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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 08 April 2007 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 31.

Magic wand

We are coming to one of the loveliest times of year in the alpine garden, and we have been fortunate that there has been a run of beautiful sunny days to highlight the new flowers and burgeoning growth. The downside has been chilly nights with a succession of ground frosts, but our Magnolia x soulangeana and Camellia 'Donation' remain unspoilt (photos follow). However, the days have been very warm and it has been some time since we had proper rain. I have had to watch the alpine houses very carefully. One has automatic watering and is less of a worry, but the other has to be watered by hand. Up to now I have carried the occasional can of water, but I have a watering 'wand' which can be attached to a hose and which delivers water in a variety of modes, selected by rotating the head. I find this a most useful implement that can reach any manner of awkward spots/pots in the alpine house. I have just unearthed it from its winter slumbers and put it to work as we are passing the time when I have to be overconcerned about overwatering.

Magic wand

Hidden corner
I used to have a recurrent dream that there was a corner of the garden I had forgotten, and when I came across it by accident it was full of wonderful things. Quite what Sigmund would have made of this I dread to think, but there is a top cornerofthe present garden, surrounded by road junction and hedge that I get to less frequently than I should. Nevertheless it is looking attractive at the moment, and I thought I would show a general view of this area, followed by one with Trillium kurabayashii and Narcissus 'Thalia'. These are both very good garden plants here, increasing well, and they combine well, flowering at the same time.

Hidden corner

Daffs and tulips
Further round the boundary of the garden is a small area I grandly call 'the wood'. In reality it is just a small patch of informal ground under two horrid lime trees, but we underplanted it with a variety of daffodils when we first came here and they have flourished. We have interspersed these with occasional tulips of diverse sizes and colours. They don't persist so well, but we buy new ones for containers every year, and stock 'the wood' with last years bulbs. The combination 'points up' the daffodils effectively.

Daffs and tulips

More tulips

Most of the tulip containers live on the lower terrace by the house, but we put one next to the reworked pond area, and the greigii tulips in this are coming to their best, making an attractive and effective focal point.

More tulips

White kingcups
On the other side of the pond is a heavy, rich saturated area which has candelabra primulas later on, but at this time of year the white Himalayan version of the kingcups, Caltha himalaica, seeds around very effectively. Although an easy plant in the right place, it looks effective in a pot and some years I lift one or two and exhibit them.

White kingcups

Buttercup relations
Staying with that great family the Ranunculaceae, here are two other good garden plants. The earliest pasque flower here (Pulsatilla vulgaris) is this multipetalled job. Now, it is in full flower, but when I photographed it earlier in the week it was just emerging and all the more attractive for it. Following that is Anemone blanda, which self-sows and increases modestly. It also has a long flowering season.

Buttercup relations

Two Asiatic 'stars'
This is a rich time of year and I could go on at some length, but I will finish with two more Asiatic primulas that are giving me much pleasure this week. Primula bracteata has become very fashionable at Shows. First collected as seed by the ACE expedition in Yunnan in 1994, this is a woodland cliff plant which grows in very similar habitats to the familiar European P. allionii and enjoys similar growing conditions (i.e. it should live in the alpine house throughout the year but resents being too hot). As he reminded me yesterday, the father of the present plant was given to me as a seedling by Geoff Rollinson. Just as it was entering its terminal collapse, it was crossed with one of Alan Newton's plants, and Alan gave me a pinch of the resulting seed. This offspring is now four years old and in its pomp.

Two Asiatic 'stars'

If I was asked to name my favourite of all alpines, I might well choose Primula sonchifolia. This was the first of the wonderful blue primroses of the eastern Himalaya to come into cultivation. Back in 1928, a Burmese forest ranger climbed up in the snow to collected frozen resting buds that were packed in bamboo tubes and shipped to the London Royal Parks in the freezing compartment of a P & O liner. They were displayed at Vincent Square the same April. This is not an easy plant that I have to keep raising from seed, but well worh every trouble, and at present I am liucky to have about 20 young plants, some of which are starting to flower.

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