A North Wales Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: September 2017 - Entry 64
A disappointing early autumn
The rainfall in September was almost twice the average, making up for what has been, overall a rather dry (but generally sunless) year. The only good thing about this as far as I am concerned is that the local small-scale hydroelectric scheme, in which I have a few shares, has produced double the amount of electricity than it did during September 2016!
Anyway, because it has generally been damp if not raining I have not spent as much time as usual working in the garden, also we have been away for about half of the month visiting friends and family, including a wonderful week in Crete (NO RAIN and 28C days) with our 18 months old grandson, Teddy. The pain of being in Crete but not able to spend time in the mountains looking for plants - it was a beach/pool holiday - was mitigated by the fact that there had been no serious rain on the island so everything was still very brown with few flowers. Back home a number of old autumn favourites have been doing their thing, supplemented by the many plants - roses, fuchsias, Japanese anemones - that have continued to flower and still in some cases look quite good. I have always loved rambler roses, they were among my late mother's favourite flowers, R. 'Albertine' being the one she liked most, partly because of the ease of propagating it from hardwood cuttings, which meant she could spread it around her Cotswold garden and dig up established plants for admiring friends. I have a few ramblers and the one I would least like to be without is R. 'Open Arms', because it so closely resembles ourt native wild dog rose while flowering on and off throughout the summer and into autumn. It is ideally suited to a rose arch being easier than most to keep within bounds, and the fragrance is delicious.
Rose 'Open Arms'
Viburnum farreri 'Nanum'
This dwarf viburnum slowly forms a rounded bush quite unlike the type plant, which is upright and open growing. In all truth it is not as good as its larger parent, lacking the impact, partly because it is generally reluctant to flower as freely, but here at least it begins to bloom in late September while it still has its leaves. As you can see, its autumn colour is hardly spectacular, but its saving grace is that it releases the same intoxicating fragrance onto the air, and for that I forgive it.
Totally different and a definite 'ooohhh' plant when it flowers in late summer into autumn is the uncommon but very easily grown bromeliad, Fascicualria bicolor. This is generally considered to be tender but defintely is not as correspondence in response to a 1911 mention of it in this blog elicited a number of responses from around the UK indicating its ability to survive in areas that regularly receive frosts giving temperatures down to -10C or less. Its key requirement is excellent drainage and I have seen it growing in and on old walls and on one occasion on what seemed to be a very dry rotting tree stump, but in fairly deep shade. It is easily propagated from side shoots which may be removed carefully (hopefully with a few roots) using a very sharp knife, struck in pure sand in a shaded frame in early summer.
This rarely seen but to my eyes excellent shrubby hypericum is also said to be tender, which may be true (do you know better?) as it apparently comes from rocky, usually coastal sites in Sardinia, Crete and into N. Africa - I have not seen it in the wild. Here in N. Wales (where minimum temperatures rarely fall below -5C) it is fully hardy and the plant shown has survived 12 winters on a sunny raised bed, forming a dense bushlet 30 cm high and wide. I apologise for the pictures, which really don't do it justice
Having taken several seasons to settle down this lovely member of the ginger family has decided that N. Wales is very much to its liking and is beginning to start its conquest of the garden, which must be firmly but sympathetically controlled. However, I have now reached the age where I am much less worried about possible problems several years hence than I used to be, one of the few consolations of advancing years, so it will probably be allowed more space than is wise. I suspect, however, that even a moderately cold winter would give it a nasty setback and I certainly should not like to lose it altogether as it is so different from any other plant in the garden and flowers later than most.
Nerine bowdenii and N. undulata 'Alta Group'
I will finish with a couple of nerines that I have shown before, but as is their wont which become more beautiful every year. Everybody grows N. bowdenii and I have several forms, including a white, but the best here is that shown in the photograph. N. undulata 'Alta Group', a kind gift from Peter Erskine, is much less common, mre dainty and very lovely, the dense heads of flowers with their ruffled petals having an almost crystalline quality that reflects the light. Both are easy here in the hottest, dryest spot I can give them.