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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 21 April 2014 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 269.

Off to Cleveland

Perhaps for the last time, I seem to be showing heavyweight plants this season. This is partly because some of my best plants are lifted from the garden for the show (and put back in again early next morning!), partly because my personal taste tends to the larger subjects, having half an acre of garden to tend, and partly because there seems to be less competition up there! I am sure that increasing numbers of an ageing cohort of exhibitors find the manhandling of large pots increasingly burdensome. I am certainly amongst this number, and my creaking back and hip have suffered to the extent that I shall think hard before I carry another belt-buster into the hall again. Luckily (from that point of view), my joints now have four weeks to recover before the trek to Southport!

Two rhodos were lifted from the garden, but in plastic pots, even if 34 cm diameter, and a light compost, they were not impossibly burdensome. Rh. 'Patty Bee' is one of the very best yellow hybrids, with features of both its parents Rh. fletcherianum and Rh. keiskei and makes an excellent subject for exhibition. (I am grateful to Dave Riley for the information as to its origin and parentage).

Off to Cleveland

The story of the other rhodo I exhibited is more complex. For years, Bill Campbell, a local lad, came to volunteer at the Newcastle Moorbank Botanic Garden (now in the uncertain care of the Freemen of the City; we, the Volunteers, are banned from access). Bill was particularly keen on propagation, and used access to the seed-list exchange to grow many items from throughout the world, many of which he lined out at his mother's allotment in Bedlington (where the terriers come from). About eight years ago, Bill got a job in south-west France, and came to say that we at Moorbank were free to help themselves to whatever we fancied. Amongst many delectable items were a group of seedlings of Rhododendron smirnowii, grown from St Petersburg Botanic Garden seed. Two years ago, an unflowered spare found its way into my care.

These have only just reached flowering size and 'the effect is fantastic' (those NOT understanding this joke, please contact the discussion section). This dwarf member of the Ponticum section is related to the yellow-flowered Rh. caucasicum, and also inhabits the Caucasus and NE Turkey, but seems not to be that well-known in the West. I think many forms grown here are inferior, but looking on the Net, there are obviously wonderful forms available, and Bill, and subsequently I, seem to have acquired one. It looks a bit like some of the 'yak' hybrids (Rh. yakusimanum is another relative), but definitely classier.

Two more rhodos. I have grown Rh. 'Dora Amateis' most of my gardening life, having brought it from the last garden. About ten years ago, it started to go  back badly, the leaves becoming discoloured and falling off. This is what I know as the 'rhodo lurgy' and I think may be due to the rust Chrysomyxa ledi. Several of my plants have become infected with this, while others, alongside, remain untouched. Although some plants have died, others have lost branches (which are rapidly excised and burnt), but have made a strong recovery. 'Dora Amateis' was reduced to a single twig, and I only failed to remove the root ball by neglect. However, a few years ago it showed signs of life and is once again a thriving plant.

I have also grown Rhododendron augustinii most of my life, but not always the same plant, as I have found it rather short-lived. Originally I had 'Magor's Best Blue' from Cooke's garden 'Kilbryde', but that went years ago. The present plant is another of Bill Campbell's seedlings from the Bedlington allotment, and is a less exciting colour, but worth having nevertheless.

Returning to the Cleveland Show, a reliable banker this week (used to be the Harrogate Show) is the double form of the Canadian Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis 'Multiplex. I have two plants which have been dug up to exhibit so often that they each fit nicely into a pan. Any gaps are filled in on the day, to make a more complete exhibit the next year. This photo was taken on the Friday; they were nicely in flower the next morning. The petals drop so soon that timing is crucial.

Perhaps the worst rupture wrecker was this Daphne x whiteorum 'Beauworth'. I repotted this three years ago, and for the last two springs it produced not a single flower. This year it performed reasonably well, but a central section failed to set bud and was starting to show that khaki discoloration which in daphnes presages rapid  collapse if the shoot is not immediately remioved. This I did, and 'tucked the plant up' a bit, leading to accusations that I had lifted it from the garden. Had I done so, this would have led to certain lingering death (Daphne is a genus you certainly can NOT lift for showing, ever.). In any case, this hybrid between D. petraea and D. jasminea is not the hardiest, doubtless due to the tenderness of the second parent, and is unlikely to succeed outside the alpine house in Hexham anyway.

The last of my winning large pots was Iris aphylla, originally introduced many years ago by the mother of a friend from near Frejus in southern France. Under glass, both in a pot and planted out, it is a most reliable performer which happily resents repotting!

This is a lovely time in the garden. One of the D beds is a picture of anemones, primulas and erythroniums.

This patch of pheasant's eyes, Narcissus poeticus, is naturalised in the lawn, evoking many meadows in France and elsewhere. I was happy to hear from Robert Rolfe on Saturday that Ian Robertson had shown the previous week a pan of the Greek relative N. radiiflorus grown from seed collected on the Katara Pass by the MESE expedition in 1999. I distinctly remember bagging this seed, and am delighted that it performed well for someone, somewhere.

It is now two whole weeks since we returned from the south. There, Magnolia x soulangeana was already well past its best. Our tree is only now in its full glory, having escaped several ground frosts untouched.

Under glass I have enjoyed Phlox kelseyi, although judges were less than impressed by it on Saturday.

It is lovely to get Primula erosa back again. This rather low-level, evergreen, somewhat tender central Nepalese relative of P. denticulata, was one of the first unusual primulas I grew back in the 1970's when it was introduced from the Kali Gandhaki by Bernard Thompson. I wrote a youthful article about it in the Bulletin then, and it  was figured in a line drawing. I was given a plant by Alan Oatway last autumn, having not set eyes on it for 35 years.

Another primula from central Nepal which I had not grown for many years is the celebrated P. aureata. Cyril Lafong very kindly donated two seedlings last autumn and they are now big enough to provide the odd flower.

Another primula growing from seed is P. latifolia, now flowering from seed collected in 2012 in the company of Pam Eveleigh at Casterino in the Alpes Maritimes, a locality better known for its P. marginata (a celebrated white form is so dubbed).

Fern heaven

Last Wednesday, together with a party of botanical friends from Northumberland, I was very privileged to be taken to a wood near Glaisdale in north Yorks, not far to the west of Whtiby. Since the mid 1990's, this site, originally highly secret, has become celebrated as possibly the only site on mainland Britain (certainly England) where it is possible to see sporophytes of the Killarney Fern, Trichomanes speciosum. For those that need prompting, fern spores grow into small, usually ephemeral bodies called gametophytes which bear the sex organs, and which after fertilisation, die. being dominated by the main sporophyte generation (the 'fern').

Filmy ferns, to which Trichomanes belongs, are different in that the gametophyte is very persistent, and if not suited, may not produce sex organs, so that the sporophyte fern is never found. This is true for the Killarney Fern, for which the gametophyte is much more widespread, and even occurs in our own county, Northumberland. It occurs in shady humid nooks, and looks very much like a 'Brillo Pad', or green kitchen scourer.


Fern heaven

The amazing thing about the Glaisdale site (reknowned apparently for location shots for 'Heartbeat', no, me neither) is that some of the gametophytes have gone on to have sex and produce the sporophytes. It is a very dark site and photography a real challenge.

Now I think thats super! What do you think?!

This site is reknowned also for many other ferns, including the hay-scented buckler, Dryopteris aemula, and many hybrids involving the other rarer bucklers D. carthusiana and D. expansa. None of these were in recognisable growth, but there was a lot of the soft shield-fern, Polystichum setiferum. This is very rare with us, only occurring as a garden escape.

Instead, we get the hard shield-fern, P. aculeatum. This photo was taken yesterday, on a walk in Allen Banks woods.

One of the many treasures near Glaisdale was the very seldom-seen hybrid between them. Here are our botanists admiring the massive hybrid clumps.

Finally, these super woods boasted not one filmy fern but two, with a site for the mostly westerly Hymenophyllum tunbrigense.

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