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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 07 April 2009 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 111.

League tables

Last season I found the facility in the Shows section of the website, under 'results', that displays a league table of all the exhibitors at AGS Shows for the current season (and an archive for some past seasons come to that). Perhaps because I have followed sport for much of my life and so I am conditioned to these competitive rankings, I must confess to finding the AGS Shows league table totally addictive.

Knowing all too well how frustrating it can be to put in long hours at the computer with little if any feedback ('I wonder if anybody is reading this rubbish' is my constant refrain), I am writing this if only to reassure Jim how much his efforts are valued, at least by one devotee. Presumably Jim is at the mercy of the volunteer(s) at each Show who painstakingly enter all the details, firsts, seconds, thirds, A, B, C classes, one pan, three pan etc and then emails the results to him. It seems a miracle that the results are updated so quickly, usually within a couple of days of the Show.

I assume that Jim has some clever algorithm or whatever that converts the results directly into the updated league table. I can't imagine he laboriously updates it manually. Anyway, its a brilliant system which gives me hours of amusement. I wonder how many other people are addicted too?

Of course, I have some interest in my own progress. After a disastrous start to the season (pace Newcastle United), I am by my own lowly standards finding a little April form and working my way towards last year's reasonable placement (or so I thought then anyway!). Sadly, the parallel with the Magpies stops abruptly at this point! I even confess to having switched to a tendency to concentrate on multi-pan classes. I used to collect numbers of first prizes (occasionally!), working towards merit medals. Now I collect POINTS, not prizes!, working towards league table position. I wonder, am I the only idiot who the league table has influenced in this way?

But it is mostly the performance of the other Exhibitors that lends real fascination. 'Oh, so-and-so is having a poor season'. 'Good heavens, has she really won all those firsts already?'. 'How on earth can Liam Byrne win all those points without ever leaving Ireland?'. Etc.

Pavers

Later this year we celebrate 20 years in this garden (and, incidentally, the house!). Fairly shortly after we arrived, redevelopment in the garden freed up a large number of rather horrid concrete pavers of the cheapest sort. This caused my design-influenced wife to suggest that some were buried in the lawn to lead the eye to foci, and suggest perambulatory direction (in this case with the compost heap as the ultimate target!).

Over the years, what we are pleased to call lawn (mostly moss and weeds) had grown over the pavers, so that they had almost disappeared. While this added a pleasingly mature appearence, it also rather negated the point of the exercise.

Pavers

The siren calls of spring (and we have had some lovely days here recently, although it is becoming very dry), caused Sheila to up tools and scrape the tops off, to the benefit of the turf pile which eventually rots down to topsoil. This has transformed this part of the garden, reminding us what a good idea this path had originally been.

Sheila has also been busy tidying and weeding the border (which is not actually a border, but has 'border perennials'). When she finished I emptied most of a compost compartment as mulch (eight barrows full). The rest went on some peonies, and onto the vegetable patch. At this time of year, mulching certainly makes the border look much smarter, even when viewed through the bare branches of our Davidia.

I too have been weeding and topdressing, the alpine beds chiefly, using old potting soil (which is free-draining and nearly weed-free) as a mulch. In some cases this is covered with gravel. I have also taken time to survey the contents of the alpine houses. Several venerable show plants, a Saxifraga 'Cranbourne', a Saxifraga oppositifolia, Primula 'Rufus' and others have been put out to grass, or rather planted in the scree that I refurbished last autumn, and which will look quite mature when plants come into new growth in a month or so.

I have mentioned before the benefits endowed by 'borrowed landscape'. At the moment the almonds at the entrance to the new estate that is being built on the other side of the road are at their best. If you squint slightly, it is easy to pretend that they are actually part of this garden!

The small tree to the right of the above photo is our Eucryphia 'Nymansay'. Although this flowers at the end of the summer, it gives notice of its intention to please so early that we know we will have a good display this year. This is not surprising as there were only about four flowers last year.

Shifting ones gaze, or squint if you prefer, slightly to the left, the following combination presents itself within the garden boundary. Rhododendron pseudochrysanthum is another plant enjoying a good season after a year off. Yes, that is just a common flower currant, Ribes sanguineum above it.

Underneath this 'shrubbery' can be found a pretty but extremely robust subject that has persisted in the face of violent competition in several of the wilder parts of the garden. Some years ago I had the temerity to put Cardamine pentaphyllos in a pot, and the Joint Rock Garden Committee so far forgot itself as to give it an AM. It is in fact a thoroughly good garden plant, but don't give it too much liebensraum!

Another robust performer here is the double form of the Canadian Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis 'Multiplex'. I featured this lovely, easy plant in a pot last year, lifted for a Show, but it is at its best in the garden as I write. Why is this fast grower still so expensive?

This is a good time of year for European hybrid primulas. Primula 'White Lady', supposedly an offspring of P. 'Linda Pope' (but not a sport as has sometimes been said), is looking at home planted vertically in the wall of home-made tufa.

A little-grown plant was raised by our friend and fellow group member Ray Johnstone and named for his wife 'Gloria Johnstone', perhaps 30 years ago. It is a good doer in a trough, here planted in crevices.

Going into the alpine house, although this is also a plant that will flourish unprotected in a trough, is little  Primula 'Blairside Yellow'. I am not sure of the parentage of this old variety. Maybe it is a cross between P. auricula and the southern P. balbisii?

This visit to the alpine house tempts me to show a few flowers on one of the Paraquilegia seedlings, raised from Farrer Medal winning bloodstock. These young plants have grown well. Following the Browns' published recipe (Bulletin, 2006), they have been repotted high in shallow pots in a compost with added dolomite limestone. I shall think about the fizzy water they recommend at a later stage! So far the young plants look very well. I shall shear them off later in the season, as also recommended. However Ian Kidman, who showed two lovely plants at Chesterfield on Saturday said that this far north (he lives 12 miles away), he waits until the end of July to do this, rather than the recommended June date. Ian otherwise follows the Brown recipe religiously, and the results speak for themselves.

Perhaps one day I shall be able to emulate the plants I saw on the Beima Shan! This photo is very familiar to me; it forms my screen-saver!

One last favourite, from the tufa mound again. I have grown this Ron McBeath-collected plant  (1476) for nearly 20 years. It keyed down as the little-known Saxifraga rhodopetala. Although it is probably correct to call it this, considerable doubt has arisen over the status of this species. It is probably a hybrid of S. andersonii, from Nepal, possibly with S. poluniniana, although the latter species usually grows at much lower altitudes. Whatever it is, it is a lovely thing and a good garden plant.

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