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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 03 February 2008 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 61.

2008 starts here!

I see that this is the first entry for the year, not surprisingly perhaps as we have spent the last three weeks in South Africa. This was our second visit to the fabulous Drakensberg mountains, but the first with a digital camera, and the first time I have been really high, over 3000 m above the Sani Pass. To our way of thinking, the Drakensberg are an ideal winter destination for those who love mountains and their flowers. The flight is not too long from the UK, 12 hours, not the 24+ needed to reach New Zealand, Australia and southern South America. In fact we went direct from Newcastle to Dubai and then to Johannesberg, which entailed two seven-hour hops (but a tedious wait in chaotic Dubai airport, it must be said). There is no jet-lag (the time shift from the UK is only two hours). The hotels are very comfortable, with wonderful food and are good value. And the people are friendly, welcoming, helpful and (mostly) speak English. What more could you want? Well, it would be nice for it to be easier to get high, to the real alpines. There are no driveable high passes, no lifts, and only one, really appalling, road of any kind. At least it is still a pristine wilderness!

I haven't sorted my photos yet, but here are a few images as a taster.

2008 starts here!

That was the famous Rhodohypoxis baurii above the Sani Pass, of course. Next is the wonderful Gladiolus saundersii, which growing at about 2600 m must be as hardy as the recently popular 'suicide lily', G. flanaganii from the same locality. We saw the latter too, but only in late bud.

Finally, here is a view of a subalpine grassland at about 2000 m with Protea dracomontana. This dwarf species looks for all the world like a peony in a Greek pasture, and at this altitude should be just as hardy. Why don't we grow this super species? It is very variable, the huge flowers varying from white to an intense, deep red.

And back home in Blighty...............

We arrived home yesterday afternoon to find a covering of snow and a thermometer hovering around zero. Since then it has thawed, but the garden is a mess. Earlier gales had brought down twigs from the trees and moss from the roofs, and snow had ruined early flowers encouraged by a warmer spell while we were away. A quick walk round revealed very little in flower that had not been featured last year, and a comparison with last year's entries confirmed a suspicion that the flowering of many bulbs, in particular, this year is very poor.

Before we left I figured early flowers on Primula megaseaifolia. This is now in full flower, too early for the Shows I fear, although Terry Mitchell manages to bench this magnificent clone every year.

And back home in Blighty...............

Another plant I did not feature last year is the 'old' clone of Galanthus elwesii that I have grown for many years. This species does not thrive here, disliking our cold acid soil, and I have lost many forms over the years, but this undistinguished form does at least persist.

Theatricals
I have said before that the bed I built last year from Swedish peat blocks specifically to house petiolarid primulas rather resembles an 'Auricula theatre'. At present it lives under a large new frame light, but when this was lifted, the following was revealed.

Theatricals

As a key, the light blues are mostly Primula 'Arduaine', the dark blues P. 'Tantallon', the pink is P. irregularis and the white P. nana 'Alba'.

Here are P. 'Arduaine' and P. irregularis in rather more detail.

Don't you just love P. 'Arduaine' at this time of year?. How great to have a 'blue primrose' of the eastern Himalaya that will actually grow!

I am finishing with another favourite plant, featured last year. The garden is full of hellebores in flower now, but I still think this black seedling from my mother's plant is one of the best.

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