A North Wales Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: Late April at Bod Hyfryd - Entry 20
The second half of the month produced more rain than the first half, but not much, and we are beginning to get dry again. There has been plenty of sunshine between the occasional showers and the garden has looked very good, though I say so myself (but "self praise is no recommendation", as my late mother would have said!). As well as alpines I have a great interest in trees and shrubs, both of which give me equal pleasure in the garden. This photograph shows a large (though not very old, about 10 years) bush of Ceanothus impressus 'Puget Blue', one of my favourites, backed by Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Garnet', which is in flower at the moment and issuing a perfume which must be even more attractive to bees than it is to people, as the whole bush emits a gentle 'buzz' as one walks past. Magnolias are mostly at their best now too, or just past; here a re a couple that never fail to thrill at this time of year. In order they are: M. liliflora 'Nigra', M. 'Heaven Scent' (more a tree than a bush!) M. x soulangeana 'Rustica Rubra', M. 'Leonard Messel' (of Nymans fame, did you see the excellent programme about Nymans on BBC Four this week?), and M. stellata 'White Star'.
Some smaller shrubs...
Also at their best now are many of the dwarf rhododendrons that give so much peasure and colour at this season. Taking some yellows first, I like both Rh. hanceanum 'Nanum' and 'Sleeping Beauty' very much, but my absolute favourites is the almost completely prostrate Cox hybrid 'Wren' (Rh. ludlowii x keiskei 'Yaku Fairy').
Rhodododendron 'Sleeping Beauty'
This is one of the last dwarfs to flower and I thought I would show three colour forms that I grow, charmed as I am by the thimble-like bells with their 'clappers' extending slightly beyond their lips.
Rh. campylogonum var. charopeum
Rh. campylogynum var. myrtilloides
Rh. campylogynum 'Leucanthum'
Cassiope 'Beatrice Lilley'
Cassiopes love the climate here in Wales and provided they are not too shaded flower profusely. C. 'Beatrice Lilley' is one of my favourites, as much for the name as anything because the late Sid Lilley, who was one of the best growers of dwarf ericaceae our Society has ever produced, was one of those who encouraged me when I started growing and showing alpines in the 1960s, and this plant is named for his beloved wife.
Some other dwarf shrubs
There are many other dwarf shrubs that vie for our attention as spring approaches its zenith, not least among which is the charming dwarf Hebe raouli, a well behaved plant that only grows to about 30 cm in height and spreads by runners if required (a good means of propagation if not!).
Corokia cotoneaster 'Little Prince'
This is a very slow growing version of what can be a much larger 'wire-netting bush' from New Zealand, and it repays close inspection with its bronzy foliage and sprinkling of butter yellow flowers. I have not had any fruits yet, but that may require two clones and I only have one plant which was kindly given to me by John Dower after I admired it at a Show.
Aethionemas are plants for everyone, very easy to grow in any sunny spot and the poorest soil, and they come easily from seed, in fact you are likely to find self-sown seedlings scattered around the rock garden. Their only need is to be cut hard back immediately after flowering to keep them compact and vigorous.
Androsace villosa subsp. barbulata
Moving on from dwarf shrubs, let's look at a few other plants giving pleasure at the moment. I don't grow many androsaces in the open - too wet here - but one that is soundly perennial and very reliable is the caucasian form of the widespread and variable Androsace villosa. The plant shown has been growing happily in this part-shaded crevice for more than a decade and requires no attention whatsoever. Rooted pieces can be snipped off and will soon make good new plants.
Saxifraga pedemontana (Turkish form)
This is another white-flowered cushion, being the eastern form of Sax. pedemontana, given to me by John Richards, who raised it from Vojtech Holubek seed. I like it very much indeed as it forms a very firm cushion for a mossy and has flowers which last in good condition for three weeks or more.
I grow a few different trilliums, but none in the broad swathes that I so much envy after my recent visit to Ulster. One that I like is T. recurvatum, which is quite small, not exceeding 30 cm in height, with good marbled foliage and nice wine red flowers. The distinguishing feature, as its name suggests, is that the sepals are very strongly reflexed, as is clearly seen in the photograph.
I have two forms of this gorgeous pasque flower, given to me by Peter Erskine, one being pale pink, the other so pale as to be almost white. They are among my favourites in this enchanting genus, now revealed to us in all its glory in Kit Grey-Wilson's new monograph.