A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: 09 March 2010 by John Richards
Northumberland Diary. Entry 141.
The frosty nights continue unabated, but finally the sun has climbed far enough above the horizon to gently warm parts of this north-facing garden, and the early spring bulbs have responded. I showed a few last week, but here are a few more in a south-facing raised bed. First is Crocus sieberi 'Firefly' with a dwarf unnamed form of Galanthus plicatus. Both have occupied this corner for many years without spreading too much.
Nearby is the white form of Crocus tommasinianus. We find this much less vigorous than the normal lilac, and it keeps itself largely to itself.
In the same corner is an early patch of Crocus flavus. Being of garden origin, this is probably the cross with C. angustifolius, but we find it has the delicacy of the species, unlike some brassy 'flavus'.
Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) and snowflakes (Leucojum vernum) are extensively planted and seminaturalised here, and I had the temerity to take a clump of snowflakes to Loughborough (possible for the first time ever!) where it was studiously ignored. But some of the easiest alpines are among the best! I loved L. vernum high in the Maritimes in the south of France at the end of March when hunting Primula allionii. Here is a corner of the garden tucked away, where both thrive.
To the alpine house for two more bulbs, firstly the very familiar reticulata hybrid Iris 'Katharine Hodgkin' (I. histrioides x danfordiae), a much better garden plant here than either of its parents, and apparently resistant to 'ink disease'. I grow it outside in gravelly beds in several places, and on the whole I find it better in the garden, perhaps because it seems to resent too much summer baking..
The bulbs above were lifted for showing just as they peeked through the ground and will be returned when finished. However, Colchicum triphyllum has lived in the alpine house for many years. There is only one complex corm, but this year it will produce about eight flowers.
About three weeks ago, as usual I decided which of the early petiolarid primulas would be suitable for exhibition and lifted them, planting them in plastic pots in a compost rich in sieved leafmould and perlite, and putting them under glass to protect the flowers as they emerged. (The flowers are completely frost-hardy, but can be spoilt by rain, mud, blackbirds, woodlice etc). Here are P. moupinensis and P. nana on the alpine house floor, just after their outing to Loughborough on Saturday.
P. nana in close-up. I have two clones of this, identical except that the second flowers a full month later than the first. The 'blue' primulas (P.'Arduaine'), usually a standby, were not ready for Loughborough, and may not even make Blackpool.
More yellow snowdrops
Scottish friends have been asking after the yellow snowdrops in the north of our county for some time. We had planned a local group excursion as well, which was cancelled after truly horrendous weather. However, four hardy Scots arranged a visit at very short notice on a lovely day last week. The following photos in some way supplement my article in the current issue of 'The Plantsman'. Always, it seems, there is something new to see! Firstly, a strange plant with very long divergent bracts, a yellow 'Sharlockii' if you like.
In the article I talk about the 'halfers', and last week I put one on the bench for general edification. One person actually mentioned it! Here is a 'halfer' growing with a good 'yellow'. It seems that the halfers are genetic yellows, but with some modifying gene.
Here is a lovely sylvan scene in the north of the county, with a good yellow growing amongst greens on a stream bank.
In the article I mention the 'patchy' occurrence of yellows in the wild, suggesting that the yellow gene arises de novo and then seeds around locally. Here is a small patch with no less than seven yellow individuals.
Finally, it is said that the 'yellows' lack vigour, and certainly yellow clones tend to have fewer bulbs than greens. Here is the champion yellow of all, which suggests that this is not always the case. It must have 100 bulbs in the clump!