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A North Wales Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: October 2013 - Entry 10

A dank and rather dreary autumn

When it starts raining in earnest in N. Wales it tends not to stop for some time, and this October has been no exception. True, it has been unseasonably mild, and this will have contributed to the almost complete lack of autumn colour on the trees and shrubs so far - we are 10-14 days behind normal in this regard. At this rate we will still have green leaves on some trees for at least another month. That is not to say there are no leaves lying, the strong winds have seen to that, but they are mostly green and because it is constantly wet they lie forlornly on top of all sorts of precious plants for whom such a blanket spells disaster if they are not fairly promptly removed. Autumn gentians are plants of the open mountain sides in their asiatic homes and they hate being covered with leaves, which not only smother the flowers but provide a perfect environment for botrytis and other fungal pathogens. So I have been going round between the showers and worse removing them, but of course there will be many more before the autumn is over. There are still some crocuses in flower, all of them in pots as I have generally lost them when planted out in the garden. My favourite of the autumn flowering species is C. niveus fromn the Pleoponnese which I was fortunate to see in all its glory during a trip with our late-lamented President, Frank Tindall, and Ron and Joan Beeston in 2003. The flowers vary in colour, as the accompanying photo taken in the wild indicates, but perhaps my favourite is the pure white form which was given to me as 'high altitude form' by Ann Borrill, which does very well in a pot. In the close-up I have opened up the flower somewhat to show th distinctive orange-red, branched styles and dark yellow anthers. 

Crocus niveus, roadside nr. Areopoli, Peloponnese

Crocus niveus, high altitude form Crocus niveus, high altitude form, close-up

Crocus goulimyi, Peloponnese

My second favourite is C, goulimyi, which we also saw in quantity on the same trip, both in the typical violet-mauve colour at various places (above) and, at a well known site near Monemvasia, the beautiful albino, growing in hundreds if not thousands in a cultivated field!

Crocus goulimyi 'Alba' Nr Monemvasia Crocus goulimyi 'Alba' Nr Monemvasia close-up

Silver-foliaged shrubs come into their own as the numbers of flowers in the alpine garden become fewer. Most of them require full sun and really sharply drained soil, especially here in wet Wales, and many benefit from an annual clip over with shears after they have flowered in the spring or early summer. I would advise against pruning them in the autumn as they often either die or sulk. Artemisia 'Silver Frost ' is a good example.

Artemisia 'Silver Frost'

Most berrying trees and shrubs have excelled themselves this year, including the prostrate Gaultheria itoana which has been creeping over the surface of one of my raised beds for 20 years or so. One of those easy ericaceous shrubs, of which there are so many, that make the family so popular with all gardeners who have the blessing of a lime-free soil.

Gaultheria itoana

Finally, to make those of you who have to live in colder climates than mine green with envy, here is a photo of the flowers currently gracing my rather gawky plant of Lapageria rosea. This has been growing in the same spot against a SW facing fence for 15 years without any protection, and just about staggered through the last two 'cold' winters, when the temperature at night occasionally fell to -8C. Although it looked dead in June I decided to leave it for a while longer and, sure enough, by the middle of July it had put out strong new growths and by the end of September was producing clusters of flowers, each lasting 4-6 weeks. Why not give it a try, you never know, it might survive with you too!

Lapageria rosea
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