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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 16 April 2017 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 336.

Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain

Its raining, hurrah! After couple of springs with more than adequate moisture, we seem to have reverted to the pattern of cold dry springs which has so characterised our north-eastern climate. After the best part of a week in the South, following the Chesterfield Show, we found the garden very dry and many plants in containers looking rather sorry for themselves as I scrambled together some exhibits for yesterday's Easter gathering at Cleveland. Anyway, the promised band of precipitation has indeed arrived and deposited a useful (although scarcely sufficient) soaking which has stopped me from getting out the hose, for the time being at least.

Cleveland is the last Show of the spring for me, now that Southport is no more. Birmingham is definitely a step too far, and although I had originally planned to go to East Anglia, a dandelion meeting took precedence (as it does!). There is an undoubted dearth of late spring Shows in the North now, which I very much hope that the Shows Department is addressing with some urgency.

Here are pictures of a few of the plants I took to Cleveland. Firstly, the Phlox kelseyi. This is one of those subjects you have to work at as the flowers do not last long, and it is necessary to remove large numbers with tweezers while others are still emerging. It lives in the alpine house all year long and is a lovely shade of lavender-blue.

Phlox kelseyi

The phlox was part of a successful three-pan entry together with Corydalis 'Kingfisher'. I exhibited this as Corydalis curviflora v. rosthornii which I also grow, but which flowers later. Unfortunately, labels tend to get lost in this garden (I blame blackbirds for this, and much else). I grow a number of wonderful blue Corydalis and have become very confused as to their identity. Another one, presently in flower, is C. 'Craigton Blue' which has red stems and a more vertical flower, and I also have two forms of C. flexuosa, C. emeiensis, and the hybrid between them, all of which flower later. I find that many flourish in fishboxes in partial shade, although the 'Kingfisher' lives in the large plastic pot in which it was exhibited (this is not a group which repays lifting for exhibition). C. 'Kingfisher' is a wonderful creation from the Lever family, so much easier to grow than its parent C. cashmeriana.

Corydalis 'Kingfisher'

The third plant in this trio was Daphne calcicola. This superb yellow-flowered Daphne from western China was a gift from Cyril Lafong as a small rooted cutting. It has grown well in a crock pot in the alpine house, plunged all the year. I find it repays ample water and liquid feed in the spring as it 'wakes up'. This is probably true of all daphnes. It comes easily when grafted onto D. mezereum and I have several planted in the garden where they have become chlorotic although they do flower. Two offspring still in the alpine house are a much better colour. Taking scions for graft in July is probably a good thing as the pruning involved keeps the plant 'in bounds'.

Daphne calcicola

Here is a photo of D. calcicola taken on the Shika Shan to the west of Zhongdian in north-west Yunnan back in 2011. It was growing on limestone cliffs at about 3600 m.

Daphne calcicola

One more plant that I took to Cleveland. This is one of my seedlings from Primula 'Waverley'. This productive series of crosses and open pollinations have taught me the lesson that amongst the attributes one should look for in a plant is staying power. An earlier seedling which I named 'The Flying Scotsman' was lovely but did not overwinter well and has been consigned. I am calling the present one 'Ivanhoe' (its that Waverley link again) and we shall see if it fairs any better. It certainly has vigour (this plant is in its second summer) and flowers of a lovely colour. In the meantime, one year old seedlings from the same stable are scattered through the garden and are starting to flower now. This will give me a better chance to suss their long-term potential.

Primula 'Ivanhoe'

Time to step into the garden. After a few indifferent years (poor flowering, late frosts, and flowering before the young foliage were all causes), our now huge Pieris forrestii 'Firecrest' is simply magnificent. We are forecast a frost in two nights time, so it is best 'outed' now while it is unspoilt.

The Magnolia x soulangeana has also been wonderful, but is now starting to drop.

Magnolia x soulangeana

Last years campaign of hacking back overenthusiastic growth in various parts of the garden has yielded many benefits. We had virtually forgotten this Clematis macropetala which was buried behind a huge Cotoneaster. Freed up, it has flowered better than ever.

Clematis macropetala

Another legatee has been a huge Ribes sanguineum. Often despised as being coarse or 'common' (and definitely rather smelly!), this can be a magnificent shrub if one has the space. It had malingered behind the massive ivy tree that we removed last winter, almost ceasing to flower, but has wasted no time in making a rapid recovery.

Some garden bulbs

Perhaps because the winter has been mild and dry, tulips have flowered remarkably well in the open garden. In containers, they have not been watered and have been rather too dry, but have still made a display.

Some garden bulbs

A few of the small species tulips are excellent garden plants. Here Tulipa urumiensis has become natuuralised and combines well with Anemone blanda and the Turkish form of Saxifraga pedemontana.

Really dwarf narcissi have to be chosen with care here. By far the most successful has been 'Minnow' which has made a real impact for the best part of a month. N. canaliculatus and N.'Little Oliver' (which looks very like N. rupicola) have been less succesful and were rather overwhelmed by their containers. The photo is of 'Minnow'.

I have featured the following bulb before. It is appearing on the show benches with increasing frequency, which I am nervous about as it hovers perilously close to becoming a pestilential weed here, although it is undoubtedly extremely attractive. It is called Allium paradoxum v. normale and was collected in Iran by Admiral Furse. It differs from the European A. paradoxum by being much more robust and by not producing invasive bulbils in the inflorescence. Nevertheless it is extremely vigorous here. On Saturday it was shown in a 'from Europe' class, but this Iranian plant is so distinct that I think this should be discouraged in future.

Allium paradoxum v nomale

Staying with bulbs, this is the first year that Erythronium multiscapoideum, grown from seed, has really performed well and has joined several other species which are proving to be reliable doers here (the one that really does not thrive is E. revolutum which is so invasive elsewhere).

Erythronium multiscapoideum

Most Erythroniums have finished here now, but E. califonicum 'White Beauty' is still at its best. I am sure that this latter must be a species as it seeds everywhere and always comes true.

E. hendersonii was good too, but has now more or less finished.

Erythronium hendersonii

Elsewhere the evanescent Sanguinaria canadensis 'Multiplex' forms a splendid combination with Primula vulgaris ssp. sibthorpii.

A saxifrage I have grown for many years and then lost was originally collected by Ron McBeath, I think under the number 1476, from the Annapurna area. It answers the description of S. rhodopetala and I used to show it under this name. I lost it, but regained it from Ian and Carole Bainbridge a couple of years ago and it has settled down well in a sand-bed, flowering well for the first time. It is probably a hybrid of S. andersonii, possibly with S, lowndesii, both species which I still grow, although neither is presently flourishing.  I have a feeling that the Bainbridges have given it a cultivar name, but if so, I have lost it.

Saxifraga 'rhodopetala'

Such is the richness of this blest time of year that I could show a calvacade of rhododendrons, but will fiinish with just one, Rh. 'Carmen', at its best after several lean years, together with Pieris 'Little Heath'..

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