A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: 06 March 2011 by John Richards
Northumberland Dairy. Entry 175.
Bulbs at Moorbank
On occasion, while writing this diary I have strayed from my own garden to discuss the second garden we help to run, the Botanic Garden at Newcastle University where I used to be Director and now organise the volunteers outside together with my wife Sheila (who is a much better Organiser than I am!). This is the peak time for the early spring bulbs, and although I showed a few of these in my contribution two weeks ago, there was far more colour when we gardened there last Friday.
I am very fond of the old hybrids between Crocus chryanthus and C. biflorus and at Moorbank we have found them extremely persistent and vigorous, forming large clumps. In places they have been planted around small trees, where soils is relatively dry during their summer rest, and they seem to like this. Here are two edits from a larger picture, showing Crocus 'Violet Queen, tommasinianus, 'Snow Bunting', 'Cream Beauty', 'Gypsy Girl', and 'E.A. Bowles'.
Here are close-ups of Crocus chysanthus 'Gypsy Girl', and 'Blue Pearl'. 'Gypsy Girl' is one of my favourites and a very good garden plant, so I was surprised that it had not been included in the RHS trial of small spring-flowering crocus which has just been reported in 'The Plantsman' 10: 2--27. As far as I can see it is a straight C. chrysanthus, and I have seen very similar plants growing in the vicinity of the Vikos Gorge in northern Greece.
Another really excellent spring crocus, vigorous and beautiful in a wide variety of conditions is 'Violet Queen'. Again, I am surprised this did not figure in the RHS trial, but, then again, I suppose I should have sent it in! Perhaps it did not figure as its parentage is said to be something of a mystery. It is sometimes said to be a selection of C. sieberi, but if so, it is certainly a hybrid, being sterile, vigorous and lacking the yellow throat to the flower which is so typical of that species. At leat one friend says it is a selection of C. tommasinianus, but it is a good deal larger and with a different shaped flower. Mostly likely it is a cross of C. vernus, perhaps including several different species.
Some of the plantings at Moorbank are in old zinc water troughs, and here in particular that lovely selection of Crocus sieberi subsp. sublimis from the northern Peloponnesos, 'Tricolor' is a great success. Here is is growing with old plantings of C. chrysanthus 'Cream Beauty', and Iris reticulata (each clump started as a single bulb!; they have now grown into one another).
At home, in our much colder garden, Crocus sieberi 'Tricolor' is a good deal less vigorous, but looks in fact more in character, as one finds it in the wild.
Last week I featured a couple of rhododendrons from my own garden, and as predicted the flowers succumbed to three quite sharp frosts (to -5C) we suffered in the bright high pressure weather the North (but not I believe the South) enjoyed last week. (Yesterday at Loughborough, that great meeting place for the different regions, there was much moaning to be heard about how dull and sunless the South has been).
I was surprised how advanced some of the rhodos at Moorbank were, and unlike ours, this more protected inner-city garden had largely escaped damage. Here is a general view, showing Rh. thomsonii, Rh. calophytum. and the indumentum of Rh. bureavii (which was opened up a bit by the heavy snow; I think it will 'come back' in time). I am also figuring the wonderful potent buds of Rh. calophytum.
Each of the large Cornus mas are in full flower at Moorbank. I can't understand why this decorative early trees is not grown more often. It is completely frost-proof!
I grow (grew?) Daphne bholua 'Jacqueline Postill' both at Moorbank and at home. Both were almost entirely defoliated, and I am still not sure whether the plant at home has survived. Certainly much of the above-ground growth has died. Not so the Moorbank plant which was planted in a sheltered spot near the front door to the glasshouses, where it is presently welcoming all-comers with great wafts of fragrance.
Back home, I have been enjoying that straightforward and long-lived corydalis, C. malkensis. As most will know, this is the plant formerly known as C. caucasica 'alba'. Whatever, its a good thing with a surprisingly long flowering time.
Some time ago I received a computing editing program as a 'freebie' with a piece of equipment, I can't remember, possibly my now rather antique Nikon D50. It is called 'Nero photoshop' and it has the simplest, most effective and foolproof, not to say rapid editing suite I know. Doubtless if you are into complexities it is very naive, but it suits me just fine. I edit almost every photo I keep, certainly all the ones I use, and it is remarkable what it can do in a very short time; I rarely take more than 15 seconds over any one photo.
Here is an example. While I was talking to Robert Rolfe and others in the Loughborough Show Hall yesterday, I fired off rather a random shot of the Hall. On that gloomy day there was a lot of very yellow illumination, and, not surprisingly the focus and exposure varied catastrophically down the hall. This is that the original shot looked like.
Dreadful! Normally I would just have junked it, but I thought I would see what I could rescue, so I abandoned the overexposed out-of-focus corydalis in the foreground, took out a good deal of red, increased the light and contrast and used the sharpening tool. Here is the result. Still not great, but nearly useable.
The final two plants should be elsewhere on the website, but they were subject to the same sort of 15 second edit, and have ended up viewable. The first is Geoff Rollinson's wonderful Fritillaria alburyana and the second the best poculiform snowdrop I have seen, so like Fritillaria liliacea! Sorry, I don't know the exhibitor's name.