A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: 11 June 2008 by John Richards
Some plants from northern Greece. Entry 77.
We returned from Greece a couple of days ago, having spent two weeks 'road testing' Mountain Flower Walks, The Greek Mainland (published by the Alpine Garden Society. We flew into Thessaloniki (weekly flights from Newcastle, no hassle!) and hired a 4WD Daihatsu at the fairly reasonable price of £440 for two weeks. This proved to be an excellent vehicle and gave us access to parts of Olimbos, Parnassos, The Katara Pass area and Vermion that would not have been possible with a standard car.
We visited no new sites (for us), but early June was a new time of year. This enabled us to see Jancaea heldreichii in splendid form on Olimbos.
Also, for the first time I was able to connect with Fritillaria epirotica on the Katara Pass. We only found it in the most exposed places growing in rocky serpentinite screes where virtually no other plant life can survive. Its nearest companion is another delightful bulb, Tulipa australis.
A final subject, the daphne that we found on Vermion during the AGS MESE expedition to Greece in 1999. We gave this the informal name D. 'vermionica', but Josef Halda published it as D. sojaki before we had time to describe it, so that latter name must stand. Although it grows amongst D. oleioides, it is quite distinct. On this visit we formed the opinion that it tends to grow at a slightly higher altitude than D. oleioides and is commoner on limestone.
Back to the garden!
It seems to have been good growing weather while we have been away; fairly warm and humid, but with several spells of quite heavy rain, so that there were few signs of stress after a fortnights absence (although I am lucky to have a good friend who pops in occasionally to sprinkle a hose around if necessary).
So it was a pleasure to find the garden full of colour; just as well as we are welcoming a bus-full from Northern Ireland early tomorrow morning. You might guess that there has been a lot of activity over the last few days; weeding, mowing and strimming!
I like to judge 'the best plant in the garden' at any stage of the season. At present, this award undoubtedly goes to Parahebe catarractae, a positive waterfall of flowers!
Here are two more shrubby subjects from 'down under', first the Australian mint-bush Prostanthera cuneifolia. This is long-lived and reliably hardy here, having been in the present position for at least 15 years.
The most rewarding celmisia in this garden is C. allanii, which I grow in several places, often in quite a lot of shade. I used to grow more celmisias (although I still have about 15), but lost a large number in the hard frost of January 2001 and have not had the heart to try many again. Unlike many, this is a true shrub.
Now is the time of the candelbra primulas (P. section Proliferae). I raised several additions from seed last year, and the yellow P. prolifera is showing the vigour typical of a seed-raised plant in new ground. The flowers are up to 32 mm in diameter, but a recent report from Arduaine garden has measured flowers of this species at a whopping 40 mm!
The above photo also includes P. secundiflora, P. bulleyana and (out of focus in the foreground) the brilliant scarlet hybrid 'Inverewe'.
In fishbox troughs, P. flaccida, raised from my own seed is now in full flower. Luckily there are pin and thrum flowered plants again, so I have already crossed them to raise more plants (which reminds me that I haven't pricked out this years seedlings of it yet!).
Very much rarer is P. malvacea. When Keith Lever of Aberconwy nurseries raised some plants from Pete Boardman's seed, I was fortunate in that he passed some second generation seed on. This plant grows in a trough that was covered with a frame-light last winter, but a couple of plants that were planted out unprotected at the Moorbank Botanic Garden in Newcastle are also flowering.
A most unusual plant that has turned out to be a great success is a yellow Spuria iris from woodland in northern Turkey and obtained as a gift seedling from Terry Teal. This is I. kerneriana, and although it is both unusual and attractive, it seems perfectly easy to grow here.
Gifts from the Gods
I am finishing with a bevy of Greek plants, thus returning to the first topic. Stachys chrysantha is commonly found on limestone cliffs in the south-eastern corner of the Peloponnesos. When I put it before the Joint Rock Garden Committee of the RHS, this form was considered sufficiently distinct and worthy to be given a Preliminary Commendation under a cultivar name. I have called it 'Leonidio' after the small town outside which the seed was collected some years ago. It is a good plant for the alpiune house if it is clipped back regularly.
Staying in the southern Peloponnesos, seed of Cistus salvifolius collected from near the sea in the baking, windswept Mani peninsula has proved an unexpected success in this damp cool northern garden.
On the MESE expedition, mentioned earlier, we collected seed of Campanula foliosa from Katmatkcalan, on the Macedonian border. This is an excellent garden plant, robust, attractive and modestly self-sowing. I send seed into the AGS list every year, and it deserves to be better known.
Finally, another Greek plant that I obtained from my father-in-law many years ago. Then it was known as Gladiolus byzantinus, but now it is regarded as a form of G. communis, which we saw in the wild on several occasions last week, especially on Vermion and Pilion. It is an excellent garden plant that pops up unexpectedly. I don't think it sets seed and suspect rodents of moving the corms about.