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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 08 December 2009 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 135.

Laying waste

We produce a lot of garden waste in this half-acre garden with many shrubs and small trees. We classify it into four categories. Compostable material goes onto one of our three compost heaps, except for autumn leaves which go onto the leaf heap. Timber with a diameter of more than 5 cm is sawn into logs for the domestic fire (yes, we have one of those. Hexham is not smokeless due to the chipboard factory.) This leaves 'brash', twiggy material which won't rot, but is too small to burn. There is a surprising lot of this. We used to burn it at this time of year, but bonfires have become increasingly rare in the neighbourhood, and we feel that they are rather unsociable. Our previous bonfire site is only about 12 m from the back door of our neighbour. There used to be a big hedge but it has been cut down. Actually, that house is untenanted at present, because they have moved into the new house they have built for themselves on the other side, and they have never mentioned our fires, but we have begun to feel increasingly guilty.

This was compounded last Friday when six of us held a much heralded and badly needed bonfire at the Botanic Garden. The bonfire site is 200 m from the nearest house and 300 m across fields to the sheltered housing. Nevertheless, the fire had scarcely taken hold when we received a visit from a fire engine! Apparently some old dear had shouted 'fire', having never before seen a bonfire, it seems. The officer was very sympathetic, and in any case we were doing no wrong (although Newcastle is smokeless, public gardens have a local dispensation). We have been having winter fires on that site for years. So we are looking forward to burning the rest of the rubbish there next Friday!

So at home we have taken to putting the brash into the 'brown bin', the contents of which are taken away, chipped and composted. We have to keep it topped up, and the material cut small, which is more work than the fire used to be, but we have more time, and it is certainly a 'greener' solution. When we have surplus (which is quite often), it goes into one of the huge 'jiffy bags' that 2 ton loads of gravel are brought in, and then taken to the refuse centre in the back of our long-suffering car (never buy a second hand vehicle from us!). Usually, I have to ask one of the helpful operatives to give me a hand with the heavy bag to unload it into the skip. Still, I have to say that we approve of the green economy!

Reasons to be cheerful, one, two three!

Approaching the middle of the winter, there is probably less in flower this week than at any time of year. Flowers are so hard to come by that trifles that would be sidelined at other times of year command attention. Here are some examples that I photographed yesterday.

Firstly, it is hard to ignore the scent of the winter viburnums, V. x bodnantense and (second) its parent V. farreri. On a still day, even if it is quite cold, the fragrance is overpowering!

Reasons to be cheerful, one, two three!

Another classic winter shrub with a sweet perfume is Mahonia 'Winter Sun'.

After a sensational display last year (and a heavy prune, it must be admitted) the Garrya elliptica is having a year off. But there are still some catkins to admire.

Almost no 'off-season' flowers to be seen, but I can't remember Hoheria lyallii flowering at this time before (this plant was a favourite of our late President, Frank Tindall).

It is very unusual for Cyclamen coum to produce flowers before Christmas here.

Another late winter speciality, Primula nana, is also early. Hopefully, I shall be able to exhibit this plant into April. Such stamina!

Primula vulgaris subsp. sibthorpii is much more expected now.

Two mid-winter bulbs from the alpine house. First Scilla lingulata ciliolata. This is the first time I have flowered it, and I admit to being a bit disappointed. I have seen much better ones on the bench in October!

Crocus laevigatus 'Fontenayi' is much more expected now. After many years, this had gone back badly for no clear reason, so it is good to see four flowers appearing this year. Perhaps I can build it up to the 20 I once had!

Finally Dionysia aretioides 'Bevere' in a block of home-made tufa. This has been flowering since August! Yes I know it is suffering from botrytis, but it will recover, and I have two more from cuttings.

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