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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 20 August 2006 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 1

‘Blogs’ are all the rage (horrid word! I promise never to use it again!), so I thought I would attempt a weekly account of our garden. This may be a rash undertaking, which I may live to regret. Maybe, even, this will be the sole issue! We will see!

My wife and I have gardened on a north-facing rather wooded slope of half an acre (0.2 ha!) in northern England for nearly 17 years. Now that I am retired, I can garden nearly full-time, and experiment as much as I want, a great luxury. This is a diary, not a garden article, and if I continue with later episodes, any reader who can be persuaded to persist with the narrative will slowly build up a picture of the garden.

Late August is perhaps the best time to start such a diary. It is a season I have nothing but contempt for, the oxter of our gardening year, perhaps equalled in its mediocrity only by early December. Things can only get better! We do have a herbaceous border, but even that is well past its best, and our only ‘bedding’ was in a few tubs. This was ruined by recent, devoutly welcomed, thunderstorms, and has been consigned to the compost heaps, so the bare tubs now await a November planting of tulips. Only some weatherproof pelargoniums survive. There is very little colour left in the alpine plantings, or under glass, and a dispirited, tired air hangs over the garden, not improved by the July heatwave and drought. We await the first cyclamen and colchicums next months, massed schizostylis, the colouring of berries, the excitement of autumn bulbs and the glory of autumn colour. October and early November are among our best times of year, and are already eagerly anticipated.

Enough of the doom and gloom! There are a few things to enjoy in the garden even now, and a disproportionate number of these seem to be scarlet, such as the rampageous Zauschneria angustifolia (wonderful, but don’t ask anything to compete in late summer; it associates well with bulbs which are dormant now, and don’t mind being cool and wet and dies right down until early summer).

The equally splendid shrub Desfontainea spinosa is at its best now. Curiously, it has another flowering peak not long before Christmas. It thrives in near total shade in the shelter of the house.

There are also a couple of recently acquired Erodiums, E. ‘Bishop’s form’, which seems to be related to E. chamaedryoides, and E. petraeum. which have proved to have a long flowering period and associate well with Gentiana boisseri, a smaller version of the familiar but sprawling G. septemfida.

The first of many berrying subjects is at its best now. A dwarf rose (to 40 cm in eight years!) R. heckeliana resulted from the AGS MESE Expedition to northern Greece in 1999. The flowers are rather disappointing, but it has large, seed-bearing hips of an excellent colour.

What here is the best and longest-lasting of the roscoeas is still giving value six weeks after flowering started. R. ‘Beesiana’ is a hybrid, I think between R. humeana and R. cautleoides. It is sterile, but shows great vigour

What is proving to be a cool and damp August has had its benefits. Despite the heatwave, seedlings pricked out in May and June have grown on well. In this friendly weather I have felt able to remake a shade bed to house seedling Asiatic primulas, and some of the surplus have gone into some new fishboxes, filled with a mix of proprietary Ericaceous compost (we are supplied with ‘Bulrush’ here, and it seems excellent), rotted pine bark, also proprietary, perlite, sharp sand and ‘old’ grit (I have taken to saving grit topdressing when repotting for just such a use).     These boxes are placed in partial shade and will be covered with a frame-light for five months from the end of October.

I have also been replanting some old troughs which have been in serious need of refurbishment for some years, but have so far only completed three and hope to write more about these next week.

That's all for now.

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