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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 29 March 2011 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 178.

Rhodos at Moorbank

 We held our first NGS opening  at the Newcastle University Botanic Garden, Moorbank, on Sunday, the days after the Northumberland Show in Hexham, our home town, so we had a busy weekend! Luckily the sun shone on Sunday and about 150 people came to the Botanic Garden, so we were well pleased, not least because the garden looked superb in the sunshine. Most of our rhodos have been frosted here at home, but at Moorbank they were in better condition. The garden less than a mile from the centre of the City and only 10 miles from the coast, so Moorbank definitely has a milder climate than we do; also it tends to be protected from convective frosts during  anticyclones with easterlies by sea mists which we do not get. Most of the older rhodos originated in Randle Cooke's garden, Kilbryde, and some must by now be nearly 100 years old.

Here is a general view of some of the rhodos with Rh. thomsonii (tall red), Rh. calophytum (whitish), Rh. souliei (pink)  and the cinnamon leaves of Rh. bureavii.

Rhodos at Moorbank

 A selection of the bigger rhodos now in flower follows. First Rh. thomsonii and then Rh. calophytum.

 A nice lilac  form of Rh. campanulatum, with dark leaves, followed by two more recent Clark introductions, very good forms of Rh. vernicosum (pink) and Rh. irroratum (white).

 There are some nice 'dwarf' (but now ancient and huge) Lapponicum hybrids there too, for instance 'Impeanum' (a Rh impeditum hybrid) and 'Augfast', the cross between the Lapponicum Rh fastigiatum and the lovely Triflorum series species Rh augustinii, named for the Irishman Augustine Henry.

 Here are some alpines which were flowering at Moorbank on Sunday, all of which had originated with us, mostly from seed. First, a couple of European primulas, P. hirsuta from wild Austrian seed, and P. marginata, grown from seed we collected from the roadside into Italy above the French Roya Valley. I like the leaves of the latter.

 Primula 'Clarence Elliott' was propagated from my Show plant which got a blue card on Saturday in a big class. Val Lee thinks it is less blue than 'CE' should be, and I think that it seems to have got less blue over the years. Possibly the colour is temperature related?

 One of the casualties expected last winter was the Balearic endemic Helleborus lividus, as it is not very hardy, and the parent of the Moorbank plant died the winter before the last one, during that cold spell (under glass). Not so its offspring which survived last winter outside unprotected in a south-facing well-drained site. It was covered with deep snow during the coldest spell which may have contributed to its survival.

 Moving bulbwards, Puschkinia scilloides is a magnificent sight in raised beds. Both this and Scilla mischenkoana are a great success here and provide continuity, the one flowering a month after the other.

 In the open garden, plantings of tulips and scillas are at their best. Here is Tulipa 'Johann Strauss' (a kaufmanniana selection) with Scilla sibirica.

 Narcissus 'Jetfire' is one of my mid-season favourites, vigorous, colourful, and doesn't lodge.

 In the background of the last photo you can see some Anemone blanda. We have planted this in a number of places and the plantings have started to self-sow and naturalise. A great garden plant!

 Two super spring shrubs at Moorbank. Both originated at Kilbryde, Randle Cooke's garden. First is the very unusual Viburnum grandiflorum 'Donald Lowndes'. V. grandiflorum is of course the other parent, with V. farreri of the much feted V. x bodnantense. Unlike its offspring, Donald Lowndes flowers all at once, at the end of March, making a brave show. It is uncommon as it has proved very difficult to propagate, only occasionally yielding to layering.

 Here is Corylopsis pauciflora. This plant in full light is a mass of flower every year.

Some early woodlanders from near Hexham.

 Just north of where the North Tyne meets the South Tyne are some ancient woodlands on the river bank, collectively called Howford Banks, although informally called 'Watersmeet' around here. The site is an SSSI, and is a mass of spring flowers at present. Here a couple of shots of the wood anemones, A. nemorosa.

Some early woodlanders from near Hexham.

 Interestingly, in the last photo you can see the seedlings of Himalayan Balsam, Impatiens glandulifera. This tends to support the theory, espoused by Richard Mabey in his book 'Weeds' which I am reading at present, that this aggressive alien does little damage to most of the local flora, as this ephemeral woodland flora has disappeared underground long before the balsam has reached its full dominance.

This is also true of the wild daffodils. There are several splendid colonies of the native Narcissus pseudonarcissus along these woodlands. Unfortunately, colonies of garden daffs have also sprung up where flood water has deposited them from villages higher up the river. Luckily, these are mostly absent from where the wildlings grow, and their seedlings (and they are multiplying apace at present) appear to be pure. However, elsewhere I have recognised 'King Alfred', 'Tete a Tete', N. poeticus, and even 'Queen Anne's Double' (just one!). There is also the plant I featured last week and which my friend David Boyd tells me is probably 'February Silver'. Thank you Davy!

 The reason I had gone to Howford was that a friend had told me that the Gagea lutea was flowering this year (neither of us had seen flowers of this shy-flowering native bulb there for seven years: perhaps the warm dry weather had played a part). Mostly, it seems to grow in company with the wild daffodils near the waters edge.


 By the way, the leaf in the foreground of the last picture was also of Gagea. Mostly, this is all you see, and need to distinguish from bluebell seedlings!



One last plant from Howford Banks, the larger and much rarer of the two native golden saxifrages, Chrysoplenium alternifolium. This has much in common whith that good garden plant the Chinese C. davidianum, such excellent ground cover, but it is much too precious to be removed to our gardens!!





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