A North Wales Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: Late May and early June - Entry 60
Unlike most of our friends living in England we have had a relatively damp late May and early June in N. Wales, but with plenty of sunshine: result, a very good season for later alpines. Among later flowering dwarf rhododendrons, R. sargentianum in the Pogonanthum Section was particularly good, the plant shown is 15 years old and about 75 cm across. As I have noted in these pages before, like many of these dwarf rhododendrons and a range of other ericaceous shrubs, propagation may be achieved by 'mounding up' the plants after flowering, that is applying a heavy top dressing of a peaty/sandy mix such that it almost buries the plant, and then working and watering it in. Rooted pieces may be detachable by the following autumn but more likely a year later. Also particularly good this year was the hybrid which turned up in my former Penmaenmawr garden (Bryn Mair) about 35 years ago and which I somewhat predictably named R. 'Bryn Mair'. I believe the parentage to be R. formosanum x R. keiskei 'Yaku Fairy', but could be mistaken as there were various other possible parents in the garden. My special treasure, R. lowndesii, continued its ramble over the rocks and chippings in a semi-shaded raised bed, now so vigorous that I have to trim it back to prevent it overrunning less hearty growers (it is >75 cm across)! But this year it bore very few flowers.
Rhododendron 'Bryn Mair'
At this time of year I usually show a few pictures of celmisias, which do quite well here in our damp, cool climate. But success is relative, Alan Furness's garden near Hexham is the real Mecca for admirers of this genus. He not only grows many species and selections from seed, and vegetatively when wishing to maintain particularly good forms, but seedlings appear spontaneously all over the garden to an extent which I have not witnessed elsewhere. As I have shown pictures of many of my plants before I will limit myself to two on this occasion. C. gracilenta is a runner with narrow silvery leaves barred and mottled to varying extensts with darker tones, liking nothing more than to run among damp stones and rock crevices, producing its rather flimsy but nonetheless attractive (en masse) daisies quite freely. As a foliage plant it often takes prizes at our Shows in the sections for plants with silver foliage. It is one of the commoner species in the wild, occurring in a range of montane habitats in both the N. and S. islands of New Zealand. The other species I have chosen is the very distinctive C. bellidioides, which is endemic to the S. Island, from Nelson and Marlborough to Southland where it grows in wet, usually rocky or gravelly montane to subalpine habitats. This gives a strong clue to its needs in cultivation: it is a shallow-rooting flat cushion that will not stand drying out at any time. As long as this is appreciated it is an easy plant, at least in places in the wetter and cooler parts of the UK (note the self-spored ferns in the picture).
Staying with New Zealan plants for a moment, I have grown this little gem on and off since it was introduced to cultivation in the early 1970s by the late Graham Hutchins of County Park Nursery, a haven for lovers of all Antipodean plants. Its name means "from the marble mountains". This is the smallest of all clematis, generally not more than 5cms high, and it makes a suckering, prostate plant. But it can throw out long stems along the ground, even up to 1m. It can take several years to flowers from seed, which of course is only set if you have at least one male and one female plant (illustrated), for like some other species it is dioecious. If you have a female plant and a male to pollinate it you get the bonus of a display of fluffy seedheads. It iks a very popular show plant, whether in flower or in the sections reserved for plants in seed or fruit. This species has been crossed with several others, notably C. petrei and C. marata to produce a wide range of hybrids varying in size from a little larger than C. marmoraria to full climbers capable of covering a trellis. I have grown only a few of these and currently have only 'Lunar Lass', a cross with C. marata, which rambles gently along the top of a semi-shaded raised bed - its male counterpart is appropriately named 'Moon Man'.
Clematis marmoraria x marata 'Lunar Lass'
Helichrysum sessiloides comes from the Drakensburg Mountains of S. Africa where it is a plant of rock crevices and stabilised screes. It is closely allied to H. marginatum which has larger, more showy flowers and hairier and hence more silvery leaves' . It is often grown in the alpine house where it makes an excellent pot plant, but it grows perfectly well outside here in wet Wales without winter cover, the only problem being that it provides a very comfy home for moss, which must be kept at bay if it is to flourish.
I had not grown this interesting plant, which is the only member of its genus in the family Aristolochiaceae, until recently, but would now not like to be without it. In China, where it is native to forests, valleys and streambanks over a wide range, it is known as Upright ginger (as against the creeping gingers in the genus Asarum, note the anagram!). Saruma henryi is a clumping, shade-loving perennial that slowlyspreads into a rounded mound as much as 60-80 cm tall and wide, and features downy, rounded, heart-shaped leaves (to 10 cm wide) that emerge with a silvery sheen in spring but mature to green. Leaves, which are fragrant if bruised, remain attractive throughout the growing season. The three-petalled flowers occur in succession from early May until July, with occasional blooms later. Although this plant relishes the conditions here in N. Wales it is not difficult in much drier places provided it is given a little more shade - I saw a good specimen a few days ago in a friend's garden in Cambridge which receives little more than half the rainfall we do. The specific epithet honors Augustine Henry (1857-1930), Irish physician, plant explorer/collector and forester who spent 20 years in Central China (1881-1900) collecting seeds, specimens and plant samples for shipment to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Rosa spinosissima 'Kinloch Rannoch'
I don't offen mention roses in these pages although I grow quite a few and some are among my favourite plants. But this little running rose from Scotland is so pretty in May and early June that it feels churlish to exclude it. I received it from William Purvis who has given me so many good plants, who in turn (I believe) recieved it many years ago from Molly Harbord (a name that will ring a bell for many of our older Scottish friends). Presumably it was collected in Kinloch Rannoch, which I have never visited so cannot vouch for its presence there; anyway it is a pretty though very spiny wee thing, only 50-75 cm high, but spreading quite fast by runners, so beware! The flowers are only about 2.5 cm across but the bright clusters of blooms make a good show.