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A North Wales Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: November 2014 - Entry 27 by John Good

A quiet, average sort of month

After the long hot summer, and the heavy rains and strong winds of early autumn, November settled into its familiar pattern of frequent, but not particularly heavy rain, and occasional fine days when the slanting golden rays of the declining sun cast a particularly lovely glow across the garden. We have not yet (26 November) had an appreciable frost. So, while there are few individual plants that stand out here at this time of year, and little that can really be captured effectively by the unemotional camera lens, there have been moments of high emotional satisfaction. But there has, of course, also been the drudgery of clearing up what seems like an endless fall of leaves in this tree-surrounded garden. It is particularly important, of course, to remove them as soon as possible from any plant that comes from open, treeless habitats, such as most alpines, as they are quite unable to cope with being covered for any prolonged period of time. I blow them off with an electric leaf blower and then collect them up and transfer most of them straight to the woodland beds, saving some for my leafmould cage. I used to collect them all up and compost the lot, which made the winter and early spring garden look a lot tidier than it does now, but that was a lot of work and I'm not getting any younger, and in any case they have a very beneficial effect, disappearing in to the soil surprisingly quickly as spring moves on - oh the wonderful working of worms, truly one of the gardener's best friends (except in the lawn!). The photograph shows one of our crevice beds awaiting the attention of the leaf blower. 

A crevice bed in autumn

Camellia sasanqua 'Narumigata'

This lovely shrub, which thrives here on a NW facing wall, always flowers at about this time of year, continuing just about into the new year; it is much appreciated by late flying insects.

Camellia sasanqua 'Narumigata'

Vaccinium moupinense?

I'm not absolutely sure about whether this is the correct name of this Chinese bilberry, not having been convinced that any other name is more appropriate. It's a quiet sort of unassuming plant, not unattractive when carrying its reddish new growth, while the ripe, blackish berries, carried in small cluster, repay closer inspection, and when I tasted them the other day for the first time I found them to be quite tasty, although very acidic. I probably have enough to make a small tart, but that would deprive me of their visual appeal in this period of floral deprivation.

Vaccinium moupinense in fruit Vaccinium moupinense in fruit, close-up

Echiums - watch this space

The large vipers buglosses from the Canaries and Madeira are about as far as you can get from true alpine plants, although E. wildprettii grows quite high up on the slopes of Mt Teide in Tenerife, which often carries snow on its summit, where its towering 5m pillars of reddish pink flowers are a sight to behold. The plant shown in the picture is an eighteen month old seedling which should flower next summer, providing of course that we do not have a 'killer' winter in the meantime. I also have even larger rosettes of the much more frequently seen E. pininana, both the usual blue and the albino form, so fingers crossed for them too. Less hardy, and much smaller, is the so-called 'Blue Pearl' of Madeira', which forms a rounded bush of much smaller rosettes of leaves, each carrying in due course a bright blue candle of flowers, resenbling lupins at first sight. Unlike the two previously mentioned, which are monocarpic, this species is a good perennial, forming a large bush in time; a well flowered five or six year-old plant is truly stunning. Hopeully I shall be able to show you all of these in flower sometime next summer, but to quote the great Scottish bard, "The best laid schemes o' mice and men/ Gang aft agley"!

Echium wildprettii winter rosette

Echium candicans in winter

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