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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 17 February 2013 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 236.

A glimpse of spring

A lovely day at last after this particularly tiresome winter. Not that warm actually where we went, up the coast (i.e. to north Northumberland, a long way, 60 miles or more from here, with a chilly southerly, but 9C nevertheless, and golden sunshine all day long.

Really we went birding (not bad either, Great Northern Diver, four species of Geese and 10 species of duck), but each year I like to spend an hour or two in the 'yellow snowdrop country' looking to see if I can find new localities (I know of about 14 sites at present).

For the uninitiated, we are talking Galanthus nivalis 'Sandersii', the Northumberland Yellow Snowdrop. For the really uninitiated, no the tepals are not uniformly yellow, it is the ovary and inner tepal marks which are yellow, not green. This makes them fantastically desirable in these days of snowdrop mania, and they are certainly not cheap to buy. Although various 'yellow snowdrops' are known, it is arguable that the only place in the world that they occur regularly as a fairly constant proportion of the population (about one in 500) is north-east Northumberland. Many of the other yellow snowdrops in cultivation, for instance the Wandelbury Group, are probably hybrids involving Northumberland Sandersii, which produces 50% yellows from seed (even when hybridising). I am told that there may be secret places in southern Bohemia where yellows occur regularly, and even in the south of Italy, and if this is really true I would be glad to hear, but at the moment, for whatever reason, north Northumberland has the monopoly!

So we investgated three snowdrop woods which we had not looked at before,and at two drew a blank. This was odd as one was not more than a mile from a well-known yellow snowdrop population. However at the third we struck gold, if not 'Wendy's Gold' (another yellow snowdrop), and found seven yellow individuals, including a group of four of which I suppose the large one was mother. This site must remain secret, but suffice it to say for puzzle solvers that the birds there were particularly charming today.


A glimpse of spring

As I say, Sandersii is not the only yellow snowdrop, and most of them are jolly expensive if you want to buy them. I am happy to say that the wonderful Galanthus woronowii 'Elizabeth Harrison',  arguably the best plant present I every received, and which holds the world record of over £700/bulb I am told for the most expensive snowdrop (shades of tulipmania!), is doing well in this garden. This is not surprising in this garden where woronowii reigns supreme (although most of mine flower three weeks later than Mrs Harrison does). Here she is; I think with eight flowers this year.

Here are another couple of my favourite 'earlies' amongst snowdrops here, the Irish 'Straffan' followed by the Scottish 'S. Arnott'. No secret why, I guess, these two clones flourish in this cold garden.

Another really strong doer here is the spring snowfake, Leucojum vernum. Every year I try to split some clumps as they come into growth as this strong reliable grower is perhaps the earliest of all the spring bulbs here and makes a great show now.

I have a few reticulata irises outside, and as yet they are scarcely through the ground. However they are starting to flower in the alpine house where I grow more, not because I have to, but because I enjoy them better there at this time of year. Here is the I. winogradowii x histrioides hybrid 'Sheila Ann Germaney', earlier than 'Katherine Hodgkin', although of the same reputed parentage, and not as vigorous, I find, but even more lovely.

I grow half a dozen or more forms of I. reticulata, and of the ones I have, I find 'Pauline' the earliest and strongest (although 'Harmony' is a very strong doer at the Botanic Garden). I think 'Pauline' very like the old 'J.S.Dijt', but I like it better.

A few crocuses are coming into flower in the alpine house, C. reticulatus, and C. biflorus pulchricolor, also  'tommies' in the garden (I split up and moved hundreds yesterday, no they don't seed here much, the flowers don't open enough), but they are not ready to be photographed yet. However, the undoubted stars at present are three plants of Primula megaseifolia, grown from seed kindly donated by Terry Mitchell from his astonishing prize-winning specimen. This is obviously a good strain, as these plants, grown in plastic pots and oversummered in a cool shady and humid plunge, are less than three years old. I am worried that these plants may not hang on for Loughborough in a fortnight. Cross fingers! Then again they do say it will get colder again next week.

As I say, it may snow again next week. In fact it is not much more than two weeks since the snow melted after nearly two weeks lie, and gave me some interesting photos of snow on blossom. Here is Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn', followed by Garrya elliptica.

I am finishing with this representation of the Garrya with  Cornus alba beneath it, a study in verticals!

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