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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 03 August 2008 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 85.

The casual round, the common task......

What news from the home front? Well, it has rained, a lot, again, but also it has been pleasantly warm for the most part, and there has been a fair amount of sunshine, but without the damagingly high temperatures we enjoyed briefly last week.

I have started the bulb repot, but at a fairly relaxed pace. Instead of charging at it like a bull in a china shop as was my habit, engrained from the days when I had to fit it into the working week, I have fitted in a few two-hour stints. Part of the family has been staying, so I have slotted the work between days at the seaside, country houses etc. I am still only a third of the way through, but it is still the first week of August, and I am not going anywhere for a bit.

As I raise more and more bulbs from seed, I am tending to run out of plunge space for bulbs, and have decided to be more ruthless. Now I only keep potfuls that are going forward (increasing, doing well). Those that are going backwards have either been discarded or the bulbs have been put outside in a new unprotected bed designed for bulbs (a south-facing slope built up from old bulb compost).

So far it seems that most things have had a good season, the autumn crocus and dwarf narcissus seem particularly strong, but I have discarded a few spring crocus, romuleas, acis and galanthus (however the autumn- flowering Galanthus peshmenii has shown massive increase). Early days.

Few bulbs flower at this time of year, but here are a couple. Hesperantha woodii is a small schizostylis-relative from the Eastern Cape. It only germinated last year, and the potful in the alpine house has yet to flower. However, several spare bulbs put outside in the new bulb bed are now flowering.

The casual round, the common task......

Here is the delightful little Allium beesianum, such a reliable small subject for a shady scree.

Androsace gallery

I had already reported success with germinating Chinese-collected seed of various androsaces. These were pricked out in May, and then moved on into larger clay pots in early July. Since then I have hedged my bets. Some have been placed in the plunge where I keep my saxifrages in summer, shaded from the midday and afternoon sun, while others have gone into the cooler and more shaded of the two alpine houses. They seem to have done fairly well in both environments. Basically the performance of each seems to have depended most on how vigorous the seedling was from the start. Some of these species are not often seen yet, so I thought I would display photos of the young plants as a record. As far as I can tell, all seem to be correct as to name. However, I should welcome any suggested corrections.

Perhaps the most successful so far as been A. mairei.

Androsace gallery

A. mairei was named for the Frenchman Fr. Maire. Closely related is a species named for the girl's name Maria, A. mariae. Very confusing!

A. mariae seems closely related to A. wardii.

I am fairly sure that A. brachystegia is true to name as this is the dominant species on top of the Zhedua Pass above Kangding.

A. bisulca var. aurata is equally abundant around the high-altitude town of Litang. Yes, I know its 'impossible' to grow! Touch wood!

The species that has grown least well so far is A. yargongensis that we saw high on the Beima Shan.

Finally, here is the monocarpic A. integra. This is unusual in this set in that I have grown it from my own seed. Only two seeds set, and one germinated!

Time we left this boring section, suitable only for androsace-nuts!

The comment was made in last year's Show Section of the 'Alpine Gardener' that the best way to flower the Tasmanian Epacridaceous shrub Trochocarpa thymifolia was to leave it outside in a cool humid situation for the summer. I did this with my fairly ancient plant, and, lo!, it flowered for the first time. I am VERY disappointed to see that it is not the attractive red-flowered form pictured in the Alpine Gardener, but a dirty off-white. And, it has flowered at a time when there are no Shows!

And thats why they call them the blues.....
One of the redeeming features of the late summer garden is a variety of non-campanula Campanulaceae, Cyananthus, Codonopsis, Wahlenbergia and the like. The earliest of these here, the Japanese Platycodon grandiflorum has just come into flower. This is a great garden plant, long-lived, trouble-free and very attractive. I love the balloon-buds! I have just raised the white form from seed and look forward to flowering it next year.

And thats why they call them the blues.....

Here is a campanula, the very beautiful C. isophylla that we grow planted out in the alpine house. Even here it is exceptionally attractive to snails! Molluscs are the curse of the family; I found a slug munching through a physoplexis seedling I had planted out in the artifical tufa yesterday. Sadly it is no more (the slug that is!).

Hostentatious
I recently featured a golden Hosta fortunei variety. Now that the hostas are in full flower, this caused me to meditate on their value as flowering plants, for they seem to be grown chiefly for their foliage. Also, it is remarkable how much the different species vary in flower shape. This is another genus with confusing names, for the first picture refers to a form of H. sieboldiana, alhough another quite different species H. sieboldii is also grown. The second photo shows the very different flowers of H. fortunei.

Hostentatious

When we were at Waterperry last month we were accompanied by my uncle and aunt whose name is Hewitt. They used to grow Thalictrum dipterocarpum 'Hewitt's Double' largely for sentimental reasons I suspect, and caused me to dip into my pocket at the Waterperry Nursery to commemorate my mother's maiden name. It is now in flower, and is an interesting plant, the general effect like one of the border gypsophilas.

John Richards

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