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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 18 February 2007 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 24.

Suspicious snowdrops
Heres a funny thing. For the last month or so, our local garden centre has been selling snowdrops in pots. You get four flowering plants in a pot for £1.35, or about 34p a bulb. As we will see in a minute, they are labelled Galanthus nivalis, but in fact they have broad grey convolute leaves, two green marks on the inner segment and are plainly G. elwesii. Moreover, they are exceptionally variable; everyone has very different inner segment markings, and they differ in size and many other features too. 34p is not much for a poor elwesii, but for a really good one, which, with a name, might cost up to £25 from a specialist nurseryman, its a bargin. I selected what I thought was the best pot of four and paid my pennies. Here they are in the garden.

Suspicious snowdrops

And the label
As you can see, every one is different. The†plants were clearly offered by a wholesaler and had their own special label which is reproduced here. As you see it is claimed that the plants were raised in Britain, and if this is true, the only possible, if unlikely, explanation is that they were raised from G. elwesii seed. However, I fear that the truth is much more sinister. It is much more likely that they were wild dug in Turkey (now illegal both in the laws of that country and in international law), imported and potted up here. If that is the case, both the nurseryman, and, even technically me, have broken the law by purchasing this plant. It is possible that the plants were raised under licence in Turkish mountain villages, but if that was the case, why does the label not boast of these excellent schemes, and why are they misleadingly labelled G. nivalis?

And the label

Back to square one

After last weeks snowy hiccup in the weather, it has turned milder, if not spring-like. Lots of plants, triggered to perform now if not held back by the cold, are coming to the fore. The first AGS Show was this weekend, and the season starts in earnest in a fortnight, so a certain advancement is no longer unwelcome. Already we have an embarasse de riches. I am starting with several petiolarid†primulas which are starting to flower. Here s Primula nana in its blue phase. I had already pictured a pink form at Christmas.

Back to square one

Primula bhutanica
Next is P. bhutanica, slightly earlier than its hybrid 'Arduaine'† which I may feature next week. All these are grown in fishbox troughs, still covered at this time of year. The cover was removed for the photos.

Primula bhutanica

Pink on pink
Enough of the blues. This photo features P. nana in its pink form (right) and its close Chinese relative P. moupinensis. Neither really lose their leaves in winter. If you think P. moupinensis looks nothing like this, you are growing P. hoffmanniana!

Pink on pink

And P. x 'Tantallon'
Perhaps the best of all the manifold petiolarid hybrids has been 'Tantallon', named after the house of Henry and Margaret Taylor who raised it some 15 years ago. It is a closs between two species just figured, P. bhutanica and P. nana, and has a better constitution than either. Also, it is very bonny!

And P. x 'Tantallon'

And three bulbs
I am ending up with three of the bulbs which are coming into flower this week. First up is the Anatolian Scilla ingridae, a scorching blue!

And three bulbs

Narcissus asturiensis
This 'extreme' form of N. asturiensis has been with me for 21 years, ever since I acquired it from Broadleigh nurseries. I grow it in a pot and dry it off in summer, despite its origins in 'Green Spain and Portugal'. I has increased slowly, but does not thrive in the garden, perhaps because it is so tiny (9 cm)

Narcissus asturiensis

Never mind the name
Unfortunately christened, despite a colour which is indisputedly pale blue, I find 'Cantab' is the most persistent of the Iris reticulata varieties here, as long as I grow it in the alpine house where it is more easily enjoyed in any case at this time of year.

Never mind the name
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