A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: 04 February 2007 by John Richards
Northumberland Diary. Entry 22.
Time of plenty
It comes as a surprise to find that I have been writing this weekly diary for nearly six months. These have been the quieter months in the garden. By restricting myself to photos taken in our garden over the previous week, it has not always been easy to find enough material to provide interest, despite occasional autumnal gluts of crocuses, colchicums and cyclamens. Early spring is now well under way here, and for the next six months it should not so much be a question of choosing suitable subjects as choosing between them. This week is a case in point, despite having consigned my recent pictures of snowdrops and species hellebores to the 'strings' started by John Humphries in Members On-line Discussion (hopefully lots of other people will too!).
Nevertheless, we are not yet out of the wood , and winter has returned in the shape of several frosty nights recently, with promise of more to come. Here is Azorella trifurcata, surely the best provider of cushions, even bolsters, in the garden, covered with morning rime.
I finished the crevice bed about a week ago, and here is what it looks like. So far it is largely planted with small cuttings of porophyllum and silver saxifrages, many of which had become overmature and smothered with moss in the raised bed which preceded it and which I figured two weeks ago. As the spring progresses and young seedlings become available, there is plenty of scope for new plants, which is what it is really all about.
I did have the problem of finding a home for plants of a considerable size which were not in need of renewal; Saxifrages such as x apiculata 'Gregor Mendel', x kellereri 'Johann Kellerer' , S. cartilaginea and the intersectional hybrids 'Winifred Bevington', Gentiana acaulis , Petrophytum hendersonii and Polygonatum hookeri for instance. These were far too big to fit into the crevices provided, so a more conventional gravel-surfaced bed was provided alongside. The partition between the two media looks artificial at present, but should become more acceptable when the gravel tones down in a few weeks time.
John Humphries' 'string' is for species hellebores, so here are a couple of of the many hybrid types which I guess are giving people much pleasure throughout the country at the moment. My mother has a very good black plant from which I took seed some nine years ago, and this is the best of the ensuing seedlings. Note how the flowers point fashionably sideways.
I have had this 'old-fashioned' cultivar for 35 years. The flowers point downwards like umbrellas, but it is a lovely soft pink, and I think it is still better than many.
I thought several times about putting this picture in, as every other garden must be coloured with drifts of Crocus tommasinianus at the moment. But a diary should cover the mundane as well as the particular, and in any case it is the best crocus for the wild garden, even if it is overinvasive for some peoples tastes.
Another, less invasive crocus, very suitable for the open garden is C. sieberi. This is the early-flowering selection 'Firefly'.
One for the alpine house
Perhaps the loveliest of all crocuses is C. imperati. This Napolese beauty is well named, the imperial purple sheen of the interior set off so well by the buff bearskins of the outer tepals. Disappointingly, it is named not for Roman Emperors, but for a seventeenth century Italian botanist, Frederico Imperato. I grew this from AGS seed sown in 1999, and it seems straightforward in the alpine house, although it does not multiply much.
This seems an overlong entry; I am overwhelmed by spring! However, I can't resist finishing with my favourite reticulata Iris. 'George' is presumably a cross between a purple I. reticulata such as 'J.S. Dijt', and I. histrioides, favouring the latter in most features. I find it vigorous, free-flowering and persistent as long as the collection is kept free of the dreaded 'ink disease' which I have caught twice over the years.