A North Wales Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: October 2016 - a very quiet autumn - Entry 50!
We have been away from home for much of this month so have missed the unusually dry, mild and mostly windless weather which is at least partly responsible for some of the best autumn colour I ever remember here in Wales, which is generally less than spectacular. Because our autumns are usually so wet and windy, accentuated by the very exposed position of our garden only half a mile from the sea and 500 ft up, I have pretty much given up trying to grow autumn flowering bulbs outside, except cyclamen, which are more or less immune to the weather. But I do still grow a few autumn bulbs in pots in an Access frame, mainly crocus and a few colchicum, although I find the tedious business of annual repotting a chore so have reduced my collection to those that I really like. Among these is Crocus cartwrightianus which is, for me, one of the queens of its illustrious tribe, vying with C. goulimyi and C. niveus as my favourite autumn flowering speces. I have only a pure white form, but it can be had in a range of mauve to purplish colours, some strongly marked with darker stripes, and all are vey attractive, although the striking trifid reddish-orange styles stand out best agains a white background. Apparently these can be harvested for use as saffron and it is thought by some that the cultivated C. sativus is in fact a form of C. cartwrightianus selected in the dim and distant past, rather than being a separate species. C. cartwrigtianus shares with C. tournerfortii the distinction of being the only species whose flowers remain open at night, perhaps suggesting that night-flying insects may be among its principal pollinators.
Euonymus alatus and Rhododendron multiflorum (syn.
Returning to autumn colour for a moment, here are two of the dwarf shrubs that have been giving particular pleasure in recent days. My Euonymus alatus was a kind gift from John Noakes after I saw it in all its glory in his Hertfordshire garden a few years ago. It doesn't grow much more than a metre high and wide in 10 years and is absolutely reliable for its incandescent autumn colour. In my March 2016 offering I bemoaned the subsuming of the genus Menziesia into Rhododendron so will not go on about it here, but for the time being I will continue to refer to Menziesia, since that is what most people know the plant as. Anyway, most of the clan have good autumn foliage colour to complement their exquisite spring flowers and with me the best in this regard is 'Ylva'. Although this can exceed a metre in height my plant is still only 75 cm tall after 8 years, so hardly a tearaway.
Reflowering of lewisias
My lewisia cotyledon hybrids normally finish flowering by the end of July but this year, having stopped then as usual, they 'decided' to take advantage of the balmy weather and produce a few more flowers.
I am always sheepish when talking about autumn gentians being acutely aware of the prowess of the Levers at Nearby Aberconwy Nursery in all aspects of their breeding and cultivation. I only grow a few, and those not very well, but they do give me a lot of pleasure and I would like to do a lot better. Three that are flowering reasonably well in pots at present are G. 'John Aitken', 'Blue Silk' and 'Berrybank Star'. I am not sure of the origin of 'John Aitken' but it is an especially compact grower with what looks like G. farreri blood. 'Blue Silk' is from Aberconwy and I believe has G. veitchiorum as well as G. sino-ornata in its makeup, while 'Berrybank Star' is one of Ian McNaughton's hybrids which has G. hexaphylla in its parentage. The three main requirements of these plants seem to be frequent division to maintain vigour, full sunshine and a moisture retentive acidic soil. Propagation is a doddle as the clumps readily split into rooted crowns which will soon grow away into good plants if given a little shelter and shading at first,
G. 'Blue Silk'
G. 'Berrybank Star'
This very attractive, late flowering evergreen shrub hails from New South Wales and Victoria where it inhabits eucalyptus forests, scrub and coastal heathland; it is apparently pollinated by birds as are many other species of Grevillea. It started flowering here in a sunny raised bed in August and is still at its best in mid-November. It seems to be hardy to at least -5C. The compact form shown here, sometimes labelled G. lanigera 'Mt Tamboretha', or just 'Compact Form' seems to be the only one in cultivation in the UK. If anyone reading this has propagated it successfully I would like to know the details.