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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 07 June 2016 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 318.

East and west, homes....

Thank you all those who made such kind enquiries about my eye, not least at the really excellent Bakewell Show. What a shame, once again, that so few punters seemed to visit, of the many thousand milling outside on a peerless June day. The eye is still mending, the bubble put in to stabilise things is getting smaller, but its a long business. However, I am starting to get about, driving down to Bakewell via Newby Hall, and home via Gaitbarrow NNR, wearing a patch and looking like Moyse Dayan. However, the previous Wednesday I had essayed my first serious field outing, to Cullernose Point on the Northumberland coast. It was very cold and very windy (that easterly which blew for weeks has finally relented and its 25C and humid today), so we didn't hang about. There were some lovely things though. This is the only east coast site for Scilla verna, the Spring Squill, which is locally abundant on the whinstone there.

Scilla verna

Even more splendid, perhaps, was another east coast speciality, sometimes on dunes, or inland on limestone, but here once again on the whin. This is one of our three Astragalus, a huge genus with about 2000 species worldwide. Nevertheless, when seen in a good form as here, A. danicus can compete with any of the milk vetches

Astragalus danicus

Over to the west now to record a brief stop made at Gaitbarrow NNR in Silverdale on the way home from Bakewell. In contrast, it was baking hot, as the west has been for most of the last two weeks, and the limestone was very dry. It was a week since they had held the special Open Day to view the Cypripedium calceolus, Lady's Slipper, for which after reintroductions using partly British stock, raised at Kew as part of the Sainbury Orchid project, this has become the premier site. Not surprisingly, many plants were looking a little hot and bothered. There are over 40 flowers in this photo, and there must have been several hundred at least in total. Its a far cry from when the so-called secret of our only plant was liberally banded about.

Cypripedium calceolus

Gaitbarrow is a wonderful reserve for many of the specialities of the northern limestone pavements, and also for several of our most endangered butterflies. I am told that the Duke of Burgundy has been having a hard time there, as elsewhere, and in any case it was probably over, but we were pleased to see the last worn Pearl-bordered fritillaries and the first spanking fresh Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries. Both were very lively in the sun and did not stop for a portrait. However I was very surprised to see the first Northern Brown Argus, perhaps a month earlier than usual. This feeds on the rock-rose, Helianthemum nummularium, which is everywhere on the limestone.

Newby Hall

On the way south to Bakewell, we spent several hours at the superb Newby Hall Gardens, near Ripon, which is fast becoming one of our premier gardens, full of good design interesting plants and wonderful combinations. Incidentally, it also has an excellent plant sale area which is currently full of a range of flowering size cornus at very reasonable prices. Here is a selection of pictures. First, the beautiful water garden.

Newby Hall water garden

The plantings of candelabra primulas are as good as I have seen anywhere.

This is a huge monoculture of Primula japonica 'Postford White'.

Primula japonica 'Postford White'

Ourisia macrophylla, not often seen these days, beautifully positioned here in a north crevice.

Ourisia macrophylla

A splendid form of Paeonia veitchii on the rock garden.

Paeionia veitchii

Paeonia rockii in wonderful forms is a real feature here.

It is unusual to see Embothrium coccineum thriving on the east side of the country. Here is it growing with Abutilon vitifolium, a remarkably tender planting for so far north.

Embothrium coccineum

Finally, what I think must be a good form of Cornus capitata. Cornus were flowering abundantly in the wood, mostly C. kousa.

A lot has happened in the garden in the last two weeks. In particular, the blue poppies have started to flower. This mixture has 'Mrs Jebb' at the front, 'Keillour Violet', 'Jimmy Bayne on Steroids' (sic), and Lingholm, all last years seedlings apart from the Mrs Jebb which were grown from divisions. The site is sheltered (and weedy!) and has several inches of compost tipped on top.

Here is a distant view of another meconopsis planting, with 'Jimmy Bayne on Steroids', M. baileyi, M. grandis 'Himal Sky' and the white 'Marit'.

You can just see Meconopsis punicea in the last shot.

Meconopsis punicea

I have been pleased with how young Meconopsis superba have performed, grown from my own seed. Young seedlings were planted out rather late and cloched but have grown rapidly this spring.

It is a real privilege in quite a small garden to grow a species magnolia. Although about seven magnolias are grown here, all are hybrids except M. stellata, and M. wilsonii. The last was grown from seed set on a moribund tree at late lamented Moorbank about ten years ago. Planted in a sheltered corner, it set two flowers last year, but has surpassed itself with ten which are at their best now.

Magnolia wilsonii

After a year off last year, the Crinodendron hookerianum is back on form and approaching its best.

Crinodendron hookerianum

Clematis alpina 'Willy' and an unnamed hybrid rhododendron which we inherited, make a lovely combination.

I grow a number of blue Corydalis in fishboxes, which seems to suit them. There are at least five different ones here, and none of them are the popular C. flexuosa which doesn't like us at all. I suspect we are too cool and humid for it as it flourishes in many southern gardens. Of the others, I am rather confused as to which is which. I know I have the real C. cashmeriana, another which is probably C. kokiana and a third which might be C. pachycentra. However, I think the present one is C. 'Craigton Blue', the hybrid between C. cashmeriana and C. flexuosa, raised by Ian and Maggie Young in Aberdeen. However, I grow both this and the Levers' similar cross 'Kingfisher' and may have mixed them up.

One of the best plants at present is in a pot in the alpine house. I acquired this as Rhodiola trollii, but it seems more usually to be treated as a sedum. Plunged in a shallow crock pot it is easy and floriferous.

Sedum trollii

Last year I was delighted to receive seed under the name Primula stenodonta. This is a very little-known Proliferae ('candelabra') species from NE Yunnan, related to P. wilsonii and differing mostly by long drawn-out calyx tips and long bracts. The plants are now in full flower, and very nice too, but are plainly P. poissonii, with longer pedicels and short calyx lobes.

Primula poissonii

Another nice plant from seed, this time sown in 2014, is Dianthus nitidus. This endemic of the Slovakian Tatra is not often grown, but is a neat, tidy plant which has enjoyed the conditions of the sand bed in full sun.

Dianthus nitidus

Goodness, this seems a long contribution! I had better finish, and what better way than with my favourite plant, Jancaea heldreichii, which has now persisted in this lump of home-made tufa for more than a decade. A drip-point is situated on top of the tufa lump.


Jancaea heldreichii
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