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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 14 June 2009 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 119.

Summer daze

Over the last week we have received a modicum of much-needed rain, not enough to last for the rest of the predicted scorching summer, but at least the profile is wet through and we have been able to put in the last of the summer bedding, and the first of this summer's crop of seedlings. I have now pricked out 58 subjects, nearly 500 seedlings in total, and about another 25 are bulb seedlings that I allow to grow on in the seed pot. I don't think the germination has been quite as good as previous years, perhaps 60% of those sown have produced at least one seedling, but it is predictable that some subjects will not show until next year.

So far, survival of the seedlings has been good, and the number of empty pots is still in single figures. There are some rare meconopsis (Mm. lancifolia, sinuata and delavayi) and primulas (nanobella, the real thing, wattii, amethystina and wollastonii among others), so I don't expect this happy state to continue, particularly if things hot up!

We leave for a fortnight in the mountains next weekend, so we are praying that the weather here returns to last week's miserable state, at least until we return. In the meantime, there will be a big exodus of pots from the alpine house that lacks automatic watering, to be stashed in shady places under bushes. There will be a big watering on Friday night!

This is a time of big beautiful things and bags of colour in the garden!

Summer daze

I like the way that the ethereal pale blue form of Iris sibirica complements the variegated Acer crataegifolium above it. Before that, Gladiolus byzantinus dominates the picture. We don't plant this; it does it itself. If truth were known, at this time of year we tend to lose control of the garden a bit. Many areas subside into a scarcely managed frenzy around which we skip rather ineffectually, meekly trying to control the worst excessses. Its all chaotic and rather lovely, and at this time of year I don't mind too much.

A rather unexpected self-propagator is the yellow-leaved form of Philadelphus coronarius, 'Aureus', which both suckers modestly, and leaves a few self-sown seedlings, some of which I pot on and sell. It forms an important backdrop to the herbaceous, next to Physocarpus  'Diabolo'.

King of Hearts
I have featured that wonderful plant Dicentra 'King of Hearts' before. However, I cannot praise its durability too much. Like many other plants here it was planted in a position where it rapidly became overtaken by larger subjects, and when it came into growth this spring it had been substantially buried by rampant foliage. It was unearthed in the nick of time, and in a drought, and put into the refurbished 'D' bed where it wasted no time in dusting itself down, picking itslef up, and flowering all over again!  It has a fantastic repeat flowering capability and will now continue well int the autumn.

King of Hearts

Another really good plant here is Dianthus 'La Bourbille', surely a form of D. arvernensis.  Among its many merits is its fertility, and it comes true from seed, surely the best and most adaptable of the dwarfer dianthus. Alan Funess gave me a pinch of seed a few years ago, and I grow it in several places. Here it is in a fishbox trough, and then in the lean scree, where it flowers even better.

finger roots
It is no surprise that Dactylorhizas, marsh orchids, have been self-sowing. They seem to have a special predeliction for cushions in troughs, or on the scree, but they are so interesting and attractive that I let them be, and these cushions are not for exhibition anyway. What perhaps is surprising is that the self-establishing species is the south-west European D. elata (first picture), rather than the locally native D. purpurella (second picture) which arrived unannounced on the wind, but has colonised no further.

finger roots

Sheila has just said that it is a pink time of year (reading this over my shoulder!), and here is another pink, the lovely Nomocharis mairei. This was purchased two years ago, but is clearly happy, making a much larger plant with eight flowers this year.

Two Greek subjects that can stand the heat of the alpine house at this time of year, to finish with. Firstly, that popular subject from the Athos peninsula, Helichrysum sibthorpii. This is a rewarding subject because it has so many personas. It is an attractive silver foliage subject at any time of year, but it is particularly lovely when in early, rosy, bud. We don't often see it exhibited at this later stage when it is in full flower, but it is pretty now too.

Finally, something of a mystery. This was germinated from Josef Jurasek seed in 2008, as Convolvulus compactus, origin Anatolia. It has grown well in a long-tom pot plunged in the warmer of the two alpine houses and is now full of bud, the first flower having just opened. I have long been an admirer of the plant that grows on Parnassos and Giona in Attic Greece. Traditionally this has been called C. boisseri, but when I visited the Sierra Nevada some years ago it was clear that the real C. boisseri, which originates from here, has nothing to do with the Greek plant.

This has been recognised for some time, and Flora Europaea has the Greek plant as C. boissieri subsp. compactus, which is also known from many sites in southern Turkey. If the plant illustrated below is typical of Turkish material, it is quite as unlike the Greek plant as is the Spanish boissieri. This seems to be recognised by Arne Strid who has the Greek plant as C. boissieri subsp. parnassicus. On limited evidence, I have to say that there seems to be a good case for elevating all three taxa to specific rank, as C. boissieri (Spain), C. parnassicus (Greece) and C. compactus (Turkey). Here is a picture of my C. compactus, followed by one of C. parnassicus, growing on Parnassos this time last year.

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