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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 18 December 2006 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 15.

In the deep mid-winter
Returning to the garden after three weeks absence, we found very little changed. The remainder of the leaves had fallen, and what had obviously been very strong gales had tucked most of them neatly into corners where they were doing little harm (I had cleared the earlier leaf-fall before we left). Many hundreds of dead branches and twigs had fallen onto the garden from our two large hybrid limes (Tilia x europaea). These are absolutely filthy trees with almost no redeeming features whatever, and the suckering, shallow roots take surface water and nutrient up to 25 m from the base. They are probably the biggest single problem we have to contend with in our garden and I am constantly clearing up after them; buds, flowers, bracts, fruits, leaves and twigs, each in their season. I put the huge annual pile of twigs under a remote hedge, and they form effective kindling for bonfires.The trees are about 120 years old and are legally protected, so I have to live with them. This means that any new bed built at that end of the garden has to be raised above the ground and a root-proof membrane inserted at the base. In our absence the weather had not only been very windy, but very wet and mild. This had brought forward some cyclamens which rarely flower before Christmas, for instance C. pseudibericum which seems to flower earlier every year.

In the deep mid-winter

petrocosmeas for Christmas
One of the features of recent years has been the introduction into general cultivation of several species of Chinese petrocosmea. I have been growing four species in an open woodsy compost with pulverised bark and perlite, in long plastic pots kept under glass. They are kept in full shade all summer and sprayed regularly. In winter they are placed in better light, and under glass they have certainly stood -6C without any signs of damage. I figured P. ?ioioides back in October, and it is still flowering Now it has been joined by P. rosettifolia. This odd-looking plant has appeared in Shows for several years in foliage classes, but it now seem set to join the select rank of plants that flower habitually in mid-winter. Another species, P. grandiflora is well-budded, but looks as if it might wait until the early spring shows before the flowers open.

petrocosmeas for Christmas

Bursting with promise
One of the reasons I like petiolarid primulas so much is that they brighten the dog days of winter by signalling their intentions long before they actually flower. In fact, they have already started with a few flowers on Primula nana that I hope to feature next week. Yesterday, I lifted one of the lights that cover my petiolarid plantings and took this picture. The largest rosettes are P. moupinensis and, slightly smaller, its subspecies barkamensis. To the right are the smaller, more numerous rosettes of Henry and Margaret Taylors splendid hybrid 'Tantallon', and on the top right, the blue hybrid 'Arduaine'

Bursting with promise

Winter silvers

If the resting buds of petiolarid primulas remain protected with a cover, the white or yellow farina on the  rosettes form a vivid feature. At this time of year, evergreen 'silvers' really pay their way, glistening in the low light and forming important spot plants. I am featuring first the African mystery plant that John Grimshaw noted in 'the Alpine Gardener 74: 376'  matches exactly neither Helichrysum trilineatum nor H. splendidum . However, we did see very similiar plants to this near Giants Castle in the Drakensburg last January. In any case, this is a first rate, hardy garden plant, well deserving of its Award of Garden Merit and perhaps should be given a cultivar name. It is easily propagated by cuttings and like several of its compatriots (Euryops acraeus for example) is at its best in its first two years. It often flowers through the winter. My plants originated in the Corbridge garden of Randle Cooke and I have grown it for 30 years.

Winter silvers

Another antipodean silver.

Returning to the diary after a break, perhaps this is a good moment to reiterate that all the photos are taken in my garden in the week preceding the entry. A short excursion to the bottom of the garden revealed this celmisia shining in the gloaming. This popular plant has gone under many names, but is probably a form of Celmisia monroi, from Nelson. It multiplies well, flowers freely, and is an excellent plant for a cool northern garden. It is probably not the same as the plant mass-produced by the Egglestone Nurseries near Barnard Castle, which may be a hybrid between C. monroi and C. semicordata.

Another antipodean silver.
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