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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 07 July 2010 by John Richards

Ranunculaceae in the Lake Garda area. Entry 153.

Whats new?

Well, very little, but the heat has moderated, it is raining fairly often although not very hard as yet, it was VERY windy a few days ago (substantial chunks of our Liriodendron snapped off), and I have finally finished the pricking out of seedlings.

As mentioned before, I have opted rather more frequently this year for the strategy of potting on a few precious seedlings of difficult subjects whole, in situ, in a fairly large pot, on the assumption that they resent root disturbance more than anything. Rightly or wrongly, I believe this is particularly true of gentians, and I have treated young seedlings of G. oshtenica, G. 'orbicularis' and G. arethusae this way. Also Androsace rigida, Androsace brevis and Primula nanobella (the mature pan of which, also originally pricked out whole, is, I am happy to say, still with me. Needless to say they need a cool sheltered spot for a month or two until they are established. As yet all are thriving.

I have sometimes adopted a similar technique for low priority plants which, running out of compost and/or pots at the end of the day, I couldn't be bothered to deal with individually. Consequently, I have already have nice-looking individual pans of Draba sphaeroides and Thlaspi stylosum. No, me neither. The bad news about such mixed pans is that good forms may nestle with bad. The good news is that the 'variation in one pan' classes at shows are usually undersubscribed!

Saxifrages have a long season, and there is still a good deal of colour (well, white!) from silvers and mossies here. When they finish, the alpine season effectively finishes here too, and we are not far away from that sad milestone. I have always adored S. cochlearis in its particular forms, especially the football-like 'minor'. Here is an old plant, inserted into a vertical limestone wall, just as in the Roya Valley, its localised wild home. Its a bit gappy now, but still a lovely plant twelve months a year.

Whats new?

I also grow a more conventional form of S. cochlearis which won me a red ticket at Pudsey a fortnight ago. Amongst its many merits is its longevity, and it is still in reasonable nick now.

One of my favourite alpines at this time of year is an Alpine form of the widespread and variable S. exarata, grown from wild seed (from Austria I think) many years ago. I took this to Pudsey too, but have propagated it and it thrives in my wall of home-made tufa. By the way, the plant beautifully photographed by Hugh Meteyard in the latest 'Alpine Gardener (78: 166) and commented on by Doug Joyce, is not this, but S. bryoides, which is an acid-loving plant. Doug is quite right that S. exarata is a lime lover (although it also grows on serpentinite and other metamorphic rocks in Greece), but not that it need alpine house treatment. It flourishes in troughs and tufa outside here, unprotected.

When we were near the Gorge du Verdon the autumn before last, I collected a little seed of Silene saxifraga. This is now flowering abundantly in a trough, and is indeed saxifrage-like, and rather pretty. I have seen quite a bit of this in gardens recently, for instance at Harlow Carr, and like to think it was grown from my seed too. Probably not!

Returning to the home-made tufa mound for a moment, the best plant there at the moment is this good form of Sempervivum arachnoideum, grown from a little offset many years ago. It loves the full light, drainage and lime this position affords.

I featured Dicentra 'King of Hearts' once before. Since then it is two years older and has been moved into a richer, damper site (mostly leaf-mould and garden compost), sheltered but in quite good light, where it can root under a sleeper. It has already been magnificent for six weeks and just gets better every day. This hybrid between D. formosa and the difficult D. peregrina is a wonderful garden subject.

Heres an odd thing. One of the first plants I put on the terrace was the native Geranium sanguineum in the normal magenta form. This is a common plant on our Northumberland coast and I am very fond of it. But it is rampageous in the garden, and as soon as it started to seed down into the gravel patio I removed the parent and let the seedlings struggle, rooting down into the paving cracks below the gravel. Nevertheless, they still self-sow sparingly, and the naturalistic effect is attractive. This has been going on for 15 years, and all the dozens of seedlings have been magenta until this year when one pale pink 'Lancastriense' has appeared.

I can only think that the original plant I acquired was heterogygous for the recessive 'lancastriense' gene 'l', and finally two heterozygotes crossed (Ll x Ll) to give (one in four) a Lancastriense (ll) seedling.

Ranunculaceae in the Lake Garda area
Here is the next instalment from our Lake Garda trip (May 22st-June 5th). One of my main targets was Callianthemum kernerianum on Monte Baldo. I have never seen a callianthemum in the wild, and our last visit in mid July was far too late to locate this spring subject. We drove up the mountain from Mori, just west of Rovereto, passed theM. Altissimo carpark and driving south along the ridge road, took the right fork up to the Cime de Ventra carpark. I pushed straight up the ridge (wonderful Primula auricula!), but in fact it is easier to continue walking alongf the road (no vehicles) to the refuge just by the cable-car station. I spent some time exploring the ridge, but the only callianthemum I found was in fact just behind the refuge itself.

Ranunculaceae in the Lake Garda area

There was a pair of Ring Ousels nearby.

Throughout the holiday we saw wonderful forms of Pulsatilla alpina (the benefit of going early!) but nowhere better than on M. Baldo.

Its a spectacular walk along the ridge. At this time of year there is a lot of Dactylorhiza sambuncina.

Three anemones next. Talking of Monte Baldo, one might expect Anemone baldensis. This lovely plant, so common in the Selva area (especially on the Pordoi) is apparently scarce on Monte Baldo from which it was named, and I have never seen it there. Of the three species I am featuring, two were found on the drive up to Monte Tremalzo from the north (Ledro valley). A. trifolia is found in the woodland by the road. It seems very local this far west. We found it to be common in Slovenia.

When you reach the carpark by the Tremalzo refugio, just to the west there is a depression, full of Corydalis cava and Anemone ranunculoides, the only time we saw it on this holiday.

Much bigger, and more 'alpine' is that widespread plant A. narcissiflora. This has quite an interrupted distribution in the Alps (similar forms stretch all the way to China), and it is possible to take a whole alpine holiday without finding it. On the famed Passo Croce Domini, it is found on one slope only.

Hepatica nobilis was once an anemone as well of course. We were a little too late for this early spring flower, and indeed we collected (and have since sown) seed below Magasa. But we did find flowers, both blue and white. This was on Monte Baldo again.

These Italian prealps are a great area for the Christmas Rose, Helleborus niger. Again, this is a very early flower, and although we saw it in many places it was mostly through. However, it is justly famous on the west side of Tremalzo where wonderful forms occur just above the road. Here are two. The blue flower in the second one is the sensational Pulmonaria visianii which is scarcely in cultivation but should be in every garden.

Finally, that attractive localised relative of Ranunculus alpestris, R.bilobus. This is a very local alpine in the Dolomites, but is well known in the Croce Domini area which is its centre. We visited the Passo della Spina above Lago D'Idro on quite a hairy little road, and were surprised to find the buttercup in quite shaded places at only 1550 m. It also occurs at low altitude on the Passo Campogrosso, growing with Soldanella minima at only 1450 m.

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