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A North Wales Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: September 2014 -notes from the arid west! - Entry

If you want to grow desert plants, come to Wales! We have had a drier September than any other part of the UK, with only 5mm of rain recorded during the month as against a normal 60mm. Does it surprise you if I say that I have enjoyed the fine weather enormously - well, most of the plants that I love to grow have done the business by June, so the only real concern has been the need to water quite a lot of areas of the garden that I would not normally dream of irrigating, but being on a water meter I have still been judicious rather than frivolous in the use of the hose, preferring in most cases to water those plants that have really needed it with a watering can. Mercy missions have mostly been the order of the day. Most plants seem to have come through ok, although only time will tell.

Let's continue last month's theme by starting off the September parade of plants with shrubs rather than alpines, for it has been these which have mainly held sway through the drought.  The fruits on the spindles are now fully open, showing the seeds, which in most species seem to be yellow or orange, contrasting with the rich pink of the pericarp, as these photos of E. latifolius and E. cornutus ssp. quinquecornutus demonstrate. I never tire of gawping at them, so beautifully displayed, by these underrated shrubs.

Euonymus latifolius, close-up of fully open fruit

We have quite a few clematis here, almost all of which are allowed to ramble through other plants. Sometimes this works out splendidly, sometimes not, but I like to see plants as near as possible how nature intended in my garden, and clematis are generally woodland edge plants that clamber through anything that will give them support. One of the latest flowering here, and a real favourite when it performs as it has this year, is Clematis heracleifolia, in this case in the selection 'Wyevale', which is easily obtainable in the trade. The foliage is a good foil for the large clusters of bluebell-shaped flowers.

Euonymus cornutus ssp. quinquecornutus  fruits Clematis hieraclifolia 'Wyevale'

Clematis hieraclifolia 'Wyevale', close-up

I don't have many roses, but that does not mean I don't like them, its all a matter of parcelling out a very limited amount of space, even in a largish garden. The fine weather has  meant that the second flowering of the modern English roses has been even better than usual, but knocking even those into a cocked hat has been the fall display of my favourinte rose here, 'The Fairy', which repeat flowers with gay abandon and fills the air with its heady 'old rose' perfume. Having said that, I decided to read up a bit about this plant and discover that it is supposed to be unscented, so perhaps I have something else, although the label from the well known rose nursery that supplied the plant is still attached! I never spray my roses and some suffer as a result, but not this excellent variety, the foliage being free of rust and black spot throughout the season. 

Rose 'The Fairy'

Satureja montana - Winter savoury

At the other end of the shrub size scale is the diminutive Winter savoury which, in a riased bed here has grown into arounded hummock 20 cm high and 30 cm wide in 8 years. In Southern Europe and North Africa, where it is widespread on stony ground, it has been valued not only as a culinary herb but also as a herbal remedy for a wide range of complaints, particulalry those associated with the alimentary system, including flatulence - perhaps I should try it!! It is a pretty liitle shrub and the late flowers provide a most welcome source of nectar for all manner of insects. It took a bit of a hammering in the cold winter of 2011/12, but bounced back after being clipped hard back in the spring.

Satureja montana

A few colchicums, starting with C. speciosum

I don't grow a lot of autumn flowering colchicums outside, but I enjoy those I have. including my favourite red and white forms of C. speciosum. They seem to like the edge of a shrubbery in light shade best but will grow anywhere in the garden.The old hybrid C. x agrippinum, often seen labelled simply C. agrippinum, does well in a really dry place under a large old Black pine tree, although the extreme drought this autumn has resulted in fewer flowers than usual. 

Colchicum speciosum Colchicum speciosum 'Album'

Colchicum x agrippinum

Colchicum x agrippinum

Colchicum boissieri

Of those I grow in pots, which are kept in an Access frame throughout the year, except when they are in flower and I bring them into the alpine house to admire, C. boissieri is the most dependable and prolific. When I repot this species in August the bottom of the pot is often a tangle of the small, antler-like corms. The second photo is of C. boissieri growing on the slopes of Parnassus, taken on 28 October, 2005.

Colchicum boissieri in a pot

C. boissieri, Parnassus, 28 October 2005

Colchicum boissieri, Parnassus, October 28, 2005

Colchicum psaridis

This little colchicum, only three inches high, flowers here in late August/early September, although in Greece I have seen it at its best at the end of October/early November. Likewise C. parlatoris, shown here growing in a pot and in the wild on the Mani peninsula, Greece.

Colchicum psaridis

Colchicum parlatoris

Colchicum parlatoris Colchicum parlatoris, Mani, Greece


I have very few nerines but those I do have give a great deal of pleasure at this time of year. I have a nice patch developing of a good dark form of N. bowdenii from bulbs given to me last year by a local friend, but more precious is the clump of N. undulata 'Alta Group' (formerly N. alta) kindly given to me by Peter Erskine after I admired a long-established group in his wonderful Sussex garden. It was Peter who informed me recently that Graham Duncan, the nerine expert from Kirstenbosch, had put him righ on the naming of this lovely, apparently fully hardy species.

Nerine bowdenii Nerine undulata 'Alta Group' Nerine undulata 'Alta Group', close-up

Late flowers on Gentiana acaulis

I'm sure that many of you, like me, have seen copious re-flowering of plants this year as the result of the long, warm dry spell following a cool August. I could show quite a few examples, but just to end this report I thought I would remind you of what is to come next spring, in the form of late trumpet gentian flowers.

Gentiana acaulis
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