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A North Wales Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: March 2017, early and late... Entry 56

I mentioned in my earlier offerings that snowdrops were mostly 2-3 weeks late in coming into flower this year, but once things began to get underway there has been a rapid acceleration and now there are many plants, particularly shrubs, which are flowering earlier than usual. As it has not been particularly mild, although frosts have been absent since the end of January, this is difficult to explain. However, it was very dry until the end of February and has been pretty wet since so I think the sudden change in availability of soil water has probably had something to do with it. Anyway, spring is underway and hallelujah to that. Of course, with spring comes a rapid acceleration of jobs needing to be done, especially if like me you are a general gardener who grows, fruit, vegetables and tropical orchids as well as a wide range of alpines, trees and shrubs and, to a lesser extent herbaceous perennials. Not a good time to have back trouble, but that has been my unfortunate lot this last few weeks, brought on I'm pretty sure by two half-day sessions with a Springbok rake clearing the lawns of all the debris of winter before making the first cut - a job which I shall entrust to my young, fit gardener in future. But when it comes to bad backs I probably have the sympathy of many of you keen gardeners out there!

The kabschia saxifrages are mostly over now  but have been very good this year; they are among my favourite plantrs, providing such a vibrant demonstration of the special character of cushion plants, so ably expounded by Robert Rolfe in his current comprehensive articles in The Alpine Gardener. A  few photographs will hopefully demonstrate what they offer.

 

Saxifrages 'Allendale Elf' and 'Cumulus' in a con

There is nothing these saxifrages like better than to grow into each other and while some may find separate individual cushions more appealing, I like the naturalness of the freely mingling plants.

Saxifrages 'Allendale Elf' and 'Cumulus'

Saxifrage 'Meteor'

This is a mat rather than cushion former and flowers for the longest time of any of my kabschias. The plant shown is about twenty years old, so not a rapid spreader!

Saxifrage 'Meteor'

Saxifraga oppositifolia 'Splendens'

This is the best Sax. oppositifolia in my garden and this particular plant always covers itself in flowers. However, at 10 years old or more it is now beginning to show its age so I must take some cuttings ....

Saxifraga oppositifolia 'Splendens'

Saxifrage 'Mirko Weber'

I have tried to find the origins of this plant and the person, presumably Czech, for whom it is names -  any help out there? I have several yellows but I am showing this one because I haven't done so before and it has flowered better this year than previously.

Saxifrage 'Mirko Weber'

Peony woes!

I have mentioned the problems I have experienced every year here with botrytis mould on peonies caused by Botrytis paeonia, but I have not, I think, illustrated the affliction. Two photos of emerging foliage on the same plant of P. witmanniana follow, the first of an to all intents and purposes a healthy shoot, the second of a deformed shoot with enhanced red pigmentation of the leaf veins; a shrivelled flower bud completes the sad scene I treat my peonies with fungicide two or three times during the season, alternating between 'Rose Clear' (which is actually an insecticide as well as a fungicide), and Benlate, which is no longer available but of which I have an almost exhausted stock which I layed by when its removal was announced - I should hasten to say that it, like many pesticides, has disappeared not because it is particulalrly hazardous, but becuase the makers (Murphy in this case) were not prepared to foot the bill for the extensive testing required before approval under EU regulations for amateur use.It will be interesting to see if similar testing regimes remain in place after our departure from the EU. I am not sure that the treatments I apply are particulalry successful but I love my peonies so much that I am prepared to go to this trouble in the hope that it does some good. One thing I have done, following advice from Martin Sheader when he visited a couple of years ago, is to take the drastic step of removing several old (and glorious) Paeonia suffruticosa tree peonies, which Martin considered to be the main continuing source of infection of his herbaceous peonies and which (in my garden too) showed the most obvious signs of infection, and there does seem to be some improvement in the situation. 

Paeonia witmanniana healthy foliage

Paeonia witmanniana foliage affected by peony mild

Heloniopsis breviscapa subsp. orientalis (syn H. j

This is a plant that flourishes in deep shade, but not I think in among tree roots where the ground is eternally dry, as its colloquial name is Swamp Pink!  It is one of those modest plants that appeals to those with a will to observe beauty at close quarters. It is a member of a small genus of perhaps 6 species in the family Melianthiaceae from  east Asia (Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Sakhalin Islands in Russia). It may be of interest that the latest DNA-based taxonomic studies place the genus Trillium  in the Melianthiaceae, along with its close relative Paris.

Heloniopsis breviscap subsp. orientalis Heloniopsis breviscap subsp. orientalis, close-up

Onoclea sensibilis, the 'Sensitive' fern

The Sensitive fern was so named by early American settlers becuase of the extreme sensitivity of the emerging fronds to frost, not, as I had fondly imagined, because of any 'mimosa-like' response to physical stimulation! We almost never (strong touching of wood!) get late frosts so this is not a problem here. Like the Swamp Pink this plant repays close attention as the coppery young fronds are unlike those of any other fern (at least among those I know). One warning, though it looks delicate it is a determined and quite aggressive spreader so needs to be kept in check, which is achieved here by growing it in the dry shade  beneath a very large, old, cooking apple tree. The fertile fronds of Onoclea sensibilis are quite different from the vegetative fronds, which are similar to the those of most other ferns, but are reminiscent of Osmunda regalis. The fertile fronds are shorter, brown rather than green and have very narrow pinnae along which the sori are clustered like beads or grapes.

Onoclea sensibilis is native to the Russian Fare East, China and Eastern Asia and is also widely distributed in N. America. It grows in a surprisingly wide range of habitats from wet swamps, bogs and damp meadows to thickets, streamsides, roadside banks and woodland. Interestingly (thanks Wikepedia!) it is a host to the pathogen that causes bacterial wilt in rice.

 

Onoclea sensibilis, emerging fronds

Lithodoras

Out in the sunshine a number of things are now nearng their best, including three lithodoras, L. zahnii 'Azure Ness' that has for the first time begun to show what it can do, the lovely but somewhat unruly (here at least) L. diffusa 'Grace Ward', which needs cuttin g back quite hard after flowering, and my favourite, Ron McBeath's prostrate form of L. diffusa which he collected at Funete De and appropriately named 'Picos'. All grow well enough here in a stony, quite heavy slightly acidic soil, the best being 'Picos' at the edge of a high raised bed; give them all the sun you can manage.

Lithodora zahnii

Lithodora zahnii

Lithodora diffusa 'Grace Ward'

Lithodora diffusa 'Grace Ward'

Lithodora diffusa 'Picos'

Lithodora diffusa 'Picos'

Primula x 'Hyacinthina'??

This is a 'lost label' primula that is giving a good show now which 'speaks' to me of P. x hyacinthina, but John R will no doubt put me right! 

Primula x 'Hyacinthina'??

Trillium rivale 'Purple Heart seedling'

This lovely little plant persists but does not increase at all in a semi-shaded raised bed. I am posting this photo because, as you see, there is quite a large variation in the extent of the crimson marking in the eyes of the flowers. I suppose it could have seeded in situ from the dark-eyed original?

Primula rivale 'Purple Heart seedlings'

Lathyrus vernus

Two photos here, one of two seedlings of L. vernus side by side, one more advanced and much darker (and probably better) than the other. This is a nice and in my opinion underrated plant for the back of a sunny scree or raised bed.

Lathyrus vernus, two forms Lathyrus vernus

Iris suaveolens

This dark blue form of Iris suaveolens does well in a low-level sunny moraine bed, although like all irises the ephemeral nature of the individual flowers is a little irritating,

 

Iris suaveolens

Pulsatilla 'Budapest Blue seedling'

And finally, although there are quite a few other plants I could show you, I finish with what must be an annual picture of the glorious seedling of  Pulsatilla 'Budapest' given to me a few years ago by my very good friends, Ron and Joan Beeston. They used to be regular visitors here when visiting Llandudno for the Welsh National Opera  and gave me many good plants, some of which I still have and cherish. I have happy memories both of showing them the garden and of retiring to the conservatory for a good chat over Pam's freshly made scones topped with cream, and jam made from our own fruit. Happy days.

Pulsatilla 'Budapest Blue seedling'
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