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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 15 April 2013 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 241.

European primulas

It was always going to be the case, that when the frightful winter finally relented, the dam would burst and everything would flower at once. This happened last weekend just in time for a magnificent Northumberland Show, just half-a-mile down the road from here. There were well in excess of 800 plants on the bench and virtually every class was vigorously contested by swathes of magnificent plants. Really, in terms of overall standard it must have been one of the better alpine Shows ever!

In fact it is amazing how much has come into flower here in the two days SINCE the show. For instance, not an androsace flower was open on Saturday, and now look at A. muscoidea 'Chesterfield', A. carnea x pyrenaica and A. laevigata!


European primulas

However, it is really the European primulas that have moved so fast in the last few days. Lets start with two rarities from the southern limestone fringe of the Alps in the Como area of northern Italy. First, Primula albenensis. Although it is more than 20 years since this distinctive, isolated new species was discovered, it is still not that common in cultivation.

A fairly recent acquisition is the interesting new form of P. hirsuta which grows on low level limestone cliffs (very unlike most acid loving alpine forms of this widespread species). It is being called 'Vulcaviensis'. I was given a little bit last autumn while I was in the Czech Republic, and rather to my surprise it is in flower now.

Now for a range of European hybrids. I think my most recent favourite might be 'High Point', purchased last year. It is an excellent dwarf marginata cross.

Another fairly recent acquisition, I think from Jim Almond, is 'Sunrise' which seems to keep very tight.

Jim definitely gave me 'Coolock Katrina' which is one of his own crosses. It only opened today.

A couple of larger plants of longer standing here (and perhaps because of that, not quite so well flowered) are the lovely white-flowered 'Tony', and 'Jackie Richards'. I think I have said before that the latter is named not for my daughter, but for Mike Richards' wife!

Whenever a rosette of a European primula breaks off, or rots, I strip off the old lower leaves and stick it in the sand plunge. Nearly all of them root. These might get put out into the garden (very few are yet in flower outside), or sold, but some are replanted into that part of the sand plunge in my older house where plants get planted out. As you can see these are watered by drip on an automated timer (as are both the alpine houses), and are fed with liquid feed a few times a year, but apart from this they grow in pure sand and get no extra sustenance.

The picture above has 'Clarence Elliott, kewensis' and 'Broxbourne'.

Next a few Asiatic primulas that are flowering now. First is Primula bracteata in a fairly extreme 'dubernardiana' form. This is its second year to flower.

One of my seed raised P. maximowiczii is well ahead of the others as it spent the winter under cover.

Primula elatior subsp. meyeri, the blue form of the oxlip from Turkey and the Caucasus was lifted a few weeks ago for exhibition and it now awaiting its return to the open ground where it is a good deal more happy in both winter and summer (it hates to be hot).

A view of the plunge outside at the moment where a number of show plants are recovering from their efforts, or building up strength. What a shame that there is now no northern Show for more than a month!

In the alp[ine house, Draba rosularis is approaching its best and may be over for East Anglia. It had no flowers open on Saturday!

I have taken this specimen of Celmisia longifolia, one of the Australian species, to all the shows this year. It has regularly beaten excellent entries to the places, but has yet to earn a red ticket!

Finally, for today, Rhododendron pachysanthum has escaped the frost and is just coming into flower in the garden.

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