A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: 12 August 2007 by John Richards
Northumberland Diary. Entry 46.
Re-reading my piece last week on the bulb repot prompts another discussion on frits (Fritillaria). On the whole I am fonder of frits than they are of me. A few of the usual suspects (F. meleagris of course, F. pyrenaica, F. pallidiflora, F. elwesii, F. uva-vulpis, and, perhaps less predictably, F. sewerzowii manage well enough in raised, humus-rich, semi-shaded sites in the open garden, without multiplying to any great extent.
However, growing frits in pots alongside the rest of the bulb collection in the alpine house has been another matter entirely. Some such as F. aurea 'Golden Flag', and two or three of the American species, do quite well and multiply modestly, aided by snapping the largest bulbs in half while repotting. However, at least 15 items, mostly from Greece and western Turkey, have been suffering from 'Fritillaria keeling-over disease' (FKOD). The main symptom is a rapid collapse of the stem just as it comes into flower, and a consequent dimunition in the number and size of bulbs as the seasons progress.
As reported earlier, an approach to the Panel of Experts yielded two articles, by Bob Wallis and Dave King. In general it seems agreed that the problem is fungal, and may be caused by the build-up of one pathogen in the compost, which may be a Pythium. Bob experimented with Viresco, a proprietary mycorrhizal culture, obtainable from John McLauchlan horticulture. This was ten years ago, and I don't know if he still uses this solution, or whether indeed the product is still obtainable. However he seems to have had considerable success, initially.
In contrast, Dave favoured the 'open-air' approach, and successfully moved his plants to plunges outside, covered in winter but with good air passage at the sides.
For the last year, since the last repot, I have gone for the latter option, and my frits in pots have been largely neglected in a rather shady plunge outside, covered with a frame light for three months in the winter, but otherwise unprotected. Most were by then on their last legs, and few if any flowered. Thus, it was with a distinct sense of pessimism that I emptied the pots last week. What a surprise! True, a couple of the pots were completely empty, but in most I was delighted to find healthy, plump flowering size bulbs, many big enough to split. For the time being, I shall continue to grow my eastern Mediterranean frits outside!.
In our papers and gardening journals we are often treated to images of 'plant associations' that rarely look as appealing as the author intended. Beauty is definitely in the eye of the creator. It is in this spirit that I offer a couple of pictures. In the garden, plants are rarely seen in isolation, and when adding to the collection it is worth keeping in mind the size, spread, flowering season and colour scheme of prospective neighbours. The first group grows near our front gate and welcomes visitors at this time of year. The Picea pungens would undoubtedly benefit from being grown in more light, but the astilbes relish these cool conditions. More surprisingly, Acanthus spinosus from hot sites in sunny Greece does well in the cool shade and flowers freely.
Scarcely a bulb
Whe one of our leading bulb growers visited a few years ago, he brought a rather comprehensive collection of seedling codonopsis as a gift, thinking correctly that they were an appropriate quasi-bulbous present for this somewhat Himalayan-themed garden. In fact, this is a genus I had never attempted to grow, and I was somewhat at a loss to know what to do with them. Eventually I planted the little potfuls in humus-rich soil under dwarf shrubs, mostly rhodos, through which they could scramble. This was less than successful, although I have a horrid suspicion that the resemblance of the late-appearing thin twining stems to the various bindweeds that appear all too frequently throughout the garden has not helped their cause. However, one has evaded my attention and is in flower now. Appropriately, it is the beautiful plant named for our editor, C. grey-wilsonii, although it is the wild type, not the wonderful white 'Himal Snow' that he introduced. Here the association is with the ubiquitous Primula florindae, although it is also worth showing a close-up of the intricacies of the flower.
We are approaching that time of year when fruits and foliage tend to provide the main effect in the garden, rather than flowers. We grow a range of pieris here, and one or two have been featured before. Pieris 'Little Heath' is a twelve-month plant, providing excellent form and colour throughout the year, a real mainstream in garden structure and at one metre high after twenty years, never out of scale for the alpine peat garden. It rarely flowers freely (I featured a few flowers back in the spring), but the pink new growth is evident during most times of year.
A lanky pink
As I sit at my computer upstairs, I look out over a rain-soaked garden (greatly welcomed rain; it was finally getting rather dry here and it has saved me from getting out the sprinkler). As I do so, a blackbird is gorging itself on the scarcely ripe berries of the rare Sorbus microphylla, grown from seed collected by Kath Baker below Everest. Berries of S. cachemiriana and S. fruticosa are going too, species that lasted well into October during the last, dry, autumn. Could it be that this summer, wet until recently, has plumped up the berries early? In any case, I don't anticipate much of a display this year.
One spring about seven years ago we visited Andalucia, searching for daffodils. In early April we were rather too late for most, but on the cliffs under Grazalema we were nevertheless pleased to find Dianthus hispanicus, which having flowered the previous autumn was in ripe seed. Ever a sucker for the seed of a localised and rarely-grown species in an exciting genus, we collected a pinch, and have established a clump in a shady limestone crevice. This is a useful time for it to flower, but in truth it is not surprising that this insipid lanky plant is rarely seen in gardens. Being a botanist as well as a gardener, I am loath to throw it out; this lack of ruthlessness is one of my main weaknesses in the garden! At least it has a lovely scent in the evening.
A quick visit to the alpine house. Little to see now, but Campanula fragilis is approaching its best, well established in a lump of home-made tufa. Molluscs LOVE this group, and despite my best efforts, there is evidence of a little light grazing!
On the floor of the glasshouse, mostly in shade, is a collection of sphondylia primulas. The west Himalayan P. floribunda is not often seen, being rather tender and short-lived, but it does set abundant seed and a batch of seedlings is just coming into flower.
The final picture is of a clematis recently acquired by the garden director, that we have now planted to grow through our silver-leaved Salix helvetica. It was named C. 'Hendryetta' (sic) a name that does not appear in our three-year old copy of 'The Plant Finder'. It really is a most original plant that looks as if it were a cross between a small flowered climber, such as one of the viticellas, and a herbaceous species. This is just a guess; I have no idea what its parentage is, but it does seem a new and exciting break.
Welcome to Wisley
After a year in the wilderness, as it were, I am delighted to see that this diary has a companion, from a most distinguished source, RHS Wisley no less. I give them a hearty welcome, and hope Paul Cumbleton enjoys providing contributions as much as I have over the last year. Hopefully the two diaries should complement each other well: South/North; Professional and very Amateur; large public garden/small private garden.
Paul has immediately initiated a section in the on-line discussion section of this Site so that he can receive feedback and initiate discussions, and Jim, our webmaster has asked if I would like to do the same. This is something I have been contemplating for months. In some ways it is great to sit here in an ivory tower, immune from criticism and debate, but this rather loses the point of the exercise, and it would be nice to find that someone, somewhere is actually reading this! Consequently, I hope that Jim will construct a feedback section for this diary too. Remember, there is a whole year of entries to get your teeth into. And, thankfully, I don't HAVE to reply!