A North Wales Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: Late June and early July - Entry 61
A good early summer
Late June and the first half of July were drier and warmer than usual here, with only occasional (welcome) rain and lots of that factor most often lacking here in N. Wales, sunshine! As a result the garden has prospered, shrubs especially putting on masses of new growth to the extent that much of the time my young gardener Jenny and I have spent her infrequent sessions cutting back and chopping up, with weeding sessions squeezed in where possible. Several largish branches of Cornus capitata, that is rapidly becoming a very beautiful tree rather than a shrub, have had to be removed, but placed as it is near the bottom of the garden with the sea behind it is really the star at this time of year, and again later when it bears a heavy crop of its strawberry-red, lychee like fruits. Seedlings are duly found around and beneath it so propagation is easy, just dig them up, pot them and keep them sheltered until they settle down - I have given quite a few to garden visitors over the years.
Zenobia pulverulenta 'Misty Blue'
This is the only member of a genus in the heather family and it occurs in the wild from Virginia to South Carolina, growing in damp sandy, or peaty pine barrens where soil fertility is very low. I have seen it there growing with stunted pines (Pinus rigida) in almost pure sand, in one damper, peatier place with the delightful carpeting pixie moss (Pyxidanthera barbulata), an endangered member of the Diapensiaceae that is restricted to such areas and which I have never managed to obtain, let alone grow. If you ever have a chance to visit the pine barrens, grab it, they are an unexpected and unique ecosystem, at least as far as my experience is concerned. In the garden Z. pulverulenta slowly builds to make a fairly congested bush with long arching branches along which the large white bells are strung like pearls. In the case of 'Misty Blue' the foliage and stems are much more richly endowed than the type with a waxy bloom that raises it to a new level of beauty. Because it is ericaceous it requires acid soil, and as its habitat indicates, that can hardly be too acid, and soil richness is to be avoided. It can be propagated from cuttings but the easiest method is to layer a few branches, covering them with a very gritty, peaty mix.
Another unusual shrub which is perhaps interesting rather than very beautiful, is evergreen Acredinia frankliniae, a member of the citrus family (Rutaceae) found in western Tasmania. Known there as the Whitey-wood or Wirewood it grows to three metres in height, its habitat being the lower understorey of the temperate rainforest where it is often found near streams. The long-lasting, scented (not very nicely so!) white flowers are followed by insignificant yellow fruits resembling tiny squat lemons which later dry up to form woody husks. I have not propagated it but believe that the usual means of increase is from softwood cuttings.
This sub-shrubby but quite succulent plant forms an evergreen dome which may reach as much as 50 cm across before it opens up and looses its appeal. If it flowered in the peak season it would probably be overlooked, but peaking as it does in July and lasting for a long time it is well worth a place in even quite a small rock garden, or large trough. It seeds around mildly here but like all crassulaceans it is easily propagated from cuttings, indeed, branches that break off may root where they fall.
Self-sown silver saxifrage
I have quite a few silver saxifrages, several of them growing together in a trough that was once a sink in our former home. Like sedums and sempervivums they always look neat so are good plants for a trough when out of flower. Occasionally self-sown seedlings appear in cracks in the top of the adjoining slate-topped wall and they usually show clear signs of being the result of monkey business between the trough's occupants, as in the case of the plant illustrated. This clearly has plenty of S. callosa in it, perhaps with a dash of S. cochlearis. Anyway, whatever the parentage, over 6 years or so it has grown into a fine plant that looks especially nice with its plumes of pure white flowers arching out over the edge of the wall, certainly more effective than any that I have planted!
At this time of year campanulas are the most colourful and varied genus in the alpine garden, I can never have too many of them. The pure white C. alliarifolia 'Minor' is a vigorous plant that spreads out its multiple stems from a single rootstock making a real show in early July. This ten-year-old plant is backed by a steadily spreading clump of Alstroemeria presleyana that is running out of steam, especially at the centre, and really needs to be dug out (no small task!) and started again.
C. alliarifolia 'Minor'
Campanula punctata 'Nana'
This may be 'Nana', but it is no mean spreader and like the alstroemeria needs to be 'managed'. However, as it grows happily among the roots and in the shade of a flowering cherry I tolerate it. The flowers are very large for the size of the plant.
Campanula pusilla (cochlearifolia) 'Cambridge Blue
What a joy these 'fairy thimbles' are, wending their way harmlessly among other alpines and only requiring occasional renewal, propagation involves no more effort than taking some rooted pieces off the edge and either potting them up or dibbling them into fresh ground.
Thymus serpyllum 'Pink Chintz'
It is normally difficult to take a photo of this plant in flower without capturing a number of butterflies, for its kind are a magnet to all nectar-feeding insects, but this year one of the sadnesses in this garden has been the dispiriting lack of butterflies, only the occasional whites, Holly blues and Small tortoiseshells being in attendance. There is still time for a late season revival but it had better be quick.....
Rehmannia 'Magic Dragon'
It isn't very often that I include a border perennial in this blog but I make exception for what I think is an exceptional new (2015) introduction, Rehmannia x 'Magic Dragon'. This is a hybrid between two Chinese species, R. elata x R. glutinosa and it shows all the signs of hybrid vigour. I have it growing in a dryish border in full sun and it started flowering in May and will continue until October - the flowers are a lovely shade of crushed strawberry and are 5-7 cm across, carried on strong 50 cm stems that require no staking, even in this windy garden - a winner!