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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 02 December 2007 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 58.

Seasonal tasks

We have been in the south of England for more than a week, and returned to find that the last of the leaves had fallen. Even the tardy magnolia was nearly leafless and the garden had retreated into full winter mode. This prompted a three hour clear-up with a rake. What a difference from sessions earlier in the autumn when leaves and the soil were dust-dry, so leaves were difficult to pick up and the leaf heap needed to be watered from a hose before it was trampled to compress the pile. Now leaves, and the pile, were soggy lumps, harder to rake, but much easier to pick up and compress.

Last years leaf-mould is in fine fettle, its breakdown abetted by the wet early summer. I have plans for its use in the next couple of months. It is many years since I had to use peat here; we are self-sufficient in humus-rich material.

Just before we left, on about November 17th we undertook the last of the season's plantings. We use tulips in two ways here; semi-naturalised with narcissus under trees, and in tubs and planters. The semi-naturalised ones don't last for long I think, but substandard bulbs lifted after their first season from purchase are planted out each autumn and many flower in their first season of freedom. We also plant eight planters/tubs with bulbs. Usually we buy two or three new varieties each year, perhaps 36 bulbs, and the remainder used are quality flowering size bulbs from previous years. We take care to lift bulbs at the end of June, drying them in labelled paper bags in the potting shed until they are replanted next November. This way many, especially the 'species', last for several seasons. We find T. greigii varieties, and T. praestans particularly reliable. The planters are then planted with summer bedding, usually pelargoniums.

Here are some of the planters on the terrace with troughs. A rather sterile picture, but illustrative!

Seasonal tasks

Sailing in
Now that we are really in winter mode, there are a few early winter treats to see. Galanthus 'Three Ships' is new to me, a most welcome gift from our President. Goodness knows what its affiliations are: I can see features from G. plicatus and G. elwesii, and the pale leaf centre may have been inherited from G. reginae-olgae. (I see 'Snowdrops p. 151 has it as a G. plicatus variety which I doubt). Possibly, reginae-olgae genes account for its very early flowering, by Christmas yes, but that festival is still weeks away yet!

Sailing in

A helle-bore?
I can see why the collection of hellebores is so popular with maiden aunts (in finally saying something controversial I am taking the risk that maiden aunts are not electronically enabled!), because they are trouble-free, love heavy soil that has not been sufficiently well prepared, and give promise at a depressing time of year. Here are H. foetidus 'Wester Flisk', a gift from friends next door, and H. x hybridus 'Early Purple Group'. Neither are yet in full flower, but they are already providing interest.

A helle-bore?

A few primulas
It is surprising how many primulas are starting to show. Starting outside, the first flower has appeared on P. irregularis. I was careful to acquire pin and thrum plants from Aberconwy Nursery last spring, so that a good deal of seed was saved after controlled crosses. This beautiful plant is not very hardy, but should so well under a frame light if the present run of mild winters continues. The large resting bud immediately to the left in this photo is P. x 'Arduaine', with P. moupinensis below.

A few primulas

Continuing under glass, I am starting with a non-mealy form of Primula kewensis. A few weeks ago I featured its parents, P. verticillata (mealy) and P. floribunda (non-mealy). Usually, people grow the attractive mealy forms of P. kewensis (often under other names, e.g. P. gaubeana), but the stabilised hybrid received chromosomes carrying the mealy gene, and others carrying the non-mealy gene, and these have segregated out (mealy is dominant). Non-mealy plants look quite like P. floribunda, but are not hairy and have larger flowers. This is a self-sown seedling that came to rest in one of my lumps of home-made tufa.

This little plant was grown from seed this year, after I had made a controlled cross onto P. auricula 'Blairside Yellow' with P. auricula 'albocincta'. Both parents are yellow, so clearly some insect disapproved of my planned parentage and introduced pollen from a pink-flowered plant. Several fathers are possible candidates. Early days, but I may have an attractive new dwarf primula here.

Finally, Terry Mitchell generously gave me material from his excellent Show strain of P. megaseaifolia. This lives in a deep plastic pot (long thongy roots!) on the shady floor of the more humid alpine house. It has started into flower really early; will it last for the Shows? At least it should make for an interesting parent to cross with P. juliae and P. vulgaris ssp. sibthorpii when they flower.

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