the photo of it is in someone else's garden.
Rhododendron 'Cinnkeys' (R. cinnabarinum ssp. cinn
Rhododendron 'Bo-peep' (R. lutescens x moupinense)
Among the dwarf yellows I have expounded the virtues in previous spring entries of R. 'Wren', 'Merganser', 'Chikor' 'Princess Anne' and R. hanceanum var. nanum; here is another good one, 'Bo-Peep' (R. lutescens x R. moupinense), raised by Lionel de Rostchild at Exbury in 1934. I tis very compact and after 8 years is c. 45 x 45 cm.
R. johnstoneanum is a good deal larger, 1 metre high and wide after 12 years, This has often been a disappointment as the dormant buds often fail to develop and open in spring, probably as a result of frost damage - it is only hardy to c. -5C., but this year it has been wonderful, covered in large, fragant, cream trumpets. It has been in cultivation in the UK since 1882 and was named for George Johnstone of the famouns garden at Trewithen in Cornwall.
Rhododendron cephalanthum ssp. cephalanthum
This truly dwarf member of the so-called daphne-flowered group of lepidote (scaly) rhododendronsis the only one I have seen with such bright white flowers. If brushed with the hand the leaves give off that characteristic lepidote smell, which is difficult to describe and which you might like or hate..
This is probably my favourite red species and my 20+ year old plant which is still only a metre high is now well over two metres across, which is fine except that it is growing across a path to meet one of its kin, the yellow R. ambiguumn, and I can't delay any longer the need to cut it back, but oh what a painful act that will be for me as well as the rhododendrons! Moral, think ahead when planting shrubs that do not take very kindly to mutilation, but who thinks 20 years ahead, least of all an impatient gardener like me!
A nice ericaceous partner for the dwarfer rhododendrons is Vaccinium nummularia, which looks good throughout the year with its glossy bronze-tinted foliage, but it is especially attractive when bearing its clusters of tiny crimson stained white urn-shaped flowers. It spreads gently by suckers and is easily increased by this means.
Archibald Menzies (1754-1842) and the genus named
Menziesia (now sadly subsumed within the genus Rhododendron) also goes well with other dwarf rhododendrons and I grow two selections of M. cilicalyx (Rhododendron multiflorum), 'Plum Drops' and 'Ylva', but before I show you those I thought that a brief diversion to say a bit about Archibald Menzies himself might be of interest to some of you, especially now that the monotypic genus named after him is no more. For what follows I am grateful (as so often) to Wikipedia, which while not always accurate often (as in this case) is.
'Menzies was born in Perthshire and while working as a young man with his elder brother William at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh he drew the attention of Dr John Hope, professor of botany at Edinburgh University, who encouraged him to studymedicine there. Having qualified as a surgeon, Menzies served as assistant to a doctor in Caernarvon, then joined the Royal Navy as assistant surgeon on HMS Nonsuch. Present at Battle of the Saintes (12 April 1782), in peacetime Menzies served on Halifax Station in Nova Scotia. In 1786 Menzies was appointed surgeon on board the Prince of Wales on a fur-trading voyage round Cape Horn to the northern Pacific. This ship, in the company of Princess Royal, visited North America, China and Hawaii (the Sandwich Isles) several times; Menzies collected a number of new plants on this voyage, including what is now Rhododendron multiflorum, and also ensured that none of the crew died of illness. Menzies returned to Great Britain in 1789. He was elected a fellow of the Linnean Society in 1790. Also in that year he was appointed as naturalist to accompany Captain George Vancouver on his famous voyage around the world on HMS Discovery. When the surgeon fell ill, Menzies took over his duties.
In 1794, while Discovery spent one of three winters in Hawaii, Menzies, with Lieutenant Joseph Baker and two other men, made the first recorded ascent to Mokuaweoweo, the summit of Mauna Loa. Menzies used a portable barometer to measure the height of the mountain as 13564 feet (4134m) compared to its currently known height of 13679 feet (4169m).
A famous story about Menzies tells how, In 1795, he was served the seeds of the Chile Pine, Araucaria araucana, as a dessert while dining with the Viceroy of Chile. He was able to pop some seeds into his pocket and grow them on board ship on the way back to Europe, and returned to England with five healthy plants, the first seen in Britain. Known as the Monkey Puzzle tree, the Chile Pine became a favourite in most formal gardens of the nineteenth century.
After the voyage, Menzies served with the Navy in the West Indies. He received the degree of M.D. at the University of Aberdeen in 1799. After retiring from the Navy he became a doctor and surgeon at Notting Hill, London. He became President of the Linnean Society upon the death of A.B. Lambert.'
Rhododendron multiflorum (Menziesia cilicalyx 'Plu
R. multiflorum 'Ylva'
I have quite a few daphnes, though never as many as I would like! They have not done very well this year, principally I think because of the long, cold, wet winter and spring - in my experience they hate cloying damp. Anyway, some are worth illustrating, but of course it is not possible to convey that wonderful scent..
Daphne cneorum 'Eximia'
Daphne cneorum 'Album'
Daphne arbuscula (from the late Duncan Lowe)
Daphne x hendersonii 'Marion White'
Everyone seems to love trilliums and it is easy to see why. They are unusual and interesting and it is surprisingly common for visitors to the garden to say, 'what's that!? when they see one for the first time. The various confused (to me anyway!) sessile species have mostly finished flowering here by early May, but T. reflexum is an exception; its still good now at the beginning of June. Also extending its season to late May/early June is the pedicellate T. simile, and I have these two growing together as shown in the photo. All trilliums like leafy, spongy, moist soil, compaction is their chief enemy, so top dress them frequently with bulky compost and keep off the planted areas as much as possible. The same goes for most woodland perennials, including arisaemas, erythroniums and the many members of the Solomon's seal tribe (Convallariaceae)
Trillium recurvatum and T. simile
Note the reflexed sepals which are the reason for its specific name. This is a slow grower, increasing gradually by stolons; the clump illustrated is 8 years old from seed. This is a reasonably common wildflower in woodlands and savannah over a fairly large part of the central and eastern states of the US.
This is a tight clump forming species from woodland in the southern Appalachian mountains of the southeastern US. It seems very long-lived - this clump is >15 yerars old.
This looks to me like a reduced form of T. albidum, being smaller in all its parts and only growing to about 25 cm high. It is at its best here a good 4 weeks later than T. albidum.It hails from oak woodland between the Coast Range and the Cascades in Northern Oregon and Southern Washington states..
Some silver saxifrages
I have always been keen on silver saxifrages, such easy and accommodating plants being long-lived, not fussy with regards to soil, more-or-less disease free,and flowering for quite a long time. It is true that they are 'much of a muchness', but do we hold that against daphnes or gentians? I have forgotten how old some of my plants are but all continue to give satisfaction year after year;.If I had to pick a favourite it would probably be S. cochlearis 'Minor', which is verycompact, flowers freely every year, and lives for ever.
Saxifraga cochlearis 'Minor'
Saxifraga cotyledon 'Slack Top Ruby Southside' AGM
This selection from the more widely grown Saxifraga 'Southside Seedling' is as good as any and better than most. The individual flowersare small but the bright scarlet blotch is particularly bold and clearly defined,.so that the overall effect of literally thousands is. as you see, quite stunning.
Saxifraga cotyledon 'Major'
I have only seen S. cotyledon in flower in the wild once, near the Cirque de Troumouse in the Pyrenees where it was growing quite low down on and among large, wet, granite boulders. My clumnp of the form 'Major' has grown to 40 cm in diameter from a single rosette in c. 15 years and it makes a good show when in full flower..
I have shown this plant before, but as it is in full flower now and is such a stunning performer, I thought I would finish this entry with it.