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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 29 April 2014 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 270.

Picking out and potting on.

OK, here's a question for you all. When you are pricking out seedlings into plastic pots, do you wash the pots beforehand? When it comes to seed-sowing, I do wash all the seed pans in warm soapy water, as I suspect that seedlings are liable to damp off from fungal diseases such as saprolegnia which are soil/water-borne. However, most of the small plastic pots into which I prick-out seedlings are recycled, but are not washed. In fact it is some years since I bought any small pots. Such wastage as results from plants sold or gifted is largely replaced by pots containing plants received or bought, so the system is largely self-sustaining. Empty pots are stacked in a dry place for a year or more and when used are tapped sharply so as to displace loose dry compost at the drainage hole before use. But thats all.

I have no idea whether my seedlings suffer as a result. Of course, there are some losses after pricking out, and some may result from fungal diseases, but I have never been acutely aware that unwashed pots is the source of the problem. What do you think?

When it comes to repotting established plants, the same applies I fear, Whether plastics or clays are involved, I just use a hand to remove the worst of the old dried compost before potting on. Is this slovenly, or just common sense?

Misty and moisty

We had a soft misty morning, through which the colours just glowed. Its a lovely time of year! The problem with these mornings is that the dew takes so long to clear that it is late afternoon before the lawn is fit to be cut, and it often rains first! Hopefully, this will be the day. We are expecting a brief visit next week from a party of 50 from north Northumberland. We shall try to give them all a cup of tea! This may be the limit of the entertainment involved, as the many rhododendrons, camellias, pieris and others which are currently at their best are all due to be severely frosted on Friday and Saturday nights. The BBC seems adamant about this, and they are probably right. Here is our misty garden after breakfast this morning.

Misty and moisty

There is nowhere in the garden suitable for bedding. We are not up to keeping a prime area free of weeds and perennials; it is all much too informal. Instead we use planters and large pots for pansies and tulips in the spring, and these are replaced by summer bedding in June. Here is Tulipa 'White Triumphator' (I think).

For the first time for many years, Sheila bought some wallflower seedlings in the backend, and these are coming to their best. They smell wonderful!

Yellow wallflowers by the pond accompany Carex elata, now flowering fit to bust.

In the front, our big Acer palmatum is in full flower and looked superb through the mist.

Looking the other way, Camellia 'Donation' dominates the front door.


Here's an interesting observation. About 12 years ago, we first visited the daphnes above the Nota Pass west of Lake Garda, and I brought back a few cuttings to be grafted onto D. tangutica seedlings. It was after flowering time (I was  working back then!), so they were collected blind. One turned out to be an excellent D. x hendersonii which I called 'Nota Pink'. One plant in a pot was over-exhibited and died a lingering death, but another was planted into home-made tufa at the Newcastle Moorbank Botanic Garden where it thrived. When it became clear that the garden had an uncertain future, I decided to try and move the plant, almost always a recipe for disaster when mature daphnes are concerned. Sure as eggs, the plant died, but I also took large numbers of cuttings. Most of these were put into a large plastic pot of pure sand and overwintered on the floor of the alpine house. Even last month most looked okay, but most have now died. However, and heres the thing, about a dozen were dibbed into the edge of a sand-bed in the open garden, unprotected, and nearly all of them have rooted. So, autumn cuttings into sand outside unprotected, a new way to propagate daphnes? I shall try it again.

On a later visit to M. Tremalzo, I collected a few small cuttings of Daphne petraea, which again were grafted, this time onto D. mezereum seedlings. Here is my favourite which I have called 'Pinnochio'. It is mounded in habit.


My mature D. petraea 'Grandiflora' is at its best. No show this week!

One of the best D. x hendersonii is 'Ernst Hauser' which has dark purplish foliage before it comes into flower, which is both distinctive and decorative.

I am a great fan of Taliensia rhododendrons, largely because of their fascinating foliage. Most are not floriferous, and often only flower when really mature. We have owned this Rh. roxieanum oreonastes for about 10 years, and it is flowering for only the second time.

Our 40-year old Rhododendron 'Chikor' is coming to its best. Of all the Cox Rh. ludlowii crosses, this, the original, is most like its distinguished parent.

Hylomecon japonicum is one of my favourites in the spring.

I have mentioned before that I cannot grow Androsace studiosorum outside in this garden unprotected, although it thrived in an earlier garden in the same town. For some years I put a pane of glass over a plant in a trough, and it persisted. Last year I forgot, and it died! However, I seem to have cracked the problem under glass, where it does well in a large plastic pot.

Another subject which has enjoyed a deep plastic pot plunged under glass is Phlox grayi, obtained from the Lever's nursery. I am just starting to try a few phloxes for the first time, and am being slowly won over.

I am finishing with two blue corydalis which seem to be doing reasonably well outside in fishboxes. I featured the first last autumn when it flowered unseasonably. I gave a bit to Brian Whitton who holds a National Collection in Durham suggesting that it might be C. pseudoadoxa and it seems to have settled under this name (it was acquired at a plant sale as 'C. flexuosa Dwarf form').

The other, smaller, plant was acquired as C. pachycentra. It is flowering, but seems to have nearly lost its basal rosette which is a worry. Or does it aestivate after flowering?

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