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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 21 March 2013 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 239.

More misery

Here we are, in the throes of what should be spring (and, certainly, there are quite a few flowers to see, at least under glass) and winter persists. I know the whole country has been suffering, but we have seen indications of 7 and 8C 'down south', while here in the North-East it sticks stubbornly at 3C, with a biting wind, sleet (snow above 150 m). What has compounded my present pessimism is that the forecast for Friday night and Saturday is so bad, particularly in the southern Pennines around Whitworth, that I have already decided not to go to the E Lancs show. This is a particular disappointment after the cancellation of Loughborough two weeks ago, but it really is just not worth the hassle, and I have to say that I am now secretly relieved not to have to worry about it. From here I would either have to drive over Shap (M6) or over Saddleworth Moor (M62), and either route is promised '30-40 cm snow' during what is promised to be 48 hours of almost continuous snowfall.

Carol Kennett tells me that they are progressing with arrangements for the present, and will decide whether to call the Show off or not on Friday. I am sure this is wise counsel as this sort of dire forecast has been known to be wrong before, but I think most of my plants will be better at Cleveland anyway. I did wonder whether it would be possible to hold a replacement Show either in Whitworth or Loughborough on May 25th when there is no other Show, but this would of course need a hall to be free, which at two months notice is probably unlikely. With modern communications of email and website, it would be easy enough to tell exhibitors and other members.

Last weekend I was honoured to give the Len Beer Lecture in Bangor, staying with John and Pam Good, and I was interested (pleased would be too much schadenfreude) to note that they were just as much stuck in the grips of winter as we are. A visit to Bodnant the following morning was particularly frigid, and all the camellias were either frosted or had not yet opened. And not a sign of any magnolia flower!

It seems a particular cheat to feature flowers in the garden of a fellow diarist, but I could not conceal my admiration for the largest Helichrysum plumeum I have ever seen, even larger than the specimen that graced R B Cooke's wall at Kilbryde all those years ago.



More misery

I was also pleased to see what John says is the genuine Corydalis solida 'George Baker', a name very frequently taken in vain. Ceratinly it is a lovely dark red, and I have no doubt he is right. They are ahead of us here; our corydalis are yet to open.

One more picture from John's super garden, the best Saxifraga oppositifolia 'Splendens' I have seen, quite untouched by the ghastly weather, and so beautifully tucked up against a rock.

Early saxifrages bring me back to my own garden, where yet another fall of snow a few days ago highlighted the charms of Saxifraga scardica. This is a super garden plant, at 25 years old much longer lived than many of the newer hybrids, and very weather resistant.

Saxifraga juniperinifolia from further north-east in Greece is another early hardy species, flowering in a neighbouring trough.

Staying with Porophyllum species, the Iranian Saxifraga wendelboi is flowering too. This lives in a plunge, but I have brought it into the alpine house while it is in flower. it is very close to some of the S. marginata I grow; probably only a geographical form of it.

We had a really crunching frost last night, -5C in the alpine house, and the garden was frozen stiff at breakfast. Here are a couple of 'Narnia' photos. No sign of Tilda Swinton!

The pond was frozen solid, which will doubtless put paid to the piles of frogspawn which was optimistically laid there during the week. In my experience the spawn does not survive freezing, and I shall have to bale it out before it gets rank and smelly!

The alpine houses, too, were glittering with ice.

Inside, things were more cheerful. I lifted the white Lebanon form of Primula vulgaris a couple of weeks ago, hoping to take it to E Lancs on Saturday. At least it is giving me pleasure!

Primula allionii 'Lismore Jewel' and P. 'Lindum Moonlight' are nearly at their best, but should hold on for next weekend and even the wekend after.

I wouldn't have taken Primula kialensis to the show but it certainly should be ready in nine days. This is a nice little chasmophyte which I have seen growing on the cliffs in a side valley at Wolong in 2007, before this area was so devastated by earthquake. The second picture shows it out of flower on these cliffs. It is a realtive of P. yunnanesis, but like P. rupicola and P. membranifolia, is probably more perennial than that little biennial.

In the alpine house another crocus has opened, the Bulgarian alpine C. kosaninii this time. This is a nice little northern relative of C. sieberi, with distinctive striped flowers.

You don't see many dionysias in this diary. The garden is just too sheltered and humid for them to flourish, even under glass. But I am growing a few small plants in the larger, drier alpine house at the moment, and the nice hybrid 'Lycaena', between D. archibaldii and D. curviflora, is flowering now.

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