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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 05 June 2013 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 246.

A day at Holehird

I have featured this wonderful garden run to the east of Ambleside in the Lake District before. It is run entirely by volunteers and has no paid staff. It is very beautiful, has three magnificent National Collections (astilbes, hydrangeas and now meconopsis), and grows a wide range of rare plants to a very high standards. It also has magnificent views, down to Windermere.

A day at Holehird

Some of those folk who have been charged by the RHS with the judging of a trial of large blue meconopsis gathered at Holehird last Friday, where we enjoyed lovely weather and more than generous hospitality. We shared the day with a party of horticulturalists from Latvia, and a very good attendance from the general public. The garden was looking at its very best.

Rather than ponder on the minutiae of blue blue mecs, I thought I would treat you to a sight of three magnificent alpines growing planted out on tufa within a sunken alpine house. I thought this was an old fern house, but apparently the tufa was rescued from the rock garden in the next-door Cheshire Home, and the plantings arranged by the Holehird volunteers. I thought these three were some of the finest alpines I have ever seen in cultivation.

First, Asperula arcadiensis.

Erinacea anthyllis.

And Haberlea rhodopensis.

A view of the main rock garden, with the scarlet poppywort, Meconopsis punicea prominent. As some of us pointed out at the time, Holehird is an excellent example of the fact that when old rock gardens become overmature, shaded and invaded by tree roots, if accompanied by judicious pruning, and especially resoiling and mulching, they can be revived and brought back to their previous splendour. So often they are not, even in the most prestigious public gardens.

Time to return to our own patch, where a certain amount of vulgar colour is evident, not least from Rhododendron 'Pink Pearl', with one of the best of the 'big blue mecs', imported from Denmark 'P.C. Abildgaard'.

The very good form of Dicentra spectabilis seen in the last picture was obtained from Edrom Nursery two years ago. It is called 'Valentine'.

Next door is this 'interesting' planting (more a random jumble of plants really!), with Bergenia purpurascens, Primula grandis and others.

The last photo also featured Meconopsis grandis in a strain that I acquired from Mike Hirst back in 1995. It has now been propagated and is in two of the National Collections. Originally it was labelled 'Early Sikkim', which it isn't, and it probably needs a name.

Another superb strain of M. grandis is named 'ES84', for Evelyn Stevens, doyenne of the big blue mecs, and it is one of the three best mecs here at the moment.

I have written before of how this half-acre garden tends to become very 'informal', or 'wildlife-friendly' (for which read 'weedy') towards its periphery, and as we age there is an ever-present threat, maximised at this time of year, that the advancing tide will spread ever inwards. Between this riot of Simethis planifolia, Fothergilla monticola and Polygonatum in the background, and some dwarfish rhododendrons, lay a wildnerness of nettles, vetch, Lamiastrum (yellow archangel), Dicentra formosa, geums and other invasive plants. I got in there with a fork three days ago, and rapidly filled three barrows. I also damaged my back, a warning to us all that we can't take our bodies for granted!

I have also written of how invasive tree peonies are here. I have to rogue out most seedlings. Some are potted and are sold or given away, and a few survive if they are not in the way. The yellow P. ludlowii and the red P. delavayi cross freely here, and a few of the seedlings are really worthwhile.

I love Anemone prattii, now at its best. I also bought this unusual Chinese plant from Edrom about 10 years ago, and it has persisted and grown well.

The planting of Primula hopeana has also lasted well and is now in its fourth year. It is the earliest of all the Sikkimensis primulas here. I am following this with a picture of what Holehird are growing, probably correctly, as P. ioessa ssp. subpinnatifida. This is often confused with P, hopeana (not least by me), but I think these photos show the distinctions well.

Now for a few things flowering from seed. First Androsace macrantha. This Turkish annual is a showy plant and, grown from my own seed, has fiormed a nice colony in the new sand bed.

This white form of Cortusa (now Primula matthioli by the way!) has been very successful.

Dodecatheon pulchellum, here growing with Meconopsis 'Lingholm', was grown from seed several years ago and has now formed a fine clump.

We have been blessed with nearly a week of fine weather now. So far it has been fairly cool, but it is still hot in the sun, especially under glass, and the forecast is for several more fine days at least, while it gets gradually hotter. I shall have to start watering outside if this continues (I never did at all last year!). At this time of year, with the sun so high in the sky, plants under glass really suffer, particularly if no shading is used, as here. I take the more vulnerable subjects out of the plunge, and put them on the north side of the staging where they are both shady, and because cool air sinks, cool.

I have already potted up more than 150 seedlings, and another 35 pots await pricking out. The more vulnerable of the newly repotted plants are kept in the shade, but they more sun-tolerant seedlings are kept on a terrace.

Most things in the alpine house have finished flowering now, but Jancaea heldreichii is at its best, It has now been in this lump of home-made tufa for eight years.

The jancaea is presently surrounded by seedlings in pots, but also a wildly eccentric Saxifraga cotyledon which is flowering now.

Dicentra peregrina is flowering for the first time. This, a present from George Young two years ago, is grown in a long tom plastic pot, and is never disturbed.

Finally, (enough already!) back to the garden where Penstemon rupicola is coming to its best.

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