A North Wales Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: June 2015 - Entry 33
No 'flaming June' this year!
June continued as May ended - cold and breezy, summer not really arriving until the last week when temperatures finally began to soar. Thus we were still about 2 weeks behind with development in the garden, many early flowers still hanging on well into the month. But as June wore on so did the near drought conditions, we had less than 25 mm of rain in the whole month compared with a long term average of 70 mm, and I had to water troughs and other containers, which I have rarely had to do before July, or in some years not at all. But some plants can stand any amount of drought without complaining, including those little gems Rupicapnos africana and Sarcocapnos enneaphylla.
Rupicapnos africana (syn. Fumaria africana) and Sa
I shall be interested to hear how many of you have managed successfully to grow these two crevice/scree dwellers from S. Spain and N. Africa in the open ground without protection. Here it is not difficult to get R, africana, which is much the more robust, through an average winter, provided the drainage of the soil is impeccable, more difficult when there is any prolonged period of cold, as in 20011-12. Sarcocapnos ennneaphylla has persisted on occasion, but generally succumbs to winter wet, but in the (unheated) alpine house it seeds around all over the place and has to be removed from among other plants - not difficult as it has a weak root system with very little hold on the soil. I am fond of both of them, having grown them for most of my gardening life; they share interesting flower forms and colours over refined, delicate foliage, and one can alwayssurprise those not in the know by letting them into the secret that they reside in the poppy family; anything less like a poppy is difficult to imagine on first inspection, and even after several more in my case! It goes without saying that as well as good drainage they demand full exposure to the sun. Propagation is very easy from seed which is freely set even on single plants, which can be either self- or cross-pollinated. But now I come to think of it I have never seen either of them being pollinated by an insect, but that is not to say that it doesn't happen, just that it is not routine. Both Rupicapnos and Sarcocapnos are very small genera, only two or three of the former (some 'splitters' would increase that to five), perhaps six of the latter.
The 'Mediterranean' bed on June 7
The slightly raised so-called Mediterranean bed - it is the driest and sunniest in the garden - has looked quite good throughout June and is still full of interest now, in the beginning of July. Among quite a few other things it contains a number of dianthus; I am very fond of pinks. For sheer impact D. 'La Bourboule' and its form 'Alba' are hard to beat, covering themselves with very fragrant flowers for 2-3 weeks, and always nice because of their glaucous foliage; any unflowered shoots pulled off now and struck in pure gritty sand will take and give you good plants to put out before winter begins. D. 'Nyewood's Cream' is more compact and just as floriferous, while among the 'fringed' species the dwarf D. petraeus ssp. noeanus is rather special, and oh, that scent! Of similar diminuitive stature, but in this case a harder cushion with tiny pink flowers, is D. subacaulis. Similar again is D. arpadianus, not as free flowerting but after c. 12 years it has formed a rock-hugging silvery cushion > 50 cm across which is always a pleasure to look at and touch. And finally among my favourite alpine pinks, the appropriately named D. haematocalyx.
Dianthus 'La Bourboule'
Dianthus 'La Bourboule Alba'
Dianthus 'Nyewood's Cream'
Dianthus petraeus ssp. noeanus
Dianthus haematocalyx ssp. subacaulis
Also in the 'pink' family is the very tight cushion-forming soapwort, Saponaria pumilio, from limestone slopes and rock crevices in Eastern Europe, Turkey and Lebanon. The 40 cm diameter mat in a aunmy raised bed in my garden is c. 15 years old. It often flowers pretty well but rarely as well as this June. It never sets seed with me so has to be raised from cuttings taken from non-flowered shoots, which can be difficult to find.
Good companions for the 'pinks'
Linum suffruticosum ssp. salsoloides 'Nanum'
Other summer-flowering plants that go well with dianthus include the lovely pure white Linum salsoloides 'Nanum' (syn. L. suffruticosum ssp. salsoloides 'Nanum') which is a plant of S.W. European distribution on generally limestone substrates. It loves nothing more than to bask in the sunshine with its 'arms' stretched out over a heat-absorbing rock. The epithet 'Nanum' is well used in this case, for the 'type' plant which one sees in the wild is a straggly sub-shrub up to 30 cm high; much less suitable for the rock garden. One that I have mentioned here before is a plant that I found in the Picos de Europa and which spreads persistently, but not too aggressively, through the surface of scree beds and is easily removed, Linum faucicola. The colour complements the silvery foliage extremely well.
Campanulas are of course a 'must' for the summer rock garden, whether relatively petite and well-behaved, such as the elite C. raineri, C. morettiana, and C. zoysii, the many gently creeping forms of C. pusilla, of which I prefer the white and pale blue cultivars, the more robust and easily underestimated clump formers, such as the cottage garden wall plant C. portenschlagiana (of which I illustrate a particularly good selection), or those that spread out far and wide but do not root as they go, such as C. 'Blue Gown' that I have only recently acquired. There are of course many, many more, and if I had the space I would probably grow almost all of them, for I love the bell shape in any flower. Their only 'fault' as far as I am concerned is that as far as I am aware all campanulas lack a discernible scent, and perfume in the garden is a very strong attractant as far as I am concerned.
Campanula pusilla, collected Dolomites
Campanula 'Blue Gown'
This beautiful cousin to the campanulas is a rare plant in the wild, confined to Mt Biokovo on the dalmatian coast of Croatia, a very similar and closely related species, E. dinaricus having a similarly limited distribution on the nearby Mt Mosor. A very interesting and informative recent paper (Stefanovic et al., in the journal Taxon, volume 57, no. 2, pp. 452-475, 2008) describes relationships within the genus Edraianthus, which is limited in its distribution to the Balkan Peninsula and adjacent areas and which is separated from Campanula primarily by the manner of the opening of the capsule to allow seed dispersal - lateral or dorsal pores in Campanula, irregular apical rupturing in Edraianthus. In practice it is often very difficult to distinguish species in the wild, especially at flowering time when the foliage, which can be distinctive, is hidden by a carpet of flowers; the photograph of a plant of what I am pretty sure is E. pumilio in a trough in our garden illustrates the point.
It might seem early to begin showing pictures of seedheads, but for many spring flowering alpines it is now or never, literally 'here today, gone tomorrow'. I always enjoy walking round the garden in the evening at this time of year when I can look at seedheads 'contra-jour as the sun goes down. Of course, if one tries to photograph them at this time there is a strong yellow caste, which I don't mind too much but which looks slightly odd on-screen; anyway, here goes!
Dryas octopetala 'Minor' seedheads