Alpine Garden Society

01386 554790
Back to List of Entries for A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

Go to bottom

You can add your comments on the content of this diary entry by starting a discussion, but you need to login first

A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 16 June 2015 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 299.

Some summer bulbs

This is not a great garden for difficult bulbs, but bulbs still make a huge contribution here, from snowdrops and crocuses to daffodils, tulips and autumnal colchicums. Indeed, there is a price to pay, as some areas are currently tangled and messy as bulb foliage starts to die back. Combining spring and autumn bulbs successfully with late spring and early summer subjects is a skill I have yet to master (and probably never will now!). Summer bulbs are thinner on the ground, although there are a fair number of lilies, none of which have yet done more than set early bud.

However, some bulbs do make an impact now. First, that wonderful allium A. karataviense which sows about gently, so that the small colony increases slowly. In this photo you can also see the foliage of another wonderful summer bulb, Tulipa sprengeri which has just finished flowering. It also increases modestly.

Allium karataviense

Another Allium which increases unaided is A. carinatum. This occurs as a wild (although not native) plant hereabouts, mostly on the Tyne riverbanks, which should act as a warning of potential invasiveness, especially as this is one of the onions which carries bulbils in the flowering head. So far it has more or less behaved itself, and it is undeniably pretty.

Allium carinatum

Further along the terrace and flowering now is a small patch of the little Pyrenean bluebell, Brimeura amethystina, which we saw in the wild last summer. This seems to me an ideal garden subject; attractive, undemanding, long-lived and not invasive.

Muscari comosum is another long-lived and reliable subject. It falls down by having rather messy foliage, and it is not yet quite at its best, when the terminal tassels elongate and spread, but it makes a good early summer garden plant.

Not technically a bulb I suppose, Gladiolus byzantinus is a mystery here. I always deadhead it, but somehow new plants spring up in surprising places, sometimes where they are less than welcome. I can only suppose that someone, probably rodential, is digging up and reburying corm offsets during the winter months.

Gladiolus byzantinus


The subject of bulbs leads fairly naturally onto to that of marsh orchids. I would like to say that I have never introduced a dactylorhiza here, but that would be untrue as I did once purchase a plant of D. elata, a Spanish species we saw on the Sierra Nevada two summers ago. This has long gone, but during its stay here it crossed with the Northern Marsh Orchid, D. purpurella, a common wild plant locally, which arrived on the wind. I now have a variety of hybrids (I think the Common Spotted Orchid D. fuchsii which also occurs hereabouts is also involved) which have invaded troughs (they love cushions to live in!), raised beds and even the gravel terrace, which is laid above lightly buried pavers. This swarm is in danger of getting out of control, but I love them! Here are a few examples, firstly D. purpurella and then a couple of hybrids.

Dactylorhiza purpurella Dactylorhiza elata x purpurella

This last photo however if of a plant we purchased only last month at Egglestone gardens, in south Durham, formlely famous for their hybrid celmisias which, sadkly, they propagate no more. This is a huge plant, with beautifully marked leaves. Goodness knows what its parentage is. Some of the selections had almost black leaves.

Dactylorhiza Egglestone hybrid


Another natural progression as a few candelbras primulas crept into the last photo (unlike the D. elata hybrids, the big Dactylorhiza appreciates boggy conditions). Candelabra primulas are currently at their best of course. In the next photo, the yellow plant is P. prolifera, the purple one P. secundiflora and the remainder all P. bulleyana hybrids.


In the next photo are two red candelabras. The slightly darker one is 'Red Hugh', a recent gift from Holehird Gardens, while the other is 'Inverewe' which I have grown for many years.


It is not that far a jump from candelbra primulas to blue poppies as the two seem to thrive in similar types of garden, of which this is surely one. Firstly, the really super plant which I have for some years been calling M. betonicifolia (not M. baileyi) which I have now to bow to higher authority who have decreed that this plant, emanating from Juneau BG as M. betonicifolia, is in fact hybrid with M. baileyi and should now be called M. 'Alaska'. Whatever, it is extremely fertile and comes true from seed. It is a magnificent plant, two metres high.

Meconopsis 'Alaska'

This group, of last years seedlings, would you believe, has M. 'Lingholm' on the left, and M. baileyi.

Monocarpic M. racemosa is flowering in several places, including in shady fishboxes. One has come a lovely ice-blue from which I shall certainly save seed!

Meconopsis racemosa Meconopsis racemosa pale form

I am enjoying this part of a sand-bed, with Dicentra 'Burning Heart, Dianthus alpinus, D. arvernensis and Rhododendron trichostomum.

I should have mentioned Lewisia columbiana!

Next in the same bed are varied seedlings of Edraianthus pumilio, and the true Aquilegia bertolonii, both valued acquisitions from last years seed.

Edraianthus pumilio Aquilegia bertolonii

Finally, another plant grown from seed, a number of years ago, but finally flowering properly for the first time, that curious daphne, endemic to the northern Bulgarian Pirin, with its closed flowers, D. kosanini. Not a common plant, and I am rather pleased with it!!

Go to top
Back to List of Entries for A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

You can add your comments on the content of this diary entry by starting a discussion, but you need to login first