A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: 25 March 2007 by John Richards
Northumberland Diary. Entry 29.
Spring moves on
Well, we did have a couple of frosts last week as promised, down to -3C, but the damage could have been much worse. The Rhododendron 'cilipense' was wrecked, but it had been in flower for three weeks and was already starting to fall. Various pieris and camellias, just starting into flower, were untouched, although my neighbour's 'Donation', in a more exposed place, resembles a Carrolian bush, covered with teabags. Amazingly, the Rhododendron barbatum soldiers on into its fourth week, although it has lost the brilliance of youth.
On the plus side many plants have come into flower during the week, despite the at times penetrating cold. Here are the European Erythronium dens-canis and the American E. tolumnense which fight it out in a rather overgrown piece of shrubbery. Both are tough and semi-invasive here.
I showed a couple of tough early Porophyllum saxifrages last week, but this week has been saxifrage central, and unlike the last couple of years, they have flowered moderately well this year. Consequently I have decided to devote the remainder of this weeks contribution to saxifrages.
All of the remainder I am showing belong to section Porophyllum proper, but I am starting with S. x kochii, the hybrid between the purple saxifrage S. oppositifolia, found round much of the northern hemisphere, and the much more local (and plain) high alpine S. biflora. Recently, Don Peace raised a stunning seedling of this cross, 'Firebrand' but the plant figured was distributed many years ago by the late Duncan Lowe. It is straightforward in a trough, but likes to be repropagated occasionally.
Two Greek species
Travelling the Greek mountains in summer, the Porophyllum saxifrages are usually long over flower at moderate levels, but provide the opportunity to collect a pinch of seed. The next two photos figure S. marginata from above the Vikos gorge, and S. scardica from the north (non-reserve) side of Olimbos, both grown from seed collected 20 years ago. They are long-lived and reliable in troughs.
A Bulgarian beauty
Staying on the theme of eastern European saxifrages grown from wild seed, here is S. ferdinandi-coburgi grown from seed collected in the southern Pirin in 1992. One of a number of seedlings raised, this is a particularly beautiful form, although flowering can be rather sparse.
On to some hybrids. The old dark red cross S. x anglica 'Winifred' has been a strong and persistent grower, and despite its three-way parentage, a surprisingly good parent to modern crosses. Hybridizers have found that hybrids with the Himalayan S. poluniniana give rise to vigorous free-flowering plants of a good red, and many of these S. x poluanglica crosses (four-way hybrids) have been raised. Here are three of the best, growing together. The larger plant is Brian Burrow's 'Peter Burrow', and the other two are the Czech-raised 'Tvuj Uspech' (which translates as 'Your Success'), and 'Red Poll' (right).
This is followed by what I believe to be 'Allendale Joy', raised just ten miles from here by Ray Fairbairn. However I lost the label early in its history here, and the name has been queried. Whatever its name, it is a vigorous grower of a very good colour.
Here are a couple of wonderful old hybrids for the open garden, both over a century old and still full of vigour. S. 'Gregor Mendel' (originally known as S. x apiculata) is followed by S. 'Cranborne'.
Not all the modern hybrids persist, or are good plants in the open garden. However, 'Franz Liszt' seems to be a good doer in a trough, and flowers freely.