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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 11 June 2012 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 217.

Didn't it rain?

Well, not quite Captain Noah and his floating zoo yet (penned by the late lamented father of our favourite economic pundit, the elegant Stephanie Flanders) (I sang the part of God once, at Gatehead International Garden Festival, no less, and Sheila says that it went to my head), but everything is very soggy here and its STILL raining!

In fact it doesn't sound as if we have received quite the deluges of parts of the Midlands and Wales, but I was botanising in the Kielder Forest yesterday and it simply TIPPED down; the few times it stopped the midges came out. 'Jungle Formula' is an excellent repellent by the way.

From a garden point of view, at least it means I don't have to water anything. I am concerned for small pots sat outside (seedlings etc) that much of the nutrient content may have leached out, and I must remember to liquid feed with half strength 'Tomorite' at least weekly from now on. One reason for using 'Perlite' in most of my composts is the expectation that as it is expanded clay it will chelate (bind) to the salts in the compost, releasing them slowly, but still I guess they need topping up in these conditions. Everything looks fairly fit, although seedling growth has been impaired by the cold weather.

The one thing I have done is to take a few seedlings that I think will resent the excessive wet, Primula bracteata and P. forrestii for instance, and some androsaces, and put them on the greenhouse floor, out of the direct rays of the sun.

Its the newly positioned Summer Show North next weekend and I seem to have very little as most of the midsummer bankers are so delayed. We will see.

One plant I shan't take is Rhododendron radicans (which I see the Coxes have as a form of keleticum, itself classified as a subspecies of Rh. calostrotum, there has really been a great clean-up in the Saluense rhodos). This has struggled here for some years and nearly died, smothered by weeds, but it has been found a new niche in a raised log bed and is looking better than for years.


Didn't it rain?

Elsewhere in the garden, a rather ancient and gnarled individual of Rh. keleticum (not now separated from radicans although very distinct in the garden, and itself a subspecies of Rh. calostrotum which has such different leaves) has produced a scattering of flowers. It is not helped by growing in a an old and rather overgrown bed where it tends to be invaded by weeds.

In the newer log bed a planting of Meconopsis 'latifolia' is thriving, having been raised from seed last year. I have featured this mysterious plant before. It came originally from Meconopsis Group seed as M. latifolia, but is not that species, or it seems, M. baileyi (i.e. the familiar Tibetan form of 'M. betonicifolia'). I showed its picture to the Meconopsis Group last March and no-one seems to know what it is. Possibly it is a form of M. baileyi. Whatever, it is a lovely plant, although monocarpic, but sets and comes very well from seed.


While at that Mec. Group meet, I was very kindly gifted a young plant of the 'real' M. betonicifolia', a Chinese plant from north-west Yunnan near the Myanmar border I think. This differs from the Tibetan M. baileyi in many particulars, and as grown here is rather leggy and not such a good garden plant. It will be interesting to see if it perennates as I only have one and it may not set seed.

The one meconopsis I don't have to worry about is M. racemosa which gently self-sows. This year it seems to have only produced one flowering sized seedling, so I had better save the seed and make sure I have it in the future. Although this is the 'weedy' meconopsis (if you have abundant 'horridula' this will be your plant; the true Himalayan M. horridula is very difficult to grow, although very lovely), and it can be rather plain with slaty flowers, I have a nice blue strain of this which is worth persisting with.

One more blue 'mec'. I have featured my gun-metal-blue strain of M. rudis before, usually in leaf when it is at its most fetching, but the potful is in flower now, and I am sure will be well past their best for next Saturday.

On to one of the 'D' beds now, where a small planting of the Tibetan Primula alpicola is enjoying the monsoon. This most polymorphic of species occurs in purple, white and yellow forms. Here are the white and purple; yellow flowered plants are starting to flower elsewhere in the garden.

I have a fondness for the section Sikkimensis primulas, none more so than for the white relative of Primula sikkimensis which I am presently treating at specific rank as P. hopeana.

Here is a more distant view of that 'D' bed, also featuring Dicentra 'King of Hearts', Corydalis cheilanthifolia,  Meconopsis grandis and Dodecatheon hendersonii.


One more plant from the garden. It seems to have been a more than usually plush year for my old, relaible plants of the Pyrenean Ramonda myconi. Such a good plant! Once you have found the right place for it in the garden it is troublefree and you should have it for life.


Howick Gardens

Last Sunday our local Group made a garden visit to Howick Gardens on the Northumberland coast north of Alnwick. This, by far our favourite public garden in the county, has featured on these pages before. Obviously, this sheltered, acidic woodland-style garden had been favoured by the cool wet weather. Well into June, many rhododendrons were still in excellent form, and indeed the whole garden was on the top of its form, wreathed in colour. Many of the best plants in this massive garden (the walk to the sea is more than a mile and a half, all within the garden and all planted up with many thousands of plants arising from Lord Howicks own seed collections) are found in 'Silverwood'. This is often known as 'Lady Mary's garden', as it was planted chiefly by the widow of  Sir Evelyn Baring, sometime Diplomat, who took the title Lord Howick (Lady Mary was a scion of the Grey family). Here are two views within the wonderfully sheltered and carefully planned 'Silverwood'.

Howick Gardens

As you can see, large plantings of meconopsis and primulas are placed between the mature rhododendrons. Little wonder this is a favourite garden! Although Lord Howick's plantings are immaculately labelled, this is less true of Silverwood and I have had had to guess at the names of these two rhododendrons, which I think are Rh. facetum, followed by Rh. fortunei.

I have never seen Primula japonica so robust. Here is its lovely white form, Postford white'.

I was also delighted to see a planting of the New zealander Ourisia macrophylla. Once not uncommon in gardens, I haven't seen it for years. I think in most places the hard winters will have seen it off.

A final plant, this time from around the pond garden, and again not labelled so I am guessing at the name. This very dark peony looks like the enigmatic Paeonia parnassica to me, a species which is rare in gardens and in the wild, and which I have never managed to see on Parnassos despite many visits there (it occurs on a few other Attican mountains). Of course, I may well be wrong, but it is certainly a distinctive plant.

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