A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: 01 April 2008 by John Richards
Northumberland Diary. Entry 69.
Feast of all Fools
Into April in typical showery weather, blustery too, but much warmer, more than 10C, and no threat of frost. This, together with the fact that all the bulbs are now through, has encouraged me to go ahead with a plan I have been harbouring for some time, a small tufa garden outside, but made with home-made tufa.
To this end I have been making lumps of tufa in the spare garage (which doubles as a potting shed) on odd occasions during the winter. In each occasion the ingredients have been moss raked from the lawn (Rhytidiadelphus squarrosus for any bryologists), vermiculite and cement. However the finished products have varied quite a bit and I think the proportions of each ingredient are crucial to success. These are not easy to gauge as the physical properties of the three substances are so disparate. I think it is most successful when there is slightly more vermiculite than the other two ingredients. It is vital to mix everything dry first, and then to thoroughly wet it before the final mix. I shape the wet lumps with planks of wood. It is VITALLY important to set the mix on cardboard. The last lot were set on the concrete floor of the garage and had to be chiselled from the floor! There are 12 large 'bricks', and a lot of rubble!
Here are the lumps brought outside and stacked against the garage to weather before use. The larger lumps have been sawn in half with a large hand saw. This was fairly easy except for the one lump to which I had added granite grit, which not surprisingly made it uncuttable. The following picture shows the site on which I hope to build the feature. Watch this space!
King Ferdinand's saxifrage
Last week I showed a plant of Saxifraga ferdinandi-coburgii peeping from under a capping of snow. That was a plant I acquired some years ago under the name 'rhodopaea'. There is a valid variety rhodopaea published for this species, although the species is sufficiently variable in the wild for it to be dubious whether plants from the Rhodope are sufficiently distinct from those in southern Bulgaria and north-east Greece (from where I figured it earlier this year). However, plants that are now flowering in neighbouring troughs do look different, and in my eyes more attractive. These were grown from seed I collected in the southern Pirin in 2002, and from a further collection by Ina Kozurahova in 2004. The latter look much more like northern Spanish plants, lending some credence to the suggestion that there may be little difference between this form and the plant recently described from the Picos as S. felineri. The first plant figured here is 'rhodopaea', followed by two Pirin seedlings.
Here are a couple of familar saxifrages, firstly good old 'Cranbourne', a hybrid of many years standing, followed by S. x kochii 'Duncan Lowe', lifted for a Show.
The last, marvellous plant, is of course the hybrid between ever-popular S. oppositifolia and the intractable, rather plain high alpine S. biflora. It is a very successful trough plant here.
Inside for a few drabas, now approaching their best. First D. exunguiculata, which I collected seed of from about 4000m on the Horseshoe Pass, Mosquitos Range, Colorado, back in 1991. Eventually I lost it, but had passed a seedling on to Alan Furness, who gave me a seedling back. He flowers it better than me! I think the high alpine American drabas may be unfairly neglected. They are not difficult in the alpine house.
We travel to the Pyrenees for our next draba, the late Eric Watson's marvellous form of D. dedeana.
Finally, another draba much associated with one person, the form of Draba ossetica from the northern Caucasus that Robert Rolfe has successfully championed.