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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 29 April 2007 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 34.

Blasted heat(h)

As the east Atlantic blocking high stretches undisturbed into its second cloudless month, England (but not it should be noted much of Scotland) blisters under unremitting ultra-violet radiation. The North of England Show at the Great Yorkshire showground at Harrogate yesterday resembled nothing so much as Glyndebourne, as exhibitors in various stages of deshabille stretched out on the dry turf and sampled the Great Yorkshire pastries on offer from the multitudinous booths(and, it must be said, the odd plastic cup of French Merlot). This must be the only AGS Show where it is possible to listen to a brass band, while keeping half an eye on a demonstration on repotting houseplants while purchasing the latest garden gadget (this year plastic crates on wheels seemed to be the latest 'musthave').

I am starting with a couple of trilliums which do well enough in this garden for a good plant to be forked out for a show, to be returned unharmed (although usefully divided) the next day. The giant, and nearly black-flowered T. kuraybayashii is very vigorous here, and flowers for months, something the judges clearly took into account when ignoring it! The pink form of T. grandiflorum fared rather better on the day.

Blasted heat(h)

A mix of mossies
For some years I have been collecting species 'mossy' saxifrages (now section Saxifraga in various 'series'). Some do not last in the garden, and others are distinctly 'squinny', 'bios' ('Botanical Interest Only), but there are some deserving species that are little grown and I shall feature three. First is the Spanish S. latepetiolata that the judges quite liked (but when ranged against a mighty 'Snowcap', understandably not enough to give it a red ticket). This is a monocarpic species, but it grows well from seed in a year and I have found it easy to keep going under cold glass. Beware! The leaves are covered with sticky hairs and very difficult to keep clean.

A mix of mossies

Now for two species that do well outside. S. continentalis, from northern 'green' Spain is very vigorous and has to be kept in check, but I love its fresh green mats. It disappears completely in winter. Here it has completely covered a trough. S. cebennensis, from the French limestone causses in the Cevennes has more of a garden history, but in recent years various forms of S. pubescens seem to have done service for it. Here is the real thing from wild seed.

May madness
Early May is perhaps my favourite time in the garden, for all that it has commandeered late April this year. Here are four of my favourite May plants. First is the earliest peony here, received as P. caucasica. Very likely it is correctly named, but whether this taxon is really distinct from P. mascula is another issue. I find it likes dappled shade and shelter.

May madness

There are several varieties of Clematis alpina and C. macropetala here. They have been planted up old tree stumps, trellises, and two have colonised Irish Yews, 'borrowed landscape' from our neighbours that rise against our northern border. This is a good blue form of C. macropetala.

I grow several of the Corydalis flexuosa varieties, but by far the most vigorous I received as an unnamed C. flexuosa x elata cross. This is a curious parentage, as C.elata flowers here in July, when the C. flexuosa have already gone dormant. It grows in a gritty leafmould in partial shade and is easily propagated from rooted 'bits' taken from round the edge.

Yet another 'blue' is Omphalodes cappadocica. A common enough plant perhaps, but almost the best thing in the garden now. It likes dry shaded spots right under the edge of large shrubs. It can be too vigorous and needs cutting back annually.

Finally, what really HAS been the best plant in the garden over the last week, although now a little tired. One of Randle Cooke's most celebrated plants at Kilbryde, three miles along the valley edge from here was a massive Rhododendron cephalanthum v. crebriflorum, perhaps the best of the daphne-like Anthopogon rhodos, so popular on the show-bench. Unfortunately, this species only seems to flower well when mature and too big for exhibition. My plant has some way to go to match Cooke's, but is now flowers well every year. I top-dress it with leaf-mould annually.

Mentioning Randle Cooke has prompted an addendum, his Cassiope, still going strong after sixty years.

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