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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 04 March 2007 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 26.

Down South

I spent most of the week away from the garden in the south of England, visiting the Ipswich, East Surrey and Mid Kent Groups of the AGS on three successive nights, and then spending a most enjoyable day at the Early Spring Show at Harlow. Consequently I saw a good deal more of the M25 than I would have wished for in a perfect world, but on these occasions at least it presented no problems.

I was delighted to see the East Surrey and Mid Kent Groups are both thriving with attendances well above 50 in each case. It is remarkable that the latter is one of no less than four Groups in Kent! For most of the time the weather was fine and sunny, so that I left my Show plants out in the open in my daughters garden. While I was away at the Kent Group the plants were visited by a calamitous downpour. Doubtless the plants themselves were greatly refreshed, but I doubt if the judges were overimpressed by the soggy offerings that confronted them on the bench the next day!

On my return today I found the garden greatly advanced in five days. Apparently there had been a three degree frost on the Wednesday night which had spoilt the Rhododendron 'Christmas Cheer' featured last week, but in the meantime Rh. barbatum (first) and Rh. 'cilipense' had come into full flower and were untouched. The former has 50 trusses for the first time.

Down South

Ypsi-what?
One of the plants I had lifted from the garden before I left and was in quite good condition on Saturday was Ypsilandra tibetica. This frightful mouthful of a name is undemanding in a cool leafy spot, although it flowers so early that it is liable to become rather spoilt in the open garden. It is very obviously a relative of the Helionopsis species, but a good deal more attractive than most and flowers much earlier. It is easy to propagate by division and is becoming freely available in the UK at about £5 ($10). The Joint Rock Garden Committee will propose it for an Award of Garden Merit as it seems to be a sound performer in most parts of the British Isles.

Ypsi-what?

Soggy Sunday
I didn't get home until late afternoon today and it has poured with rain all day. I put on boots and a coat to see if I could photograph some newly flowered plants, and here is the Oregon beauty Olsynium douglasii absolutely saturated. I was lucky to see lots of this in flower in April 2001 when kindly invited to visit the North-West on an ARGS Lecture Tour. Viewing it in the wild, it seemed an unlikely candidate to be a vigorous, trouble-free plant for the open garden here in Northumberland, but if grown in leaf mould in fairly good drainage, so it has proved. I have divided it many times and grow it in many places in the garden.

Soggy Sunday

Saxy plants
Now for a couple of European Porophyllum saxifrages. This is a group I love more than most, and they grow quite well here. However, birds love to peck at the unprotected flowers of the white and pink flowered species, and this often ruins the display. First is S. burserana, growing vertically in a limestone crevice (the smaller one alongside has yet to flower), and then the yellow-flowered S. juniperinifolia, a mostly Caucasian species that I have seen growing on acidic rocks high in the Rila mountains in Bulgaria.

Saxy plants

What big flowers you have!
A quick visit to the alpine house to finish. Several of my Primula allionii have yet to flower, but 'Val' is fully out. Not everyone likes the large-flowered varieties, but I think 'Val' is one of the better varieties.

What big flowers you have!

I meant to say earlier that one of the interesting features of my journey south was that several regular readers of this diary noted that the timing of many plants featured in Northumberland had been almost identical this spring to that in Surrey and Kent. This is interesting as our early spring plants are usually a good deal later than those further south. Our winters may be no colder than those further south, but I cannot argue but that they are darker and the days shorter.

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