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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 24 February 2008 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 64.

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Nothing like starting out on a high! Epigaea gaultherioides has been on the brink of flowering throughout the cold spell. The moment the frosts relented and south-westerly zephyrs first caressed the garden some five days ago the first flowers opened and presently it is at its best. I grow it tucked into a peat wall in the 'petiolarid theatre', so it is covered with a frame-light at this time of year. Nevertheless, as a light frost is forecast tonight, I think it will be safer lifted into frost-free glass now that the flowers have opened. I did this last year and it came to no harm.

I suppose that in any short-list of the most beautiful alpines, Epigaea gaultherioides would have to take a place near the very top.

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Snowdrop-fest
After last week's mini-sax-fest, I thought I would show a few galanthus this week. First to figure is that old favourite 'S. Arnott'. There were only two snowdrops in the garden when we arrived over 18 years ago, a vigorous but otherwise unremarkable G. nivalis, and this large, handsome and also very vigorous plant which I am sure has to be the very well-known plant named for the Provost of Dumfries who sent it to Henry Elwes. Consulting 'Snowdrops' (Bishop, Davis & Grimshaw 2001), I see that it is classed as a G. plicatus cross. As I had always regarded it as a good form of G. nivalis, this caused me to examine it in the garden, and, sure enough, a few leaves showed signs of a turned-back margin to the leaf. I suppose this hybridity explains its undoubted vigour.

Snowdrop-fest

Last year (February 11th to be exact) I discussed a friend's giant and early-flowering G. woronowii. This has flourished in the intervening year, and continues to be twice the size and two weeks earlier than the form that predominates throughout the garden (and which originated in Randall Cooke's garden 'Kilbryde' from which it was liberated after Cooke's death in 1973). Cooke's woronowii is not yet in full flower here; indeed in some places it is scarcely through the ground, but 'Pat's giant' is almost past its best.

It will be seen that another distinguishing feature of 'Pat's Giant' is that it is a 'twin-spot', that it the inner segment mark has been reduced to the extent that it forms two separate small marks.

In many gardens, the Turkish (Black Sea coast mountains) G. woronowii was known for many years as G. ikariae, a species from islands in the north-eastern Aegean. Indeed, they are very similar. I am indebted to John Grimshaw for the gift of a plant of the real G. ikariae ('Butts variety'). As will be seen, the broad green leaves are darker and more matt in texture than the glossy leaves of G. woronowii, and the inner segment mark is much larger, covering at least half of the segment.

Two weeks ago I figured a viridescent snowdrop rather prematurely, as it was as yet scarcely in flower. This is the plant that I had found under brambles in a lane near here a few years back. It is now in full flower. I accidentally stumbled on plate 60 in 'Snowdrops' that shows the different between 'Viridapice' and 'Warei'. The latter has extraordinarily long bracts ('spathes') which clearly match my plant much better. Of course, if it arose de novo and not as a garden throw-out (quite an expensive reject!), technically it is neither, but a new variety. However, it is so similar to 'Warei' that I think it should do service under this moniker until proved different.

Not all scillas are reliable in the garden, but Scilla mischenkoana (S. tubergeniana as was) is a star, and thrives in a variety of locations from raised scree beds to leaf-mould under rhodos. It seems to start flowering almost before it has emerged from the ground, and is the most beautiful pale sky-blue. A plant for everyone!

Continuing with the theme of spring bulbs, I figured both Crocus imperati and C. etruscus last year, but this year they have opened together, allowing a direct comparison. They are undoubtedly closely related (as so they should be, both originating from the Italian mainland), but the stigma clearly differs, being far more robust in C. etruscus on the right.

A newcomer here is Crocus dalmaticus. This came from Gothenburg Botanic Garden seed, which was only sown in the spring of 2004, and so is three years old, something of a record time to flowering for a crocus here. Of course it may become more impressive when it gets older and bigger, but this really is a dinky little plant, as small as C. cambessedesii, and nothing like as robust and attractive as the form that Robert Rolfe exhibits so successfully.

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