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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 01 December 2008 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 99.

And what will the robin do then poor thing?

In  recent years we seem to have got into a pattern of suffering a cold snap well before Christmas. Indeed, it seems to get earlier every year, and as we enter December we have experienced cold weather for four days, with no end in sight. For the last three nights the temperature has dropped to -6C, and day time temperatures have just struggled up to zero. This has caused me to switch on the heating fan in one of my alpine houses. Although I have power available in both houses (useful for running a fan in sultry weather), I refuse to provide any heat to the larger, newer house. However, the smaller house does contain a number of potentially tender subjects (Sphondylia primulas, gesneriads etc) and I try to keep it above about -2C, so in the very coldest weather I switch the fan heater on at night.

Despite this, I welcome the cold weather, partly because I think it encourages dormancy, rest and bud set in 'real' alpines, and kills what my mother calls the 'woufies' (aphids, slugs and the like), and partly because the rime and hoar frost make the garden look so pretty.

Here are a series of vistas of the garden, taken yesterday. The first two are of the main garden, then one of the side, by the conservatory, with the Davidia and Acer griseum, and finally one of the front garden.

And what will the robin do then poor thing?

Here is a final one of the path through the 'shubbery' in the front garden. This was all just a scrubby piece of grass when we arrived 19 years ago! It is under here that I park my primula fishboxes during the height of the summer.

In the last photo, a Salix lanata still holds its tan-coloured leaves, and the plant in the foreground is Brachyglottis monroi. Here is the Brachglottis close up.

Evergreen New Zealanders such as this especially pay their way in the frost. Here are a few more: Aciphylla kirkii, Olearia macrodonta and Celmisia ramulosa hybrid.

I suppose Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Tom Thumb' counts as a Kiwi too!

I am not always convinced about the garden-worthiness of Ulmus parvifolia 'Jacqueline Hillier', perhaps because I grow it in too shady a place. However, frost makes almost anything look good!

Stems can look great in this kind of weather too. Here is Salix fargesii, followed by Acer griseum.

I thought I would finish with our ducks, looking a little chilly, but cheered up by the winter colour afforded by the dormant clump of Typha minima.

Happy gardening!

John Richards

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