A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: 27 April 2008 by John Richards
Northumberland Diary. Entry 72.
Since the last entry I have spent half the intervening days at the North of England Horticultural Society's magnificent Spring Show on the Great Yorkshire Showground at Harrogate. Those who know me will testify that it is not unknown for scornful remarks to pass my lips in regard of grandiloquent remarks made by Yorkshire people about all things Yorkshire. Nevertheless, a little local pride never did much harm, and often quite a lot of good, and there is no doubt that this Show is at least the equal of those organised further to the south by the RHS (Hampton Court, Tatton Park, Gardeners World live at the NEC). It is greatly to the credit of that locally based organisation, the NHS, that they are able to stage such a complex and impressive operation, twice a year (for there is also a Summer Show).
The AGS has long been associated with the Yorkshire Spring Show. These days our presence is usually limited to a one-day Show on the Saturday. It is a long day (staging by 8.30 am and the Show does not close until 5.30 pm), but there is such a lot to see that the time passes rapidly, particularly if, as yesterday, the Show is blessed with a bright warm day. We all have different favourite pasttimes. Personally I am quite happy to sit for hours listening to the splendid collection of brass bands.
One of the real benefits to the AGS is that there can be no Show that has such exposure to the general public. Over 40,000 visitors attend over four days, and of the 12,000 on the Saturday, perhaps 2000 get to see our alpines. It was a good AGS Show this year with a distinctly European bent. European mountains contain many of the world's best alpines, and I thought I would use this entry to celebrate some of those that are at their best here in Hexham at the moment.
First, here is Androsace vitaliana. It is so unusual for there to be a yellow Androsace, that this widespread species (Sierra Nevada, Pyrenees, Alps, Appenines) has usually been classified in other genera (Gregoria, Vitaliana). However, recent DNA work has shown that not only is it embedded securely within Androsace, but it actually belongs to the Aretia section, together with such well-loved species as A. vandelii, A. alpina and A. helvetica. (By the way, if you are really upset at the idea of a yellow Androsace, can I just whisper A. bisulca v. aurata to you?)
This plant has lived outside in scree for many years, and it will be returned there next week. Seeing that it was well-budded, I lifted it for exhibition about three weeks ago.
Pulsatillas make great garden plants, but not many tolerate life in a pot, and they dislike being lifted for competition. My neighbour Alan Furness grows magnificent pulsatillas in the garden by the hundred, and some years ago he gave me seed of his very successful strain of the eastern form of P. halleri, subsp. rhodopaea. Most of the resulting seedlings were put in the garden, but one vigorous, well-flowered form was potted on, and years later it has made a good Show plant. The reddish tint was not seen in the originals, so it is probably hybrid with a red form of P. vulgaris that Alan also grows.
While on the subject of pulsatillas, this form with dissected, lacerate petals is the earliest to flower outside, and is successful, but I am not very sure I like it very much. I believe that plants like this go under the name of 'Papageno'. If anyone can confirm that this is corrrect, and what the source of the name is, please communicate in that section of the Discussion reserved for this Diary. Thanks.
Now is the season of the daphne. One of Europe's most celebrated alpines is the very localised D. petraea, confined to a few limestone cliffs in the vertical country to the west of Italian Lake Garda. Quite a number of new varieties have been introduced to cultivation over the last 25 years, but the best known is still 'grandiflora', introduced by Robert Tucker almost a century ago (1914). I bought this plant ten years ago, in 1998. It has resided in a 'long tom' pot for the last few years, but has only become large enough to exhibit in the last year.
Daphne petraea grows on vertical cliffs above limestone screes where D. cneorum can often be found. The forms here are prostrate and relatively compact. In 2003 we took some small cuttings from the Nota Pass and grafted them onto D. tangutica seedlings on our return. Two quite different colours resulted; the deeper rose of these we call 'Nota Bene', and the paler pink one is 'Nota Two'.
A plant that I always associate with Daphne cneorum is Clematis alpina, perhaps because both inhabit subalpine limestone country in the southern Alps. The clematis is a great plant here, climbing over several tree stumps, and in this example, clambering some distance up next door's Irish yew.
In a woodland garden, one expects wood anemones (A. nemorosa) and we grow several, but by far the most successful here is the lovely blue-flowered plant known as 'Robinsoniana'.
Before I depart completely from a European theme, I am visiting an alpine house briefly to show two of my favourite hybrid primulas. Both are old, old plants, and one, good old 'Rufus' I have grown for most of my garden life. I used to use it as an exhibition plant, but now it is unfairly neglected and rarely repotted.
The other is probably an even older hybrid, but was given to me relatively recently, by Caryl Baron as 'Old Irish Yellow'. This is probably a Show Auricula that might be spurned by AGS judges, but I am very fond of it.
My final European alpine was grown from seed I collected in the Kourtaliako Gorge, north of Plakias in the Rethymnon part of Crete in the autumn of 2005. Linum arboreum is the shrubbiest of the yellow flowered flaxes of Greece, and indeed I put it in a shrub class yesterday, together (cheekily) with a photocopy of the relevant entry in 'Mountain Flora of Greece' where the description starts, baldly 'shrub'.... (!). The judges neverthless ignored it, doubtless unimpressed by such lese-majeste.