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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 30 March 2014 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 267.

Best in Show

I started last week's contribution by commenting on the absence of a Farrer medal at the Kendal Show due to the overwhelming presence of the previous week's winner. Judging my comments made to me at Hexham yesterday, most exhibitors seem to agree with my sentiments, and there seems a chance that regulations will be changed so that a plant will not be eligible for 'best in show, once it has won a Farrer in that season.

However, the mild controversy that the Kendal decision spawned pales into insignificance compared with the shenanigans that occurred at Kent, the same day. For those of you 'out of the loop' (and, although reported in the Show section of this website, I was unaware of this until I was told yesterday), the 'best in show' was awarded to a plant that had been 'NAS-ed' (i.e. deemed illegitimate according to schedule). A Farrer was not given, and despite comments that this decision might have reflected upon the legitimacy of the plant, pictures suggest that, worthy as it was, Eric Jarrett's delightful Townsendia was not really of Farrer standard. Looking at some of the other plants at that Show, a white Soldanella alpina comes to mind, and a Dionysia khusistanica seemed well up to scratch, one wonders if some other contenders might have done better.

However, these are just personal opinions, and the real point is that I am by no means alone in being totally amazed that a plant that had been 'NAS-ed' should even be considered for 'best in show'. Surely, if 'NAS-ed', a plant is no longer IN the Show, and so is not a contender by definition? Also, why wasn't the plant taken out of its illegal class prior to judging, and placed in another class where it was legitimate? Oh dear! Don't we all have fun!?

Foggy foggy dew

I have just spoken to my daughter on the telephone and she tells me that they are planning a barbeque this afternoon. My other daughter, on the other side of London, is hoping to walk in the Chilterns, and in both cases they anticipate warm sunshine in the low '20's. Even on Windermere, a radio journalist was reporting at breakfast time today that it was already 20C. Here, on the other side of the Pennines, facing the cold North Sea with an easterly wind, it is barely 6C with a clammy persistent fog. Those of you who travelled to Hexham yesterday will know that it was not great then either. In fact we have suffered this 'fret' or persistent drizzle and a biting wind for the last two weeks now, during most of which time the rest of the country has basked in spring sunshine.

Let me say immediately that there is nothing new in this. During the early to mid spring easterlies tend to predominate, at a time when the North Sea is much colder than the land, giving rise to dismal weather on the east coast. This is a delightful part of the world, and I am very lucky to live here, but after nearly 45 years, the springs get no better!

By way of illustration, here is the garden an hour ago.

Foggy foggy dew

Daffodils, here good old Narcissus 'King Alfred', God bless him, are weighed down by redeposited water from the humidity.

Paeonia rockii, well budded, is covered with pearly droplets on the waxy hydrophobic leaf surface.

The young shoots of Clematis alpina become things of beauty.

One of the main reasons that I love meconopsis is that the leaves are delightful when spangled with dewdrops. Most of the deciduous species are not yet in growth, but I have found that the newly reintroduced Chinese M. betonicifolia (not the Tibetan M. baileyi) is earlier into growth that the latter and the blue hybrids, and is looking exciting.

Last week I mentioned that I had covered Rhododendron forrestii with a sleeping bag during the worst two frosts. This extra trouble has yielded the expected benefits, as the more than 20 bud clusters are now opening (only about half the spreading plant is shown here).

This is a plant I have known for many years, as it is a propagant from Randle Cooke's FCC form that grew on the wall at Kilbryde where I was responsible for its wellbeing for a few years after Cooke's death in 1973. I am grateful to Henry and Margaret Taylor who restored a piece into my custody about 20 years ago. I have always regarded it as one of the most exciting of all alpines, coming as it does from remote and very wet hillsides in south-east Tibet and extreme western China where the Coxes and their parties were able to meet up with it many decades after Kingdon Ward christened it 'Scarlet Runner'. Was there any plant with such vivid scarlet flowers?

Here is an old slide of the plant at Kilbryde, 40 years ago.

Much more mundane, but an almost equally good scarlet, is our form of Chaenomeles japonica which we grow on the pierced wall, entangled with honeysuckle and clematis.

Whereever possible, I like to grow plants in what I regard as a naturalistic position, and a north-facing limestone wall gives many opportunities for such conceits. Here is my favourite clone of Primula marginata, 'Shipton', which has now graced this mossy crevice for many years.

Faced with half-an-acre of land, most of which is gardened, and a creaking body, I am fond of decorative fillers, things which look after themselves, cover the ground, but are not invasive. One of the best in my conditions is Cardamine (formerly Dentaria) pentaphyllos.

Another is Pulmonaria obscura, originally grown from seed collected in the Auvergne many summers ago, which gently seeds around.

Finally, a few items in the alpine houses, firstly Androsace laevigata 'Gothenburg', a plant which I have trouble in flowering to Show standard. I suspect I might grow it a bit dry, as it grows in rather wet cliffs in the Columbia River Gorge.

Draba cappadocica was one of many items I thought might do well yesterday until faced with even stronger opposition(in this case a lovely D. acaulis).

Finally, the only two Auricula hybrids I have named, and given a limited distribution to, firstly 'Sheila'.

And secondly 'Ruby Tuesday'.

Down by the riverside

Last week I received intimation that the Gagea lutea in its local site near where the Rivers North and South Tyne meet was having a particularly good year, so on Sunday Sheila and I went for a walk in sunny but freezing conditions. We found 13 flowering stems (it is a shy flowerer and difficult to detect out of flower) and I believe there are 15 in total.

Down by the riverside

This one had no less than 8 flowers, an all-time record!

This is not the only classy native bulb there, as wild daffodils, Narcissus pseudonarcissus, flourish in large colonies. Sadly, as this is a flood plain, garden daffs get washed down, and there is a  suspicion that some have also been planted (large clumps of 'Tete a Tete' for instance). In some areas there are clear examples of hybrids between wild and garden daffs seeding, but in other areas the wild daffs have remained pure so far.

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