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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 30 August 2006 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary entry 2

Northumberland Diary. Entry 2. August 30th 2006

The title ?Diary of an alpine garden? lasted one issue, and has been changed to the above. I wrote the first issue last Sunday, and it was great to see it online a couple of days later. Thanks, Jim (McGregor) for all your hard work in setting it up.

We have got past another Sunday, diary day, and a lot seems to have happened in the intervening week. As I am practising with the medium, this issue won?t go out until towards the end of following week, but I?ll carry on writing on Sundays, and no doubt things will settle down. Now that the days are getting shorter, the sun is lower in the sky, and the air is cooler and more humid, I have been getting on with replanting troughs, a job that was seriously overdue. Some had remained untouched for a decade! I have come to the conclusion that the nature of the container is less important to the overall effect than the top-dressing. Originally, the troughs were just top-dressed with granite grit, and in two cases with lumps of Welsh tufa. This time round I have tried to be more adventurous, and in particular to follow the present fashion for crevice gardening on this minature scale. I have been able to acquire small quantities of a soft shaly sandstone which readily fragments into small pieces. It is easy to construct small vertical planting positions with these. At this time of year I have many small seedling drabas, androsaces, primulas and saxifrages which are at the ideal stage to be inserted into these crevices. Naturally, some larger plants from the original troughs have been replanted, especially in corners, where they are well out of the way. This exercise has led to some larger plants being transferred to pots, possibly to be exhibited on a future occasion (two large daphnes for instance, and several mature pulsatillas). Several have fallen apart when they were removed from the troughs, allowing division and propagation. In general I am sure that it is better to use small, usually young plants when re-establishing a trough. The trough shown in the photo below was actually made out of the same shaly rock some ten years ago, the pieces being cemented together. It looks a bit of a mess as seen, but a week on, plants are already settling down.

Primulas in troughs and the first autumn bulbs.

In two of the  troughs, a couple of Asiatic primulas grown from seed last year are flowering. I have found Primula florida to be easy if short-lived, with a long flowering season, and batches of seedlings can be raised every year. Being small and appreciating good drainage, it is ideal for a trough (on the left). On the right is shown its relative in section Yunnanensis, Primula homogama, possibly the first time it has been grown and photographed. Also from southern Sichuan, this is a really tiny plant, only about 1 cm high, with the flower about 6 mm in diameter! Not exactly a show-stopper!

Last week I moaned on about the lack of colour in this late August garden. In fact, quite a bit happened during the week. The first cyclamens opened (C. hederifolium in the garden, C. graecum and C. africanum in the alpine house), the first colchicums have appeared (as always, C.bivonae is the earliest), Acis (Leucojum) autumnale has appeared in the garden and under glass, and the colour of many berried plants has improved. The outstanding plant in the garden at the moment is scarcely alpine in character, the two metre Lilium lechtlinii (said to be one of the parents of the tiger lily), but stunning for all that. The late August mob are treasured here, if only for being thin on the ground. Two more examples worth a mention are Eucomis bicolor and Cynoglossum amabile.

The eucomis is what it appears to be, a somewhat unlikely relative of the pineapple. It has a reputation for being tender, which I consider totally unjustified as it has thrived unprotected here for more than ten years. We grow it in a cool, damp, rather lush spot, rather fortuitously, but this placing is justified by our discovery of it growing in damp spots by a river in the Drakensberg last January. The cynoglossum is another plant I have seen growing wild, in Yunnan, where it is a roadside weed. It behaves as a biennial here, self-sowing and appearing in all manner of unlikely spots where it does little harm and its bright blue flowers are always welcome.

Here is the lily, which flourishes in partial shade in the same place as the smaller L. canadense, which flowers nearly two months earlier.

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