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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 3 June 2007 by John Richards

Northumberland diary. Entry 38.

Off again

In order to squeeze in two contributions between trips to the mountains, I am preparing this entry three days early. As I am not back until towards the end of June, there will be no entries on the next two Sundays.

We are now entering early summer,  the richest time of year here, although possibly not the most exciting, and there are many spectacular plants in flower. Here are two views of our Crinodendron hookerianum. Purchased from the Toad Hall nursery near Henley on Thames about 14 years ago, it has grown into a magnificent plant more than 7 m high and through. This Chilean shrub has a reputation for tenderness, and it did get cut to the ground once when young, but in our conditions today, all it really needs is shelter and humidity, and we have plenty of both.

Off again

An edgy subject

As I intimated in an early entry, every garden activity has its season, and as we enter summer, this is undoubtedly the season of maintenance. At this time of rapid growth, it is often all I can do to keep pace with mowing, edging, weeding, pruning, dead-heading, feeding and watering. These activities leave little time for major developments in the garden, and in any case I have always believed that moving established plants in the summer is a mistake. The same goes for repotting, which I try to complete by early May (with another session at the end of the summer).

Planting out young seedlings into the garden is another matter however. This year I was able to complete the pricking out of this years germination by the middle of May, and many of the young seedlings have responded well to a cool moist May. If all goes well I anticipate being able to plant out large numbers of young plants on my return, giving them a good chance to establish before the winter sets in.

Ah yes, edging, the bane of every gardener. I thought I would show a few pictures to illustrate some of the solutions used here. As mentioned in the last entry, I use large numbers (in total, 50, bought when we moved here) of railway sleepers ('ties') for terracing. These received complete disapproval when discussed by the 'Gardeners Question Time' panel on the UK Radio 4 last Sunday, being thought dangerous to both humans and plants. However mine have been trouble free, and as you can see plants love to grow over them; they are also now covered with mosses and lichens. The whole question of how to mow right up to such a vertical surface has been splendidly solved by the invention of the strimmer.

An edgy subject

The last photo showed (from left) Rhododendron fastigiatum, Vaccinium praestans and the fern Gymnocarpium dryopteris underneath a Rhododendron oreotrephes (as you can tell from the fallen flowers).

In the next photo the sleeper wall is three ties high as the land fall is steeper. There are two large plants of the creeping scarlet Rhododendron forrestii. Notice how male fern (Dryopteris filix-mas) and lady fern  (Athyrium filix-femina) love to self-spore between the sleepers. At times I have to remove then when they interfere with another plant, but they do give a nice natural look, and indeed I had nothing to do with their arrival.

Logging on
Another way of doing things here is to make raised beds with log-slices. About ten years ago we had two large conifers, a Thuja plicata and a Chamaecyparis lawsoniana felled. We asked for all the large slices to be left. Some were placed vertically from the start, and some horizontally, to form raised beds. We have found the former solution more satisfactory, the slice buried to about one-third of its depth and the flattest part of the circumference on top. The trailing shrub is the New Zealand conifer-relative Podocarpus nivalis, grown from wild seed.

Logging on

Cretan cuckoo
One of the plants in the last bed is flowering for the first time, having been grown from seed collected near Chania in Crete in 1999. It has grown well for some time, but I suspect flowering was triggered by the hot summer of 2006. This is Arum concinnatum, not often seen in gardens.

Cretan cuckoo

Asian beauties
Early summer in a garden such as ours should presage fabulous things from moist, humid, monsoon ridden mountains of the eastern Himalaya and western China. In fact the Lilium macklinae hails from Assam, being named for Kingdon Ward's young wife Jean Macklin who accompanied him on the post-war expeditions to this region. I am happy to say that Jean Rasmussen, as she became, is still with us. For some reason I can't grow this lovely Nomocharis-like lily in the garden; something seems to eat it, but it does well in a pot.

Asian beauties

Then there should be meconopsis of course. The big blue ones are only just starting now, if anything a week late; this is the fertile hybrid 'Lingholm'.

And what about primulas, always associated with the earlier two genera?  I am figuring two here, first the widespread and variable P. sikkimensis, here in a genetically dwarf accession of Tibetan origin to which the epithet 'pseudosikkimensis' can be justly appended.

Seondly, here is that wonderful and long-standing hybrid that is generally known as 'Inverewe'. The parentage of this lovely plant is obscure, although the tiny scarlet and silver  P. cockburniana is surely one of its progenitors. It is still healthy and vigorous, more than 70 years after it was first introduced. There is a theory that this plant was first raised at Muncaster and is properly known as 'Ravenglass Vermilion' and that the plant and its title was 'stolen' by Osgood Mackenzie. Probably we shall never know the truth for certain, but it seems unlikely that such an extraordinary sterile hybrid should have arisen on more than one occasion.

'Aren't you lucky to live in the north-east?', I hear you say. Well yes, of course, but from a gardening point of view, note that much has changed and we are now flowering Cretan arums! By the time I return it may be becoming clear what sort of summer we have to endure this time round.

Anyway, to finish with a reliable favourite flowering this week, the extraordinary 'Devils Claw', Physoplexis comosa, from the Dolomites. Its going back a bit, perhaps because it is about six years since I repotted it!

See you in three weeks!

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