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A North Wales Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: July 2015 nothing to write home about! - Entry 34

July was fairly typical here in N. Wales, cool, not much sun, often windy and quite wet! However, the sun did of course shine some of the time and the photo shows how the main scree beds looked in the middle of the month.

There have been a few notable delights in the garden, including the first flowering of Mutisia spinosa; a plant given to me as a seedling four years ago by Peter Erskine, who had in turn raised his plants from seedlings I had given to him several years earlier - a good example of the good old gardening maxim, 'if you want to keep a plant give it away!'. This, like most of the mutisias, is a scrambling climber, which can easily reach 5 m, attaching itself by the tendrils at the tips of its leaves to whatever support is available, in this case a large deutzia (name unknown, it was here when we bought the house 24 years ago). The pink daisy flowers show off nicely against the greyish leaves and clusters of white flowers of the deutzia. It is easily raised from the typical, but quite large daisy seeds, but you need to sort out the fat (fertilised) seeds from the thin (unfertilised) ones. I also have M. oligodon, a less vigorous climber kindly given to me by William Purvis, but that is only a little fella and will not flower for a year or two. I have tried and failed several times with the fabulous orange-flowered M. decurrens, but would love to try it again if any of you have seed or a seedling to spare.

Mutisia spinosa


Penstemons in general, and mountain penstemons in particular, do not like our cloudy often wet summers, but there are exceptions, perhaps the most notable being P. speciosus, which has spread into a large but non-invasive clump in the front of a very poor dry border due to invasion by tree roots from a large beech some 10 m distant - sometimes such gardening vicissitudes can be turned to one's advantage! Even with digital photography I find it difficult to get the blues right and I had to tamper with these images a bit to get it as near right as possible!

Penstemon speciosus Penstemon speciosus close-up

Less reliable and attractive, because it tends to die off in patches, but long-lived nevertheless, is P. pinifolius in both its 'normal' scarlet and 'Mersea yellow' forms. All you can do in our climate is to give them the hottest, driest spot possible.

Penstemon pinifolius Penstemon pinifolius 'Mersea Yellow'

A couple of campanulas

I have said often before how I have had a lifetime love affair with campanulas - its the bell shape that appeals to me and the seemingly infinite variety that this simple form encompasses. Two that have particularly appealed to me this month are the oh-so-common, but oh-so-charming C. pusilla (syn. C. cochlearifolia), especially in the aptly named selecion 'Cambridge blue', and a dwarf form of the excellent border plant, C. punctata 'Nana', which grows to c. 30 cm rather than 60cm, making it look just right among other late-flowering alpines. If you pick the dead flowers off it seems to go on flowering for ages, All campanulas are easily raised from seed (if you manage to collect it before it is dispered through the tiny pores at the backs of the capsules), but the seedling are equally tiny at first so don't sow too thickly and thin out early. Of course, in the case of the (many) species that spread by runners it is much easier to take a few bits off and root them in sand, if they aren't rooted already, which they often are.

Campanula pusilla 'Cambridge Blue' Campanula punctata 'Nana'

Geranium maderense

Some plants just 'knock your socks of' (extraordinary expression isn't it?!), and the magnificent (no other word seems adequate) Geranium maderense is one of them. The rapidly developing first-year plant with its huge shiny leaves is exciting enough, but when the following year  the enormous flower panicle develops it becomes the focus of all eyes wherever it is growing. But of course it needs space, lots of it, and it is easy to forget just how big it gets when looking for a suitable planting location. But if you get it wrong your mistake will not live on to haunt you because at the end of the second season the whole mass collapses, leaving behind huge numbers of seeds which, with their and succeeding generation offspring will populate your garden for the forseeable future. Don't worry, they are very easily removed where not wanted and if potted on make excellent presents for garden visitors. Here it is seen growing alongside one of my favourite roses, the repeat-flowering 'buttonhole' variety R. 'Perle d'Or'

Geranium maderense Geranium maderense close-up

Abelia floribunda

I have written about this unusual and very special shrub before, but give as my excuse for repetition the fact that it has flowered far more freely this year than ever before. Most people seeing it first time mistake it, quite reasonably, for a hardy fuchsia - the flowers are not only fuchsia-shaped but also of a colour often called 'Fuchsia pink'. If you live in a colder place than I do try it as as a wall plant in a sunny, sheltered spot and you will probably get away with it.

Abelia floribunda Abelia floribunda close-up

Phyladelphus 'Belle Etoile'

While I'm digressing (as usual!) from my proper subject of alpines in a N. Wales garden I might as well crave your indulgence and mention another of my favourite shrubs, Philadelphus 'Belle Etoile'. This is a lare shrub which is of little if any interest until it flowers in July, when it suddenly comes to dominate its corner of the garden, not only because of the profusion of quite large white flowers, each with a cerise band at the throat, but for its wonderful scent which perfumes the air far and wide - I have heard people walking down the lane some 10m on the other side of our hedge boundary trying to locate the source of this delight. Cuttings root so easily that you can simply take off half-ripened (unflowered) shoots and push them into the ground if you are too lazy to put them in rooting compost, or bend a shoot down and layer it.

Philadelphus 'Belle Etoile'

Alstroemeria aurantiaca (syn. A. aurea

I acquired wild-collected seed of Alstroemeria aurantiaca from John Watson many years ago and was doubtful about planting it out in the garden because of its reputation for thuggery, but I need not have worried. It has taken at least ten years to grow into the slowly spreading patch that you see here, growing in a very poor shaly scree. I know the colour is felt by some to be 'vulgar', but who cares, I love it! 

Alstroemeria aurantiaca Alstroemeria aurantiaca close-up

Origanum vulgare 'Aurea'

Marjoram is, quite rightly, usually seen in the herb garden, but many of the smaller herbs (thymes are of course the most obvious) make very good additions to the alpine garden. The golden form of marjoram only grows about 20 cm high and spreads rather more slowly than the normal green form, presumably because there is less chlorophyll in the engine room of energy fixation in the chloroplasts. Anyway, it makes a nice 'quiet' addition to a scree or raised bed in full sun and can easily be increased from cuttings.

Origanum vulgare 'Aurea'

Thymus serpyllum 'Pink Chintz' and Meadow brown bu

Talking of thymes, they make a brave show in July and are a wonderful attractant for all sorts of insects, including butterflies. It has been a poor year so far here for these wondrous insects; not surprising given the weather, but on sunny days the thyme has attracted the odd Peacock, Red admiral, Small tortoiseshell, Small skipper and many Meadow browns, the commonest species this year, which is unusual. We have seen hardly any white butterflies which is very unusual, so the brassicas have been relatively unscathed, but I wonder why they have been particularly hard hit?

Thymus 'Pink Chintz'

Jovibarba globifera from Linnaeus'garden

I mainly show this plant because a friend brought it back from a visit to Carl Linnaeus' garden in Sweden a few years ago and therefore it has a special place in my affection, being as I am a fellow of the Linnean Society of London. It is of course an archetypal 'hen-and-chicks' succulent which soon spreads to cover quite a large area of scree, and the 'chicks' root even if dropped in apparently completely unlikely places! The colour combinations of greens, yellows and reds in the interestingly shaped rosettes matches or even exceeds those of most sempervivums. The two genera are separated by the fact that jovibarba flowers generally have only five or six yellowish petals that do not open widely, while sempervivums have twice as many petals which open flat to make a large flower with greater impact.

Jovibarba globifera from Linnaeus'garden

Roscoea cautleyoides seeding into a path

I have a few roscoeas, the best of which for me is the 'Kew Form' of the yellow morph of R. cautleyoides. Occasional seedlings are produced about the mother by various species, notably the diminuitive R. alpina, but I have never had the late-flowering purple form of R. cautleyoides seed so freely as it clearly did last year - a sollid mass spilling over from the humus-rich bed in which the mother plant is growing into the distincly non-humus-rich gravel path. It only goes to show, once again, that plants very often do the unexpected, just as people do!

Roscoea cautleyoides seeding into a path

Celmisia ? prorepens

Most of the celmisias have finished flowering some time ago but one that I think is C. prorepens (correct me if I'm wrong) is still good. I think I got it from Alan Furness some years ago as a cutting, but the label is lost and I have no other record. Like those of most celmisias, cuttings root easily, and I now have a few well rooted plants growing on so if you like the look of it and would particularly like to possess it, let me know and I will send you cuttings or (if there  are not too many requests) a plant.

Celmisia ? prorepens

Lilium pardalinum ssp. pitkinense

This is an endangered sub-species of the Panther lily from bogs and seepages in the Coastal Cascade Ranges of Sonoma County, N. California. It grows to about half the height of L. pardalinum as usally seen, but the flowers are no smaller, so it is a nice plant for a damp spot in the garden, even tolerating winter waterlogging. I never seem to get much seed, but if I do get some this year I will donate a bit to the AGS exchange, so if you want it look out for it in the seed list.

Lilium pardalinum ssp. pitkinense Lilium pardalinum ssp. pitkinense close-up
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