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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 31 January 2018 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 353.

Early birds

Not three weeks since, and hardly a plant to talk about. Move on, and the days lengthen, we have a short mild spell (now well past), and to say the garden burst into bloom is gross hyperbole, but suddenly there are lots of flowers. Most are snowdrops of course, and I scarcely remember a late January with so many. It is so noticeable this week how much snowdrops differ in flowering time. This can be particularly striking with the species. Galanthus woronowii 'Pats Giant' is in full flower, but my woronowii 'main crop' as I like to call it (were it edible we would never go hungry!) is hardly above ground. G. elwesii 'Haydon Bridge' (because it was salvaged from a garden waste dump in a nearby village, in fact it is a fairly bog standard elwesii) is in full flower, but my G. elwesii 'Monostictus' has yet to appear (it regularly flowers into April).

Rather surprisingly, because they are not the most vigorous, the local 'yellows' tend to be quite early. I have been particularly impressed with my largest group of G. nivalis 'Sandersii' which has developed into a good clump. I shall need to divide it after flowering if it is not develop galanthus rot.

Galanthus nivalis 'Sandersii'

Here is a new one to me, G. plicatus 'Chequers' acquired from those great specialists the McClellans who live near Carlisle, not that far from here. Unlike many of the plicates, it is another early bird. I was panicking earlier this afternoon as I was unable to find G. plicatus 'The Linns', and then remembered the same happened last year; it is so late to surface (the label seems to have gone walkabout).

Galanthus plicatus 'Chequers'

One more snowdrop, one of my favourites, and quite a good doer here for what is still quite an expensive snowdrop. I don't remember G. 'Trumps' being an early bird before, but it is one of the earliest this year.

Galanthus 'Trumps'

Of the 'bread and butter' snowdrops here, 'Straffan', James Backhouse', 'Backhouse Spectacles, Dionysus, Magnet' and Sir Herbert Maxwell' are now in full flower, but many others,including all-important 'S. Arnott' are yet to show. But these are what I like: big, bold, vigorous snowdrops, not miffy freaks!

Another big bold vigorous January flower here is ever-reliable Leucojum vernum which bulks up well, but if the clumps get too big, tends to flower less well. I spent some time this afternoon breaking up large clumps are replanting. They seem to enjoy this as they come into flower.

Leucojum vernum

And with the snowdrops and snowflakes come the aconites, Eranthis hiemalis, such a sympathetic companion!

Eranthis hiemalis

With the new bed finished (last contribution), it was tempting to start to fill it. For my birthday, one of my daughters kindly gave me a garden gift token. Please note that this was a HTA token. I am not an ungrateful father (far from it), but it is worth noting that it is very difficult to find a garden centre or other outlet that takes HTA tokens, at least in the North-East. Can I recommend, that if you want to give a garden token as a gift that you purchase an RHS token? (easy on-line). These are much more widely acceptable.

Anyway, Dobbie's of Ponteland do accept HTA tokens, so off we went for a spot of lunch. My heart was set on an Astelia banksii which I had seen there on an earlier visit. These were huge, pot-bound, reduced, and one split (using a strong sharp knife) into five good plants when planted. Good value for £13! Here they are planted out, together with a Celmisia 'Eggelstone Silver'..

In the background of the last photo you will see a hellebore. This was the other purchase, using the token. I was greatly seduced by many of the hybrid hellebores on offer. These have been greatly developed in the last few years, and many H. niger hybrids are very lovely and more growable (here on an heavy acid soil) than the parent. There are also many good hybrids involving H. lividus and H. argutifolius. Interestingly, these are plainly not seedlings but clones. I suppose they are the product of tissue culture, but I have to say they look very strong and healthy. In the end we chose one with the highly regrettable name of 'Winter Darling'. However, it is very lovely.

Helleborus 'Winter Darling'

More newcomers are flowering in the alpine house. Lst autumn I purchased three bulbs of one of the newish Alan McMurtie hybrid reticulata irises by the name of I. 'Sunshine', reputedly more persistent than its parent I. danfordiae. Two of these have come true.

Iris 'Sunshine'

However the third bulb is quite different and searching on the internet I see it must be another McMurtie hybrid called 'North Star'.

Note to self, I must remember to mark the different bulb so it can be separated at repotting.

New narcissus are also coming into flower. I used to grow a variety of N. romieuxii and its relatives with considerable success until the disaster that was the 2009/10 winter when I lost the lot (and a good deal else). A few years ago I acquired seed of a couple, and three years later the first bulbs are starting to flower (two flowers in each pot). This one came as N. albidus ssp. occidentalis.

And this was labelled N. romieuxii JD101.

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