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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 25 February 2007 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 25.

Finger-licking good
Over the last week we have made no less than three visits to that region in the north of our county that is the haunt of the yellow snowdrop, correctly Galanthus nivalis 'Sandersii'. If you want to learn more, go to 'Snowdrops' (Bishop, Davis and Grimshaw) pp. 90-92 (obtainable from the AGS!). Suffice it to say here that in an area between Wooler and the coast most if not all snowdrop populations have a fairly constant proportion of the plants with yellow ovaries and petal marks. The yellow snowdrops are not the only reason to visit. Many of the populations are massive, forming great snowy drifts to the horizon. The locals are waking up to the appeal; both Chillingham and Howick gardens ran snowdrop walks last weekend. Unlike theirs, ours was free! We do grow yellow snowdrops at home, but these photos were taken in the wild, first of a good yellow, and then a yellow with a fine robust 'twin-spot'. By the way, don't lick your fingers! Snowdrops are poisonous, with a cancer-curing lectin.

Finger-licking good

Christmas in February
This rhododendron flowers in late February every year, if not frosted, and is not particularly early in this mild winter. I found it as a seedling when we moved plants from Randle Cooke's garden 'Kilbryde' to the University of Newcastle Botanic Garden, Moorbank, back in 1981, so I have had it 25 years. I was aware that it might have been one of the early-flowering 'nobleanum' group of hybrids, but have only recently realised that it seems to be the same as the well-known 'Christmas Cheer'. Does this come true from seed? 'Christmas Cheer' was so-named, not because it normally flowers at Christmas, but because it used to be forced in the trade to give flowers at Christmas.

Not forced, but held back...
Back in January, I placed a few pots of bulbs in the fridge, and promised to report. One was Iris 'Katherine Hodgkin', that splendid hybrid between I. histrioides and I. winogradowii. I rescued it last week when I found tall spindly buds about to topple in the dark, and now it is in flower, very drawn. Not a success! The other two experimentees were removed at the same time, but are only just breaking the soil.

Allons enfants....
Another early bulb now approaching its best in a pot and in the garden is the excellent form of Crocus sieberi subsp. sublimis known as 'tricolor'. Forms like this are said to be native to the southern Greek Taygetos mountains. Be that as it may, this beautiful plant is now exceedingly cheap, often not more than 5p a bulb. This pot-full is in its fifth year and seems to be increasing modestly. I have taken it to the Caerleon Show in past years, so once again it is not particularly forward, but will it last for Harlow next week?

Allons enfants....

Etruscan beauty
Another, less flamboyant but even prettier crocus is now flowering in a pot, having been grown from AGS seed seven years ago. This is C. etruscus, native to north-west Italy near Pisa. It makes an interesting comparison with C. imperati from further south in western Italy which was figured three weeks ago; although they seem to be closely related, they differ in the corm-tunics which have reticulate fibres in C. etruscus, suggesting that it is a relative of C. vernus, rather than having the parallel fibres of the C. versicolor-relative C. imperati.

Etruscan beauty

Anna Griffith

Anna Griffith

Plant names can be memories, and above is a photo of one of the most distinctive of Primula allionii varieties, named after the author of 'Collins Guide to Alpines', that fine introductory guide that I also featured back in October on the death of its photographer, Valerie Finnis. The primula is straightforward under glass when young, but is prone to botrytis as a large cushion. But, aren't they all?

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