A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: 15 April 2007 by John Richards
Northumberland Diary. Entry 32.
I remember going to the excellent Felton (Northumberland) garden of John and Isa Hall, perhaps thirty years ago, and John saying 'this is a twelve-month garden; the trick is to have something of interest every day of the year'. Well of course he was quite right, and its something I strive for too. Nevertheless, it is inevitable that some times of year are more interesting than others, and in this rather early spring everything seems to have come at a rush. So no (more) philosophical musings this week, just a gallery to celebrate this lovely time of year and many good plants.
I am starting in the older alpine house. I think I mentioned before that when I acquired the newer house some two years ago, this freed up some space to experiment with growing plants direct into the sand plunge. This house has an automatic watering system (from March to October), although on hot sunny days, and we have had a few recently, I go in with a hosepipe with a wand attached and spray everything at random, dionyias, aretian androsaces, the lot. After a hot day, they love it! However, I am digressing. Two unusual primulas have taken off in a big way in the plunge bed. Primula erratica (lilac) was collected by the AGS ACE expedition from a hot flush beside the Yangtse. I can only grow it in pure sand, inside, but it loves these conditions and spreads rapidly by stolons. P. edelbergii (yellow) is a Sphondylia species from eastern Afghanistan which may have been seen in the wild on only two occasions. Unlike most of its relatives it is heterostyle and crosses must be made between pins and thrums if it is to set seed. It won't grow outside, but seems happier 'set free' than in a pot.
A good measure of the early start are daphnes which are coming into flower now when they are more often at their best for the Harrogate Show at the end of April. First is that splendid old plant D. petraea 'grandiflora', followed by another speciality of Lake Garda in N. Italy, D. x hendersonii, the cross between D. petraea and D. cneorum. I found this plant out of flower in July 2003, and took a few tiny apical cuttings which I grafted onto D. tangutica seedlings when I got home. I very much like this plant, which has done well, and I have christened it 'Nota Pink'. Yes, I know 'Nota Bene' was the cleverer name, but I gave this to a very good prostrate form of D. cneorum from the same locality which flowers slightly later. Both have been propagated and have had a limited distribution.
Two more, very contrasting, plants from the alpine house, which nevertheless share the same shocking colour. First is my favourite alpine tulip, the curiously named T. vvedenskyi (yes, this is two v's at the start, not a w!), grown from AGS seed sown 11 years ago. If this seems a long time, it did start flowering after only three years. I find it straightforward if dried out and lifted from May to November. Like all tulips, I plant it late. After this, Tropaeolum tricolorum. I have tried several of these exotic climbers from South America in the alpine house, but this is the only one I have succeeded with. I gave up trying to get it to climb a framework and now it clogs up the louvres! This also appreciates being dried out in summer and repotting in autumn like a bulb.
Time to go outside
Outside, one of the real stars of this garden has started to flower. Adonis cyllenea is an almost mythical species. Collected once south of Chelmos, Peloponnesos, Greece in about 1840, most people thought it was a product of a mix-up in the herbarium and did not exist, but it was sensationally rediscovered on Oligirtos in 1988, and is now known in several sites in the general area. Ron McBeath was sent seed shortly afterwards, and handed on a small seedling to me. Planted in a cool scree, this has gone from strength to strength and has about eight flowers every year. Although it is now about 15 years old, I have not dared to lift or propagate it. It sets perfectly good-looking achenes every year which I have frequently distributed and sown fresh, but it has never germinated for me or anyone else.
A couple of irises
The first one, I. unguicularis is a very familiar plant, but I have never been able to grow it successfully in this cool humid garden with heavy soil. However I have finally found the right place for a propagation from Terry Teal's plant, tight against an alpine house in pure gravel and here are the flowers to prove it. The second picture is of I. bucharica, one of three 'Juno' irises which grow well outside here. All they ask is shelter and a raised site in full sun. This was the first flower, but as I write there are five flowers open on three stems. I. magnifica is flowering now too.
Last week I showed A. blanda, but the wood anemone, A. nemorosa had opened during the week. I grow white and pink forms, but most of the plants here are the blue-flowered 'Robinsoniana', a colour I have never seen in the wild (this is a common plant in the woods around here).
Another hugely successful woodlander here is the double form of the Canadian bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis 'Multiplex'. This still sells for inexplicably and obscenely high prices. My stock must be worth thousands! This is one of many plants of this form I grow here. I often lift it for a show, putting it back the next day. Timing is crucial, for the flowers only last a few days. I also grow the single form, which is charming but not nearly such a good garden plant.
And another rhodo to finish
The main rhododendron season is just starting here. One of the few plants I inherited in the present garden is just opening. I don't know its name, but am nearly certain that it is the good Rh. neriiflorum hybrid 'Elizabeth', very like most neriflorums, and a better plant.