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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 07 June 2009 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 118.

Know your onions

Allium karataviense is a good garden plant here, being persistent in a rather shady scree, free-flowering, and self-sowing in a modest way. Indeed it has colonised the much more arid scree nearby, although it seems not to flourish here to the same extent. The original colony coexists with Incarvillea zhongdianensis, which has also self-sown to a limited extent. Here are the two growing together.

Know your onions

I became aware this year for the first time of a white form of the allium, known as 'Ivory Queen'. I was so taken by this, that I purchased one in bud, which I have introduced into the heart of the colony in the hope that both colours would sow around. Both the nurseries we visited yesterday (of which more anon) were offering this, so it seems to have been disseminated widely. I think it is lovely.

On the terrace on the other side of the garden, the plant illustrated here has also formed a colony. I am not completely sure what this is. I think it may be the form of Allium carinatum separated as subspecies pulchellum, but that is said not to have inflorescence bulbils, which this one has. It is said that one should avoid any onion with stem bulbils as being serious invasive, but that has not been the case for this pretty plant. If anyone knows its real name, please post this in the discussion section. Thank you!

Under glass, another bulb is giving pleasure. Calochortus albus 'Rubellus' may have more prettily colored flowers in some cases, but for me any mariposa is a triumph, and the trick will now be to see if I can achieve this every year.

Very little is now happening in the alpine house, but I find some of the hardy perennial Drakensberg Mesembryanthaceae are good summer standbys, and need very little attention except for a clip over in spring. Here is Drosanthemum hispidum.

Back outside to examine a couple of MESE introductions (the Alpine Garden Society Macedonia and Epiros expedition which explored northern Greece ten years ago). I have sent seed of both of these to the AGS exchange on more than one occasion, but have no idea if anyone else grows them. Firstly that good dwarf rose, still only 60 cm high after 10 years, R. heckeliana. Less than spectacular in flower, it has great hips in the autumn. I grow it in a scree which helps to keep it in character (it is a scree dweller high on Timfi, too).

Next, here is the little known foxglove, Digitalis viridiflora. This seems to be mildly perennial, particularly if dead-headed after flowering.

A lovely combination has been provided by a trough in which Saxifraga cochlearis 'minor' is flowering being placed alongside the 'sumps' in the terrace in which the majority of our candelbra primulas are grown. This picture features P. secundiflora, P. prolifera, P. x bulleesiana and P. 'Inverewe'.

A day on the Borders

Yesterday, our North-east England Group of the AGS had an outing to visit those two splendid nurseries just north of Berwick, Edrom and Lamberton. Disappointingly, only nine members attended on a rather chilly day, but they were abundantly rewarded by two super locations, and I thought I would feature briefly a few of the plants that impressed.

Firstly Edrom. Terry and Cath. have made great strides to the display garden since I was last there, and their alpine terraces, constructed from 'Bradstone' are spectacular and obviously provide an excellent growing environment. Terry Teal, secretary to our Group, features in the first photo, followed by Dianthus arpadianus, Saxifraga 'Alan Hayhurst', Scutellaria indica and the golden form of Stellera.

A day on the Borders

In the adjacent woodland garden, we were impressed by the size and health of Paris japonica, while the long-established colonies of Pyrola rotundifolia 'Rosea' were impressive.

On to Ron and Susan McBeath's nursery at Lamberton, right on the Border. There were some truly fabulous plants here. To start with, I loved the high Drakensberg plateau special Helichrysum retortoides. Their trip into Lesotho four years ago has borne many fruits, and I was delighted to see such desirable subjects as two of the purple senecios from this region for sale.

A very different helichrysum, now an Ozothamnus I suppose, is O. intermedium, formerly H. selago, from New Zealand. None of us had seen such impressive plants flowering so well.

Alongside the last plant, and just featuring there, was what must be the biggest Daphne kosaninii, either in cultivation or in the wild. This is an extremely localised endemic from the southern end of the marble range of the Bulgarian Pirin, where it grows on the edge of woodland and tends to be straggly. Its rather elusive charms are not helped by the flowers that never open, but it is a daphne after all! I germinated one last year and another this year. So far they are slow, but I guess they need planting out.

Another plant few of us had seen was Lewisia glandulosa. This local endemic from Mt. Dana in California was included within L. pygmaea by Brian Mathew in his monograph, with the comment that such plants might represent hybrid segregates with L. longipetala. But it seems that this is a good species that comes true from seed, and it has a very distinctive appearence.

Ron has pioneered several successful growing techniques, amongst which I might mention vertically placed breeze blocks filled with compost, giving a very long root-run when built as a wall. In his windy situation many rarities need no winter cover when planted thus; his Paraquilegias (several forms) were notable.

Ron has also been a great proponent of the 'Swedish peat block', and he has a number of peat beds which feature magnificent plants, for instance great plantings of Berneuxia. I was entranced by Rhododendron lowndesii, which here are followed by Lilium macklinae, a Cypripedium reginae hybrid (sorry, I lost the name!), and two roscoeas, either of which would surely have won a Farrer, sorry I mean Forrest, medal!


John Richards

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