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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 11 February 2007 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 23.

Snow drops
It was bound to happen. Just as I started to celebrate the arrival of earliest spring in the diary last week, winter finally arrived. It was even in the back of my mind that we needed to slow things down a bit, so I would call the seasons' bluff! Anyway, it worked, if only for 48 hours; its just very unpleasant, cold and rainy now. We had much less snow than further south, only about 2 cm, but it froze and stayed for a couple of days. Here are a couple of early flowerers in the snow, first Cyclamen coum, and then Daphne blagayana in the compact form 'Brenda Anderson'.

Snow drops

In for a duck

Almost as long as we have been in the garden, 16 years or so,  we have had a pond, about 3.5 x 2.5 m and 80 cm deep at the deepest. After eight years the butyl liner sprung a leak and I had the noisome and filthy job of emptying the pond and replacing the liner. Imagine my dismay when we returned from holiday in early December to find the water level well down again. The cause was not difficult to discover, as only one of our two ducks were in place, the other having dived into the pond during the extreme gales experienced at that time. I should say that these are no ordinary ducks, but superior, upper-middle class National Trust bronze ducks, but they are very heavy and they do have feet sharp enough to pierce a liner.

Having run out of other garden jobs, and the weather at the time remaining mild and open (!), I finally got round to emptying the pond . I shall not use rampant Ranunculus lingua or Carex pseudocyperus again. The sole white nymphaea waterlily had grown enormous and had to be chopped into numerous pieces before it could be hauled out of the pond. These, some Iris pallida variegata, Carex elata ?Bowles Golden Yellow?) and oxygenators such as ceratophyllums and myriophyllums were put into the waterproof barrow.

The pond was emptied by the simple expedient of attaching the hose to a tap and putting it in the pond. Once the water column was established, the tap end was taken downhill to make a syphon. This worked well enough until it clogged. A netting filter attached to the pond end with a rubber band helped to stop the clogging.

Wildlife refuge

Finally the water became too turbid for the syphon and the rest was removed by bucket. This was just as well, for in was in the murky depths that the torpid wildlife came to light, 13 frogs, 8 common newts, 11 Aeshna juncea dragonfly larvae (I had watched their mother egg-laying), at least one leech and loads of freshwater shrimps. These were put in pond water in buckets, where they remain as I write.

We were resolved not to face this problem again, so we purchased three 'shapes' (£100), which we hope are leak-proof. The liner was thoroughly pierced with a fork, and then partly filled with old turf compost. The idea is for water to fall out of the urn at the top, and then in a series of mini-cascades though the pond shapes, to be pumped back up from the largest, lowest shape. Luckily the pipework leading from pond to the urn through rockwork is already in place. The intervening spaces have then been (partly) filled with good compost so that these areas will make a bog garden. At this point winter intervened!

Wildlife refuge

Level-headed

Undoubtedly, the biggest problem will be to level each of the shapes accurately, so that water only flows out of one corner. They have only been levelled roughly so far. I aim to cover up most of the 'workings' with boulders, most of which I already have, and a guess some 'tweaking' of levels can be done then. It needs to stop raining first!

Most of the early bulbs are impervious to our climate I am happy to say. Having seen Leucojum vernum appearing out of a heavy recent snowfall on the Col de Tende a few years ago, it is not surprising that after snow and frost which bows it to the ground, and then rain, it still looks nearly immaculate. One of the best early bulbs!

Level-headed

Galanthus woronowii
In my cool, humid, woodsy garden, Galanthus woronowii is easily the most vigorous snowdrop, seedling everywhere and forming sheets. The form I have is late-flowering and relatively invariable. Nowhere is it anywhere near flower yet. Thus, I was surprised to visit a friends garden in the same town last week to find super large forms of the same thing already in flower. It obviously self-sows with her too, and is much more variable than with me, including some truly massive plants, more than 30 cm from the bulb to flower. It  varies in colour and shinyness with her, some plants having dark green matt leaves after the manner of typical G. ikariae, for which G. woronowii was often mistaken. Possibly her population (which she inherited) originally had both species which have since hybridised. In any case they now all have a small inner segment mark, so they cannot be regarded as G. ikariae.

Galanthus woronowii
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