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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 22 June 2008 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 79.

Busy, busy

Diary entries seem to be crowding in, but there is still plenty to talk about, so its a case of making hay while the sun shines. We have had quite a lot of sun recently, in fact, but its been cool, 15-17C most days, and a lot of rain too, and today, far too much wind. I think I hate wind more than any other climatic factor. In this sheltered garden plants are less resistant to those gusts that do get through. I found one of the spikes of Rheum alexandrae blown down today; I don't think this has ever happened before.

Checking pricked out seedlings after heavy rain (worth doing to make sure they haven't been washed out or knocked over) I was surprised to see good germination of some very classy subjects that must have occurred over the last week or two. Prime amongst these were 10 splendid little Paraquilegia anemonoides, offspring of a Farrer Medal mother, the seed having been kindly donated by its owner. There were also a couple of Primula nana, only two, but I was not sure that any of the seed I gathered last year had been viable. Also, some Primula walshii from wild seed collected by Pam Eveleigh in Tibet last summer. More of these are just coming, so I cut out a little patch of the most advanced seedlings out of the seed pan with an old table knife and potted them on entire to minmise root disturbance. I had done the same earlier with another Minutissimae primula, P. nanobella. I will be very fortunate if either thrives!

At the Harrogate Show in April the judges ,lunches were delivered in some rather smart transparent plastic boxes. The lunches were less than great, but several of us were struck by the potential that the boxes offered and took them home! I have now taken cuttings of two of my Daphne cneorum clones from Lake Garda that did well on the Show bench this spring, as well as those from D. sokjae and D. jasminea, collected in Greece two weeks ago. Here are photos of the cuttings (of D. sokjae in this example), and then enclosed in the plastic containers. These are kept in a cool shady place.

Busy, busy

Here is one of the D. sokjae grafts (onto seedling D. mezereum), followed by a shot of all the grafted plants in their tray, to show how each is enclosed in a small polythene bag with a small stick to stop the bag collapsing.

Its a rather tenuous link to jump from daphne propagation to Asperula daphneola, but that excellent Robert Rolfe introduction from Turkey is at its best now. Like some other Turkish subjects it seems rather surprisingly to be happiest in a plastic pot (with very well-drained compost I should add). I am told it often performs best in the open garden, and in wind-swept, sunny sites I guess this might be true. I shall try it in a trough outside next time I propagate it.

I posted several subjects that are at their best in the alpine house elsewhere on this site yesterday. Shelagh Smethurst had the splendid idea of a 'virtual' Summer Show (North), and a number of people contributed. It looks as if it would have been a very interesting, colourful Show! Here is one subject I would probably not have taken as Calochortus are so difficult to present attractively. But what super flowers! This is C. simulans.

And in the bog garden...
This is the time of the bog irises, and several have become well established here. I think my favourite is Iris chrysographes. We grew this from seed as 'Black Knight', but I don't think the seedlings are as dark or well-marked as in that well-known clone. These are much more like plants I have seen in western China, but attractive for all that.

And in the bog garden...

We grow this with Iris 'White Swirl', obtained some years ago from the excellent Egglestone Nursery close to the Durham-Yorkshire border. I see that 'The Plant Finder' has this as a form of I. sibirica, but I doubt it. It looks like a hybrid to me.

Here is the form of the 'real' I. sibirica we grow. It is very similar to plants we saw near Lake Bohinj in Slovenia, where it is an unexpected, disjunct, native.

Room for a couple of subjects on the scree. This was constructed more than 10 years ago. It consists of nothing except about 25 cm depth of gravel lover a layer of compost and leaf-mould. On the whole it has not been a great success, as a few subjects, notably Dryas x suendermannii and Salix retusa have formed enormous prostrate woody mats that have outcompeted most other subjects. Consequently, it perhaps the least biodiverse habitat in the garden!

However, a few subjects have survived this onslaught, notably a Chinese Rhodiola obtained from Ron McBeath and collected by him and others as SSSE 10. If anyone knows the correct name of this, please post it in the comments column for this Diary. Thanks.

An old favourite subalpine that I am always delighted to see in the Alps is Gypsophila repens. This loves the scree and performs well every year. It doesn't seem to be grown very often these days, rather a shame I think.

One potato, two

One of the oddest members of that great plant family the Solanaceae is the South America Fabiana imbricata, here in its white flowered form. I have grown this for nearly twenty years. Nowadays it is in far too much shade and flowers less well than it should, but at least it has proved permanent in these conditions as it has a reputation for being rather short-lived. I must propagate it and put it in more light.

One potato, two

A more conventional Solanum is the wonderful climber S. cuspidatum. This has surmounted the garage to perform chiefly on our neighbour's side where the light is better. They are delighted!

To finish with, an even more exuberant climber. We are lucky to be surrounded with tall hedges and trees. Follow our predecessors' example, many of these are clothed with luxuriant ramblers at this time of year. This is a very old rose, possibly as old as the house in whose garden our own property was built 30 years ago; certainly the apple up which is was trained must be a centurian. My wife, who is IC roses, has fed and pruned this religiously and it is now in fantastic form. We think it may be 'Mme Alfred Carriere'. Any opinions?

John Richards

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