A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: 26 July 2012 by John Richards
Southern Spain (3) and the summer garden
Other plants from southern Spain
Andalucia is quite mountainous enough without the enormous presence of the Sierra Nevada. However it is largely a spring flora and by the time we were there in the second half of June it was very hot and dry, with little to see. A visit two months earlier would have been far more rewarding. In the past we have visited hotspots such as Ronda, Grazalema and El Torcal and found them full of spring flowers. Nevertheless, there were still plants to see in June, usually on the cool north-facing cliffs on limestone exposures. In fact the slopes below the village where we were staying (Pinos de Valle, about 35 km south of Granada, just to the west of the A44) had several interesting plants. Two of these seemed to be ubiquitous in this sort of locality. I was already familiar with Trachelium caeruleum, a member of the Campanulaceae, as I grew it years ago from seed collected near Malaga when I visited the Sierra Nevada in August 1994. I grew it for some years in the Alpine House where I enjoyed its late-flowering habit, but not unexpectedly it did not survive hard winters. Here it is growing on the walls of the Generalife at the Alhambra.
Asperula hirsuta is also very common on northern limestone exposures, and flowers late. I had not heard of this attractive plant and wondered if it is in general cultivation?
I was also delightd to find Sarcocapnos crassifolia below Pinos, growing on modified tufa. Sadly it was without flower. I have seen it flowering in August, so that might have been a second flowering.
There is an attractive Campanula which is often seen in similar habitats. We first found it on the spectacular limestone cliffs of Ventas de Zaffraya where I was delighted to see Black Wheatears and Rock Sparrows. This is Campanula mollis, apparently related to the Greek C. rupestris alliance. Like them, it is a real chasmophyte.
On several occasions we saw brilliant patches of purple by the road, usaully when traversing some high calcareous pass. These were occasioned by the lovely Thymus longiflorus, perhaps the most spectacular of all thymes and sometimes cultivated, although, once again, it is not very hardy, disliking winter wet.
We saw several other good thymes, often with capitate heads such as T. granatensis, and the so-called 'Greek Thyme', Coridothymus, but they were mostly nearly past flowering.
The area is also rich in rock-roses and sunroses, and I saw several helianthemums new to me, including H. cinereum. Here is H. lavandulifolium, characteristic of southern Spain.
Back home: summer flowers
Over three weeks have elapsed since we returned, and it is high time I moved on to local issues. For the last two weeks, the northern summer has ceased to be very cold and wet and has reverted to a more normal climate, with temperatures around 20C, showers, often overcast and windy, but on the whole not unpleasant and good growing weather. Some wilder parts of the garden have been largely let go (nettles are ecologically beneficial, aren't they?), but I have mowed the 'meadow' (increasingly dominated by hogweed, Heracleum I fear) before it swamped some new trees, and have wrested back a modicum of control from Alchemilla mollis, Geranium x oxonianum and the like which threaten to take over at this time of year.
The time had arrived to look over and sort out the young seedlings I had pricked out earlier in the season. Consequently, some 30 young meconopsis and primulas have been deemed ready to plant out, together with a scattering of slug bait, which I abhor but find vital in this most molluscan of summers. There is quite a variety, M. punicea, M. latifolia, M. aculeata, M. delavayi and Primula tangutica from my own seed, and M. integrifiolia, M. pseudointegrifolia, M. superba, and M. wallichii, Primula maximomiczii, P. aemula, P. tanneri, P. grandis and P. obtusifolia from mostly gifted seed. If it remains humid and reasonably cool, these should have grown enough by the autumn to stand a reasonable chance of overwintering successfully.
I have also taken the opportunity of potting on a number of alpine house subjects including Primula bracteata, P. forrestii, Lewisia rediviva, L. longifolia, L. brachycalyx, Campanula chamissonis, C. andrewsii, C. trogerae, Saxifraga mutata (own seed), Androsace villosa, Dianthus callizonus, D. musalae and others. The plunges are full again, which will lead to the perennial headache as to what I do with those which spend the summer in the cool plunge and seek a protected refuge for the winter? Altogether I have found a home for about 60 subjects which have germinated this spring. Others such as bulbs, dieramas (seven have germinated) have yet to be dealt with, probably not until next summer.
A late-sumer flower which gives me as much pleasure as any is the rarely-seen Cathcartia (formerly Meconopsis) chelidonifolia. This climbing poppy has now become totally established on a corylopsis outside the kitchen window which it shares with Tropaeolum speciosum. Although you can't see it in this photo, the combination of yellow and scarlet is spectacular. The cathcartia seems to need a cool woodsy spot in partial shade and shelter.
Here for good measure is the aforementioned 'scarlet peril' elsewhere in the garden. After a few thin years it has enjoyed the wet summer and I shall have to start removing it shortly, a smelly job (the foliage has a rank bitter perfume). I was delighted to see that it has become well established in a beech hedge on the other side of the road which was planted at the entrance to a new estate. Birds do carry the seeds around, and they only seem to germinate if they have passed through a bird first, so it is much easier to let nature take its course!
Other late summer shrubs are doing their thing now, including Hoheria lyallii, a garden favourite, Rosa 'Wedding Day', 10 m high, and an unidentified but spectacular philadelphus.
I have moaned before about the lack of summer interest in this primarily spring garden and have consciously tried to build up some later genera such as roscoea and dierama. Here are a few plants which make a good impact now; Corydalis emeiensis, Senecio macrocephalus, Campanula punctata and a very late flourishing of Primula alpicola var. luna.
By the way, the senecio was grown from my own seed this spring; it develops ands flowers very rapidly, but is perennial.
My big Daphne alpina has recovered from a rude uprooting in the early spring as I needed to extract some horrid perennial weeds from its root-ball. Maybe that it why it is flowering quite profusely now, although like many daphnes you can never be quite sure when the best display will arrive.
Sheilas perennial bed it due for its annual airing. It is looking spectacular now and keeping her very busy!
Two local orchids
To finish with, the wet spring has encouraged some local orchids to unparalleled displays, not least a small colony of the Greater Butterfly Orchid, Platanthera chlorantha which grows in a couple of horse paddocks not much more than a mile from here.
Even better, the local colony of the Creeping Lady's Tresses, Goodyera repens is having a bumper year with 150+ spikes. It grows in mature pine plantations where it has been known since the nineteenth century; probably it was originally introduced from Scandindavia in young trees.