A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: 01 April 2007 by John Richards
Northumberland Diary. Entry 30.
Feast of fools
Indeed I felt a proper idiot at our local Northumberland Show yesterday when I managed to enter Rhodothamnus sessilifolius in the wrong class ('not Ericaceae') and with the wrong name ('sessiliflorus'). How gleefully, and indeed how often, were these transgressions pointed out! What fun we have!. Anyway, correctly relocated it won and scarcely in flower yet, so there! I figured it in the autumn, but might show it again when it is fully out.
I try to remember to check the pots of seed most days at present. As soon as germination is evident, the pot is removed to an alpine house where it sits in full light at least until early May, or when it is ready for pricking out. Now that we have plenty of frogs, slugs are not the problem they once were, but this woodsy garden harbour legions of wood-lice ('slaters' locally, Isopoda to scientists) which do little harm to adult plants but decimate seedlings. Also, I think the seedlings grow faster in the warmth and shelter under glass, but they dry out more quickly and it is vital to remember to water them regularly. I use a very small can with a thin spout so that the tiny seedlings don't get submerged. I usually add a small amount of a very weak fertiliser. After the first week of may it is most important to remove the pots again, as the houe becomes far too hot in the sun after that and the seedlings are toasted.
Examining the ungerminated sed pots from last year has also been productive. I have found nearly 20 pots of bulb seeds germinated this spring, especially lilies, crocuses and fritillarias. I suspect that many of these have hypogeal germination, producing a root in their first spring, but a shoot only in the second spring.
Rhodos are red my love......
Well, not always, and these two are pink! First we have the pink form of Rh. chamaethomsonii. This is a close relative of the famous prostrate 'scarlet creeper' Rh. forrestii, but is more of a bush. It is not always realised that the flower colour of this group varies considerably in the wild and varies from pale pink to the better known piercing crimson-red. This plant was propagated from one of Randle Cooke's plants at Kilbryde. Also in the picture are Pieris 'Little Heath' (left) and P. formosa 'Firecrest' (right).
Here is Rh. pachysanthum. This Taliensia species was introduced to general cultivation fairly recently and has proved a great success,not least because it flowers while still young. This group of magnificent foliage plants will often not flower until they are decades old.
Its surprising how few Tasmanian species have entered general cultivation, perhaps because many are considered not too hardy. I love the shrub Drimys lanceolata, a scaled down version of the spectacular Chilean tree D. winteri, and much more suitable for the smaller garden. I have grown it for many years; all it seems to ask is shelter and not to be too dry at the root.
The story has been told on more than one occasion that I bought the next plant to be figured at the Oxford market back in 1968, one of the first three alpines I ever purchased. I mentioned the unnamed plant in an article sent to the Bulletin 30 years ago, and Roy Elliott identified the source of the plant as Arthur Branch who ran an alpine nursery in the charming Cotswold village of Shipton-under-Wychwood. Alan Furness gained a Farrer Medal and Award of Merit with it, christening it Primula marginata 'Shipton'. He has always considered it the finest variety of this familiar species, and it certainly grows well for me in several parts of the garden. This plant was potted for the Show.
Another plant with which Alan Furness has been associated is the cross between P. marginata and P. allionii. This clone was discovered by C.C. Mountfort (who was housemaster to Roy and Jack Elliott) in the Miniera valley above Tende in 1927 and was christened 'Miniera'. Encouraged by Robert Rolfe, I gave this hybrid the epithet P. x meridionalis as it is confined to the region of eastern Provence that the French call 'Midi'. Although the hybrid has been found on two other occasions, and has been raised in cultivation, it is this beautiful clone that has persisted.
A Caucasian oxlip
Another of Randle Cooke's plants was this dwarf, mat-forming oxlip. Although its origin is unknown, it may be one of many plants accumulated by Professor J.W. Heslop-Harrison when he was revising Primula section Primula at Newcastle University in the 1930's. Many of his plants were passed on to Cooke. P. elatior ssp. pseudoelatior is a first-rate plant that disappears completely in winter, but comes into flower as the leaves grow. The less mat-forming ssp. ruprechtii, also from the Caucasus, flowers before the leaves appear, giving it a strange, naked appearence.
I shall finish with yet another primula, but one that is much less familiar. Primula section Chartacea comprise a few forest plants from the borders of southern China. They are evergreen, with strange leaves of a parchment-like texture. P. petelotii is one of three primulas occurring on Mt. Sapa in northern Vietnam. It was collected by Keith Rushforth under the number 7362, and possibly a later number as well, in 2002 and possibly 2003. The plants were grown on at Ness Gardens and have received a limited distribution. They are easily propagated from strawberry-like runners in late spring. I grow it on the floor of an unheated greenhouse (it seems to loath direct sunlight), where it seems trouble-free, and it should become widespread in the next few years. It loves to be sprayed regularly with water in summer, but should be kept on the dry side in winter. The RHS Joint Rock Garden Committee damned it with faint praise, giving it a Botanical Certificate, but I think it is really pretty!