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A North Wales Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: Mid-April at Bod Hyfryd - Entry 19

As I said elsewhere, spring gallops on apace and there is so much to see and so little time before all is gone for another year, for the alpine garden is primarily a spring garden, at least for me.First, a couple of general views to give an idea of what the garden looks like at this time of year:

View from the house towards the sea

View towards the house from the lower garden

The view towards the alpine area from the lower ga

The lower garden with Rhododendron 'King George'

Rhododendron 'King George'

A view across the scree beds and pond to the Alpin

Now for a few of the individual plants that you might like to see:

Gentiana acaulis 'Belvedere'

This patch of Gentiana acaulis 'Belvedere' is probably about 7 years old, and as you can see it is a free-flowering cultivar, by no means universally the case where the spring trumpet gentians are concerned! So if you have a clump or clumps of some other cultivar that never flowers, or only sparsely, turf it out and get one that does, the best way of assuring this being to choose the plant(s) when in bloom. Give it full sun and a well drained but quite rich soil and the rest should follow. As you can see, unlike their autumn flowering Asiatic cousins the European spring-flowering gentians do not need dividing every couple of years to thrive, although they no doubt benefit from lifting and splitting occasionally. 

Gentiana acaulis 'Belvedere'

Daphne collina

Nearby is a large old plant of Daphne collina that never fails to perform and so far (touch the biggest chunk of wood available!) it has not succumbed to the 'sudden death' syndrome that has struck several of my other old daphnes around the garden. This must be one of the most distressing disease to strike in an alpine gardeners demesne, because daphnes are choice (and therefore expensive), wonderful, and often hard to replace. To my knowledge the cause is mysterious (although soil-dwelling nematodes have sometimes been implicated), and once the plant starts to die off, which usually involves the death of individual branches, spreading throughout the plant, it is quick and unstoppable. This being the case it is obviously a good idea to have a constant stock of replacement plants raised from cuttings in reserve, but needless to say I am not that organised, However, I do raise a few cuttings of most of my daphnes from semi-hardwood cuttings each year and I'll talk a bit more about that at the appropriate time (June/July). In my experience D. collina is not one of the readier rooters.

For those of you with an inquisitive disposition, the writing on the metal plaque reads, "He who plants a garden plants happiness, Chinese proverb", a present from my elder daughter.

Daphne collina

Daphne collina

Rhododendron 'Shamrock'

I love my rhododendrons, dwarf or otherwise, species or hybrids, and this is one of the best early yellow dwarfs here. 

Rhododendron 'Shamrock' Rhododendron 'Shamrock' close-up

Rhododendron johnstoneanum

This is larger although still only 1m x 1m after 15 years from seed. I am particulalrly pleased with it this year as it has not suffered from the disease aptly known as 'bud blast', which afflicts many rhododendrons in many years, and this one in most in my garden., causing the buds to turn blackish and ugly just when you want to see them opening.  Although bud blast is a fungal disease, it is generally accepted that spraying with a fungicide is ineffective. The spores are apparently spread by leaf hoppers that are most active on sunny days from about June to August, but I have never seen them. Anyway, when the buds of Rh. johnstoneanum are spared the resulting flowers are a joy to behold.

Rhododendron johnstoneanum Rhododendron johnstoneanum close-up

Rhododendron neriiflorum

This is a good early species red which glows in the spring sunshine

Rhododendron neriiflorum

Rhododendron virgatum

And finally as far as rhododendrons are concerned, for now, a close-up view of Rhododendron virgatum to show the unusual feature of the flowers being borne in the leaf axils along the stems rather than in clusters at the stem apices. This plant was given to me by the late Dr George Smith, whom many of you will remember; I can't look at it without remembering him tucking into Pam's cream sponge cakes when he came to visit and waxing poetic about their guality, usually while showing me slides from his latest Himalayan trip in a hand-held viewer.

Rhododendron virgatum

Paeonia cambessedesii 'Dwarf Form'

A very different plant, but another kind gift from a good and very generous plantsman, is the dwarf form (are there several different ones?) of Paeonia cambessedesii, given to me by Brian Burrow. I have this growing in a raised bed in what passes for an alpine house, and it has flowered for the first time this year. The normal form, which I also love, is about 50cm x 50 cm after 15 years, but this little fella is only 25 cm high, with flowers in proportion - lovely!

Paeonia cambessedesii 'Dwarf Form' Paeonia cambessedesii 'Dwarf Form', close-up

Paeonia mascula subsp. russoi

Another paeony species that is flowering for the first time, from AGS seed in a semi-shaded spot in the garden, is Paeonia mascula subsp. russoi, named for the Sicilian priest/botansist Father Joachim Russo. It is quite short and compact (about 30 cm high) and I like the colour of the flowers.

Paeonia mascula subsp. russoi

Pulsatilla 'Budapest Blue Seedling'

I showed this in bud in my March diary to illustrate the densely hairy emerging buds, here it is in full flower, a fitting end, I think, to this entry.

Pulsatilla 'Budapest Blue Seedling'
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