A North Wales Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: Early June - Entry 45
My last entry was compiled at the end of May and was more than long enough both for me to write and for you to read! However, there were many good plants that I could not mention so I am breaking my normal rule of 'once-a-month only' and producing an interim entry to cover this very busy period in the garden. In any case, my next entry will probably be delayed until mid-July because we are off to the Pyrenees for 10 days at the end of this month; hopefully that trip will give me some worthwile material.
First a few more rhododendrons, some of them much too large for an alpine garden but probably, like me, those of you who have larger gardens than average wish to have some big plants, and what better than some of the larger rhododendrons.The plant of Rh. yunnanense shown here is >20 years old and exceeds 3m high and wide, but it makes a real accent looking down the garden towards the sea on an early June day.It always coveres itself in flowers and is a joy to behold.
Anther equally lovely member of the Triflora section is Rh. davidsonianum, named after Dr. W.H. Davidson who collected it while working for Friends Mission China. It seems to be a much more variable species than R. yunnanense, or perhaps it is just that there have been more introductions from a wider range of sites. That shown here is a very pale form given to me as a seedling which was raised from wild collected American Rhododendron Society seed.
Another of my favourties, also scented, which has been used very extensively (and successfully) in hybridization, is Rh. griffithianum, a splendid large bush/tree, which in my garden has reached 3 x 3m after 23 years from a seedling given to me by Peter Boarcman, raised from seed collected by George Smith and him in E. Nepal. . It is fully hardy on the N. Wales coast but is likely to be tricky in colder climes.
I love this diminuitive, deciduous rhododendron so much in the wonderful brick-red Cox form that I now grow that I do not apologise for showing it yet again - one just cannot get too much of some good things!
Some 'proper' apines
Enough of exotic rhododendrons, let's have a look at a few plants which most of our Members would probably think more appropriate to an alpine garden blog.
I have grown Paedorota bonorota for many years and have seen it several times in the limestone cliffs of the Dolomites where it is an unassuming but attractive plant. But it has never flowered very well for me until this year and having deigned to do so it is really quite an appealing little plant for a crevice. It is one of only two species in its genus, the orher being P. lutea, from similar habitats in the eastern alps and dolomites, with rather undistinguished straw-yellow flowers. They are close relatives of the veronicas, differing from them in having a five-lobed calyx and and corolla with more-or-less erect lobes arranged as two lips, rather than an open, spreading flower. When seen before the flowers appear this plant can cause a missed heartbeat as the foliage can look very like that of the much more highly prized Physoplexis comosa, which often grows in the same habitat and vicinities.
Rupicapnos africanus (syn. Fumaria africana)
This is another plant that I just can't refrain from showing you at this time of year, although I know it may not be hardy in your garden. I find the contrast between the colour, form and texture of the flowers and foliage very pleasing, and it flowers for a good 6 weeks. It is very easy from seed and seeds itself around here, particularly in the sand plunge in the alpine house.
Telesonix jamesii and Onosma albo-roseum
These two plants, the Telesonix (Saxifragaceae) ranging in the Rockies from Alberta to South Dakota, the Onosma (Boraginaceae) from the mountains of Turkey, Iraq and Iran, look super draping themselves over each other and the sides and corner of a raised bed; one of the perennial joys of the garden at this season. Both are easily increased from cuttings of new growth taken after flowering, but beware of the silicon bristles on the onosma which cause severe skin iritation in susceptible people.
Genista pilosa var. procumbens
Also draping iteself over the edge of the same wall a little further along is an aged and very reliable plant of a prostrate from of Genist pilosa, which is an uncommon British native plant that I have seen on various occasions in Wales where it generally grows on sandy or stony soils - I have seen it on old mine wastes.too. G. 'Vancouver Gold', which I also grow, is very similar but perhaps a little more vigorous; both may need clipping after flowering to keep them within bounds.
It is not often that a plant growing other than in the open garden is shown on these pages, not surprising really as I have few plants growing under glass and most of those are not of high quality, but I am making an exception here for Hermannia stricta, which is flowering well now planted out in a raised bench bed in the alpine house.
Hermannia is a genus of about 150 small shrubs from southern Africa in the mallow family (Malvaceae), ranging from upright to sprawling prostrate shrublets. They are charachterized by the presence of minute glandular or star-like hairs on the leaves and stems. The stems often have a dark grey bark. Leaves are alternate and entire, lobed or incised. Flowers consist of 5 petals which are slightly or very strongly spirally twisted into an upended rose. Most Hermannia species posess a thick woody stem and root, forming an underground 'stem', which enables the plants to survive dry periods and fires. In the veld, hermannias appear woody, some species being very palatable to stock and browsed down to the main branches. The genus was named after Prof. Paul Herman (1640-1695), a German professor of botany at Leyden and one of the first travellers and collectors at the Cape.
The fact that one of the common names for these plantrs is desert roses gives a clue as to their cultivation and the reason why mine is growing in the alpine house, they require plenty of heat and tolerate drought but are easily killed by too much water. I suppose they are mostly not very hardy either. I have not propagated my plant yet but gather from the literature that cuttings root reasily so muct give it a try.
Silene glaucifolia (syn. Petrocoptis pyrenaica)
And finally for now, a modest but pretty little plant that I had not grown until my friend William Purvis gave me seed last year, Silene glaucifolia, for long known as Petrocoptis pyrenaica). It has grown quickly into the rounded 15 cm x 15cm specimen seen here and I suspect it will not be long-lived, but it is well worth growing - the shade of pink is particulalry clear and bright. I have it growing in a well drained raised bed.