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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 13 February 2016 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 309.

Here we are again

Goodness! It seems that I have not troubled these pages for nearly two months, the longest lacuna for almost ten years over which I have kept this diary. No excuses really except a dead season, nothing much to say, and then a break in Tenerife about which I hope to mention in a few days time when I have finished editing my pictures.

One of the reasons that we went away in late January, leaving a dead garden, was the hope that after a couple of weeks break we might return to find early spring had arrived. In this I was largely vindicated, for hellebores, snowdrops, aconites, crocuses, anemones and some narcissi had all burst into bloom during our absence. I was scarcely surprised for this has been one of the mildest, wettest winters I can remember and we knew it had continued warm while we were away. No sooner had we returned than it has turned much colder, and I have to say that I rather welcome this cold snap, late as it is. The wet snow that is falling periodically as I write this may spoil a few early snowdrops, but the majority are still in bud, and will not yet be harmed. Hopefully the continuous week of frosty nights that has been forecast should keep heads down until spring truly arrives (not to mention the shows!). Maybe flowering will be enhanced, and seeds properly vernalised.

The magic season

This is just about my favourite time in the garden year. I love the early bulbs so much, the garden is swept bare and clean by rain, wind and rake, showing its bare bones, and plants are full of bud and promise. It all lies ahead of us, another year to enfold and entrance us before we slide down into gloom and winter yet again. One of the gifts to a gardener or natural historian is that we may only live once, many of us are in the autumn of our lives,  and none of us will ever revisit life's spring again, but we can still relive every year with its joyful recapitulation.

Goodness, the old buzzard has become sententious! Lets look at some plants instead!

First a couple of hellebores. Almost all the orientalis and x hybridus hellebores have opened in our absence. I chopped all the leaves back in early January before we left, largely because theyare very leafy in our moist, fertile, rather shady conditions and we can enjoy them much more easily in the absence of foliage. This is a particularly pretty pin-edge picote. I think I bought the original, but it has spawned several rather similar seedlings, all with a good erect habit.

Helleborus x hybridus picote

Helleborus argutifolius, the Corsican hellebore, is a rather coarse, bulky subject which can nevertheless make a striking feature in the right place. I have grown it in several previous gardens, even as a boy I think, but it has never to my knowledge been in the present garden until a seedling turned up unannounced at the edge of the front rock garden, where it is quite out of scale. Being a less than ruthless gardener and intrigued, I  let it be, and has now started to spawn seedlings. Maybe it arrived with another plant, but I think it grew next door at one time, so perhaps a mouse carried a seed.

Helleborus argutifolius

Talking of seeding around, Cyclamen coum is approaching its best. Although I have many dozens of plants, which probably came from only two founders, it has not run riot in this cold garden as it does in some areas. Nevertheless, I love the intricate variation of leaf patterns, so that with a close examination you can see how many  seedlings grow in a clump, as every plant has subtly different leaf colourings. In the following photo there are at least five seedlings, each with its distinctive 'fingerprint'.

Some snowdrops

As I said, the early 'drops are now at their best, 'Straffan', 'James Backhouse', 'S. Arnott', 'Dionysus', G. woronowii 'Pats Giant', all grown in quantity and in many places here. Others, like some of the plicates ('Timpany', 'The Linns', 'Sophie North') are still in early bud and will not flower for several weeks. I have done a quick check and think I now have about 40 varieties. This still does not make me qualify as a galanthophile (I should say a cool ton is the very minimum!), but any more and I think I should lose track of even more than I do already. Our blackbirds are very adept at removing labels, while weeding, raking autumn leaves and other essential annual activities also take their toll. Some clumps have three labels as I lose one, and then find it again having written its replacement!

Here are a couple of snowdrops which are now doing well here and I may not have featured before, first the excellent elwesii x plicatus cross 'John Long' which has a single long green inner mark.

Galanthus 'John Long'

And here is 'Sir Herbert Maxwell', a long-established variety and probably a nivalis x plicatus cross.

Galanthus 'Sir Herbert Maxwell'

I can't resist showing again my lovely Poculiformis, found in a local wood.

Before we go inside, a very early showing by Daphne blagayana. Although I know this from box groves in northern Greece, I believe it also grows as far west as Slovenia. This dwarf form was collected somewhere in the former Yugoslavia by Brenda Anderson after whom it is named. It grows well in pure gravel here, but appreciates some shade.

Daphne blagayana 'Brenda Anderson'

Reticulata irises

I now grow nine diferent reticulata section irises in pots and all are now in flower, making a great show. I think my favourite of all is probably 'Lady Beatrix Stanley', probably a I. histrioides selection.

Iris 'Lady Beatrix Stanley'

Another histrioides-type is the purple 'George' which I have grown for many years and featured before.

Iris 'George'

To complete the picture I cannot resist showing the I. histrioides x winogradowii cross 'Katharine Hodgkin, such a popular plant these days. Curiously, this has finished in the garden, flowering earlier than in the alpine house where as you see it is still opening.

Iris 'Katharine Hodgkin'

Most crocuses under glass are still in bud, although 'tommies' and chrysanthus types are in full flower outside. However, Crocus ancyrensis 'Golden Bunch' started shortly after Christmas. It is now well past its best (I missed its zenith), but I had not featured it before.

Crocus ancyrensis 'Golden Bunch'

Finally, the first Primula allionii are starting to open. Here is a new one to me, 'Lacewing' very petite with almost white flowers.

Primula allionii 'Lacewing'
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