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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 08 July 2007 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 41.

Midsummer at Pershore

Its three years now since we went south for the Pershore Show in early July. Its not really a season I plan for, exhibitionwise, but I usually like to take a few plants with me in any case. Consequently, I was not too surprised to depart without any red stickers, but had a thoroughly enjoyable day. It was a remarkably good show for this late season, and I particularly enjoyed some good campanulas and diosphaeras (now also  relegated to campanula status by some). The plant of the Show was the 'suicide lily', Gladiolus flanaganii from precipitous cliffs above the Sani Pass in the Drakensberg. There were at least five almost indistinguishable individuals at the Show. The one I picture is mine, grown from Gothenburg BG seed, acquired in 2000.

Midsummer at Pershore

More plants from the Drakensberg

It is certainly the case that many of the good plants of the Drakensberg flower at the height of the summer rainfall there in January, and when the season shifts, do not change their habits in this hemisphere, flowering much later than most alpines do here, in July. I have become fond of a couple of little mesems. One, Drosanthemum hispidum was figured earlier in this diary, towards the end of last summer. Delospema lavisiae is superficially rather similar, but the flower stems are farinose, not hispid, and the leaves are longer. It is fully hardy outside and has flourished in a trough, but this individual has been grown under cold glass. Before it was exhibited, I removed 450 old flowers, which gives some idea of its vigour as there are several hundred still to come. It was grown from seed I collected from above the Cathedral Peak camp in January 2006.

More plants from the Drakensberg

Another plant I introduced from seed collected a year and a half ago, also from the Cathedral Peak district of the Drakensberg is what may be the only perennial Nemesia, N. rupicola. This was collected blind, as a possible diascia. It is perfectly hardy with me (zone 8 or so) in a sheltered rather damp spot (it grows by waterfalls in the wild) and is a good garden plant with a long flowering season. It is far too untidy in habit to be a plant for exhibition however.

Yet another plant we saw plenty of in the Drakensberg was Phygelius capensis, often being visited by sunbirds. This is far too big to be considered an alpine in the garden of course, although it often grows cheek by jowl with much dwarfer subjects in the wild. In any case, this is the season of the larger perennials in the garden, largely my wife's domain.

Record plants

On more than one occasion I have been asked how I remember details of my plants, where and when I acquired them for instance. The answer is of course, I don't, usually, but I have recorded the details. I would like to boast that all my plants are neatly detailed on computer files. However I started to record my plant acquisitions about 38 years ago, long before the days of PCs and Excel, and I still maintain the card index I started then, as I have never found the energy to transcribe the many thousands of entries made since then. I scribble down the details of every plant when acquired, and around the New Year, these are transferred to file cards. One day I would like to analyse the longevity of my subjects; perhaps this winter!

Here is my final South African subject this week, following on from last week another Dierama, D. pulchellum this time.

Record plants

Paws for thought

Staying with rather non-alpine subjects from the southern hemisphere for a moment, another possibly rather inappropriate subject I took to Pershore was this 'Kangaroo Paw', Anigozanthus humilis. I have grown this striking subject for quarter of a century, ever since I collected seed from near the Stirling Ranges in south-west Australia in 1981. For most of this time I have grown it in the conservatory, but it is easily propagated by division and over the last few not very harsh winters young plants have been successfully overwintered in an unheated alpine house. One of these was given to Rod Leeds, not long before I finally lost it (through neglect rather than cold). Yet another reason to be generous, as Rod promptly gave me a new propagation back. This raises an interesting question germane to rule 3 of the AGS Show Schedule, which states that the plant has to be in the ownership of the exhibitor for not less than six months. As I have owned this plant for about 25 years, this is not, as written, in question, but if it had said 'in continuous ownership'..........!

I only put this leggy plant on the table in the hope that Judges thought it to be sufficiently wierd to be considered for the rather wierd trophy in that particular schedule. It was overlooked in this regard as in every other, and the Joint Rock Garden Committee considered it 'inappropriate'. They may well be right, but it does figure handsomely in our 'Encyclopedia of Alpines'. What really matters is that I love it!

Paws for thought

Summer lettuce
Last week I illustrated one of the successful introductions of the 1999 MESE expedition of the AGS (the lily 'Naoussa Boutari), and here is another one. Collected as seed from limestone screes at 2000 m on the north face of Astraka, Timfi, Lactuca graeca has chicory-like flowers of a limpid blue. At only about 15 cm, it is much dwarfer and neater than its more familiar gawky French relative L. perennis, and has proved persistent in a shady scree, multiplying gently both by self-sown seed and rhizomes. It never produces a massed display, but makes up for this with a three-month flowering season.

Summer lettuce

And cockle bells...
This seems a lengthy entry; perhaps I am trying to compensate for my absence! I am concluding with two easy bellflowers, both favourites of mine. Campanula cochlearifolia is a widespread and often abundant subalpine in European mountains, and although unfailingly lovely, it can be just too invasive. Here it has been restricted to gravel paths where it creeps around and resists trampling.

And cockle bells...

The last subject this week could not be more different, although still a bellflower. Perhaps the most beautiful of all the local native flowers and often neglected unfairly in the garden, the one metre+ C. latifolia is definitely a plant for the back of the border, and often looks better in partial shade. What a lovely Northumbrian!

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