A North Wales Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: Late July - Entry 62
As usual for July, this entry will be quite short as there is not a great deal to report on. Weatherwise it has been much wetter than June, but with plenty of sunny breaks to enjoy the garden and hack back the ever burgeoning vegetation - climbing roses that were snatching my hat off as I passed got the treatment this evening!.
Mertensia maritima - oyster plant
I have grown this fascinating plant a few times over the years, always from seed and never for long. Its natural habitat is coastal sands and shingles around the northern hemisphere, as far north as Svalbard in Europe; it is not uncommon on the N coast of Scotland from Thurso to John o'Groats and is quite widespread in Orkney, Shetland, and some of the Western isles, but not all. It's common name celebrates the fact that the leaves are said to taste like oysters, but as I have not tried them I can't confirm that; the Inuit certainly eat them. The flowers, as you can see are nothing to shout about but the foliage is unlike that of any other plant that looks at home in an alpine garden and stays good all summer, so long as the slugs don't get at it. Full sun and very well drained, even very poor soil suit it well and it looks particularly good planted among rocks or shingle.
Ophiopgon planiscapus 'Nigrescens'
This cartload of syllables describes a plant that, unlike the mertensia, I have had continuously for 40 years, in fact since the late Roy Elliott gave me a piece when I visited his outstanding garden in Handsworth, Birmingham, at the time when I was his deputy editor for The Bulletin (now The Alpine Gardener - Roy would not have approved of the name change!). It is one of the plants that I like, in a mild sort of way, but don't love, and in my view it is definitely better as a foliage plant than when in flower, but you judge for yourself.
Thanks to Jon Evans for naming this pIant for me, it is Phyla nodiflora in the Verbenaceae. As you see, it is a spreader, which roots as it goes, but it is not difficult to keep in check. If, like me, you are happy to see plants spreading out over paths you will probably like it, but if you are a 'tidy' gardener, probably not. I have a friend who always pitches in and helps in the garden when he and his wife visit and he very strongly believes in keeping plants in their allotted bounds and if left to it would hack back anything overhanging, overspreading, undermining - I have to keep a close eye on him!
I don't grow many annuals - night-scented stock, annual cornflower, pot marigolds, love-in-a-mist - and Californian poppies. As you can see, I don't mind these falling over the path either!
Campanula x wockii 'Puck'
This lovely little bellflower pleases every year in a small stone trough, steadily expanding but never becoming a nuisance. You may see a few flowers of Campanula raineri 'Alba' at the back of the photo, but I have talked about that glorious plant several times before. 'Puck' is easily increased by division or from softwood cuttings in spring placed in pure gritty sand.
Platycodon grandiflorus subsp. mariesii 'Albus'
What a mouthful you might well say, but worth remembering if you are looking in a catalogue or online for one of the loveliest flowers of this time of the year. In my garden at least the plant itself is not great - the stems tend to fall over, but the individual flowers are sumptuous, much more so in my opinion than in the usual blue forms. My plant is at least fifteen years old but has never really increased, and I have not tried to propagate it - there's a reminder to myself!
Self-seeding Sea hollies
I love eryngiums and to my great pleasure they seed around gently in my garden, notably 'Miss Wilmott's Ghost' (Eryngium giganteum) and latterly two others, the tall E. x zabelii 'Big Blue', which is tall with very dark blue flowers and stems, and my favourite E. alpinum 'Picos Amethyst' having finely fretted, very spiny foliage and paler more numerous flower heads on only 40 cm stems.
Veronica spicata - Spiked speedwell
Finally, a wild plant which is pretty rare in the British Isles, not occurring in Scotland or Ireland and only in a few scattered sites on limestone rocks in England and Wales. As it happens, two of its best N. Wales sites are within a 20 minute drive from home, cliffs on the Great Orme in Llandudno and nearby at Esgyryn where a friend and I found it in full and beautiful flower today on a steepish S-facing, almost bare rocky slope with rock roses (Helianthemum nummularium) and eyebrights. I'm glad to be able to say that it is increasing at this location, which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a local nature reserve. The scrub control and winter grazing seem to be working. This is also a good site for butterflies of which we saw 9 species, mostly feeding on abundant wild marjoram (Origanum vulgare). There are several forms of Veronica spicata in cultivation including an albino and a pink selection called 'Heidikind'; all are very easy to grow.