A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: 15 August 2016 by John Richards
Northumberland Diary. Entry 322.
Summer wears on
I know, I know, no entry for four weeks, and not due to our absence, infirmity, or even sheer idleness, merely to lack of inspiration. Most of our garden is in its annual doldrums, with very little to see apart from the nastier perennial weeds which always become most evident as the season starts to wane. The bulbs have been repotted, all the seedlings I am expecting to pot on or plant out this season are in place, I have assayed two batches of daphne grafts, and I have increasingly resorted to glyphosate in the war against ground elder, large bellbine, yellow archangel, Cymbalaria hepaticifolia, Arisarum proboscoideum, creeping buttercup and all the other enemies numbers one to n which plague this increasingly overmature garden. One last milestone looms, the hedges, and I must give Barry the tree-surgeon a ring to ask him to perform his annual haircut.
As you see, we have not been idle at all. On the whole our activity is measured by consumption of compost heaps. The normal order of service is as follows:
1) 'Oh dear, that prize rhodo/primula/meconopsis/lily/shrub is being swamped/shaded/outcompeted by that vigorous neighbour/(more likely) noxious weed'.
2) Gather restoration kit of garden fork/barrow/several buckets/large dumpy bag.
3) Dig out threatened prize object, and all the neighbouring ditto and place in dumpy bag.
4) Laboriously and carefully search through the rootballs of each for each last scrap of weed root (most often 'spaghetti' from the cymbalaria, tufted vetch or bellbine).
5) Even more laboriously and meticulously dig through every scrap of remaining soil, even unto the subsoil, combing for said spaghetti.
6) Only when I am satisfied soil is clean (it won't be!), bring in barrows of well-rotted garden compost and tip on top of old soil (don't dig in).
7) Replant prize objects into lovely soft moist new compost, probably rearranged to please the eye. Water in well.
There has been quite a lot of this, to the value of two whole compost heaps in a month and I am now fresh out of old compost (the leaf mould went months ago).
Here is a view of one of the rearranged areas, dominated by Taliensia rhodos such as Rh. bureauvii and Rh. buchananii.
In the foreground of the preceding photo can be seen two large plants of the creeping Rhododendron forrestii. Although these had to be painstakingly freed from the ministrations of the pesky cymbalaria, it is amazing how little 'soil' this plant seems to need. Indeed it essentially seems to sit on top of the soil. Further, it enjoys creeping over more solid objects, in this case old tree-trunks, and it will be seen that it usually sets flower bud in these overhanging sections. Remarkably, the buds are already clearly visible, and in this case at least nine buds have set (perhaps because it had a year off this spring).
Note in the photo above how the opportunity has been made to plant out this years seedlings (Primula melanops), divide plants after flowering (Roscoea humeana) and dib in 'Irishmen's cuttings (Cassiope 'George Taylor').
This is scarcely rhododendron season, but sometimes plants miss out in the spring but compensate with an out-of-season show. Here is Rhododeron sargentianum, one of my favourite Anthopogons, flowering as I write.
Here is another area that was cleaned and replanted, this time with the only plant I wanted to keep from an area invaded by red fescue, a large Primula capitata which was divided before replanting.
The Primula vialii at the bottom of the photo is now in full flower. Remarkably, it germinated this year!
Before I leave matters technical, as it were, I thought I would report on the lawn edging I put in place last autumn, in an attempt to straighten the boundary between lawn path and the sand bed, and keep it easily maintained. This was achieved by the use of 15 cm tanallised duckboard, and as will be seen has been a great success. It has been edged (with long-handled shears) once this summer.
So, a few plants in the garden, mostly really tall perennials at this time of year. Here Dierama pendulum (2.5 m high) is matched by an unnamed Bergenia, 'resting' outside for the summer.
Amongst Sheila's perennials, a happy association between an astilbe and Sanguisorba filiformis.
We enjoy Thalictrum delavayi 'Hewitt's Double', not least because Hewitt is a family name.
Gardening is of course very much a question of 'Horses for Courses'. Some rampant weeds here are probably good garden plants elsewhere. Conversely, the common 'monbretia', Crocosmia x crocosmiflora, which is an appalling weed in many gardens, especially in the west, is reasonably well-behaved here, and gives a welcome splash of brilliant colour at this time of year. If you ask me why we don't grow much classier subjects such as C. Lucifer' or 'Emily Mackenzie', we tried both and lost them!
I have featured Satureja parnassica before. It is worth mentioning again as it is not often seen but is well-behaved, reliable, smells wonderful, and flowers at this difficult time of year. We grow no thymes and this substitutes well.
As the season progresses I appreciate foliage more and more. Celmisias do not grow for me as they do for my friend Alan Furness up the road from here, but some of the smaller species do quite well in a trough or fishbox. Here are C. hectori (silver shrub), C. angustifolia (grey shrub) and C. spedenii.
Now I am really stretching a point, going off on a limb. So far I have managed to avoid mentioning my latest obsession, with succulents from Tenerife. I am finding many of these, grown from seedlings, remarkably easy, vigorous, and moderately hardy. They are wintered under cold glass, but having a few spare this spring, I planted up a fishbox with tiny seedlings four months ago and put them outside in late April. This is the result. Its a shame you can't eat them! The two biggest are the single rosetted Aeonium ciliatum and the multirosetted Ae. haworthii.
Not much is happening under glass at present (indeed, many of the plants are standing outside). Here are a couple of subjects looking goiod. First, that Monemvasia endemic Stachys spreitzenhoferi, happiest planted out.
And Daphne x whiteorum 'Beauworth'. Note the red spider webs. It doesn't seem to hurt this plant which is happy in the alpine house, like its parents D. petraea and D. jasminea. I cannot grow any of the D. x hendersonii under glass at all.