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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 14 March 2016 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 312.

Snowdrop calvalcade

One of the boons of the cold early spring we have suffered in the North-East has been a snowdrop season which has proved even more protracted than usual. The majority are still at their best in mid-March and many have remained in good condition for six weeks or more. It has helped that there has been virtually no snow, nor violet rain or hailstorms, and, whatever else you say about snowdrops, the spring flowering varieties will tolerate any amount of frost.

I was going to pass by on the other side and write about something else, but 'Trumps' caught my eye (its good at that!, one of the most distinctive varieties) and one thing led to another, and I was rooting around, relabelling and photographing a number of varieties not featured here before. To start with, here IS Galanthus 'Trumps'.

Snowdrop calvalcade

'Trumps' is I suppose a 'viridipicis', with green-marked outers. By far the most vigorous of its kind here is the much taller and earlier 'Warei', with its characteristically long spathe (the overhanging semi-membranous bract which envelops the flower pedicel). I have featured this before and mentioned how we found it far from habitation down a 'green lane' footpath near here, where I can only suppose that it had been dumped with garden rubbish.

Galanthus 'Warei'

Another eye-catcher is  a double snowdrop with very large green marks on the outer inners, if that makes any sense. I have lost the label to this, but looking at my accession cards, I believe that I acquired it as 'Cordelia', although it does not fully match the description in 'Snowdrops', the galanthomaniacs bible, and might as easily be 'Jaquenetta'.

Here is another double, this time one from the north of this county which I have christened 'Eslington Double'. It first caught my eye as almost lacking any green marking on the inners, although this is variable. Often the mark is very small and almost circular, as shown on one flower here, but it can also be nearly 'normal' at times. The long slender dark green pedicel is also characteristic.

Galanthus 'Eslington Double'

The Eslington estate proved a good source of interesting snowdrops, and the next one, 'Eslington Halfer' has received a limited circulation. Despite being at the south of the wild distribution of Galanthus nivalis 'Sandersii' (the Northumberland yellow snowdrop), we did find a few yellows there. However, when yellows occur, similar plants with pale, but less yellow ovaries and inner markings are also found, and these are known as 'Halfers' (originally so-called by the late Diana Aitchison of Spindlestone). We now know that genetically and physiologically, 'Halfers' are effectively the same as 'Yellows' (perhaps with a minor modifying gene), and 'Eslington Halfer' was originally used in the scientific investigation that revealed this. In fact the amount of yellow in this clone varies, and they seem to be especially yellow this year. For an almost yellow snowdrop, it is particularly large and vigorous (most tend to be small and rather miffy).

Galanthus 'Eslington Halfer'

Not all the yellow snowdrops here can be classified within 'Sandersii' and the well-known Galanthus 'Primrose Warburg' seems to be a cross between a 'Sandersii' and G. plicatus. Both it and 'Spindlestone Surprise' originated with Diana Aitchison at Spindlestone in the north of Northumberland, and are sister seedlings of very similar appearence.

Galanthus 'Primrose Warburg'

I mentioned that Galanthus 'Eslington Double' is characterised by its long hanging pedicels, and this feature is of course best seen in a very popular old single nivalis variety 'Magnet'. This is one of the later snowdrops here; I don't know if this is generally found to be true.

One final snowdrop before we pass on, and certainly one of the latest here, a G. plicatus variety from Evelyn Stevens' garden in Perthshire known as 'The Linns' (as is her garden).

Galanthus plicatus 'The Linns'

Here is a rather hidden part of the garden with masses of Galanthus woronowii and Primula vulgaris ssp. sibthorpii.

Some crocuses from seed.

In my last contribution I featured two Greek crocuses, C. pelistericus and C. cvijcii, grown from seed, which appreciate being kept in continuous growth. Since then, a second flush of seed-grown crocuses have come into flower, all grown from Gothenburg Botanic Garden seed.

Crocus malyi, from the Dalmatian coast area, is a relative of C. vernuus which we saw there growing in limestone grassland well above the tree-line two springs ago. I believe C. malyi grows lower, in the forest zone, and flowers much earlier, in March, so we saw no sign of it when we were there. This is the third time I have flowered it. This year, three corms have produced flowers, sadly not all at the same time, the bugbear of seed-grown bulbs.

Crocus malyi

Crocus kosaninii, a Bulgarian relative of C. sieberi, is also flowering for the first time.

Crocus kosaninii

However, this is the second year I have flowered C. reticulatus, another Balkan species.

Crocus reticulatus

I have had two flowering size corms of Crocus leichtlinii for some years. It seems never to multiply, and when precious and scarce crocus seed comes in very small quantities, this can be a problem for non-multiplying species. Incidentally, this is one of very few bulbs growing in pots that survived the massacre of 2009/10 when I lost more than 80% of my stocks when they were frozed solid for six weeks. This explains in part why so many crocuses here are just reaching flowering maturity.

Crocus leichtlinii

Before we leave 'bulbous' subjects, I am delighted to be flowering for the first time a form of Iris aucheri. Although I used to grow a few of the easier 'junos' outside before the 2009 debacle (I. orchioides, I. magnifica) I had never really succeeded with any in pots. I acquired the present plant as quite a small seedling about five years ago, and have nursed it carefully in a 'long-tom', so for me in this damp cool humid garden, this is quite a triumph. I think this dark violet form is quite unusual?

Iris aucheri violet form

I am finding that to grow really robust, well-flowered Corydalis solida in the garden, you can't beat planting them in a really rich mix with plenty of garden compost. With me, they seem not to particularly enjoy pot culture, and if I am particularly impressed by a clump, I dig it up for exhibition. This is 'Beth Evans', or conceivably a seedling of it, I have long since lost track and they do seed around.

Corydalis solida 'Beth Evans'

Most of my Erythroniums are scarcely through the ground, except the ubiquitous E. tuolumnense of course which is just starting to flower in a few places. Even E. dens-canis is only just breaking the ground. However, the plant shown here, grown from seed, is well into flower in two different places. It has short entire stigmas which reduces the choice to E. citrinum and E. howellii. I had thought them to be the former, but I cannot see the sacs at the tepal bases typical of that species and think they must be referable to E. howellii.

Erythronium howelii

Here is the other one.

Mouse alert

Heres a rather sad story. One of my 'bankers' for early shows as been Draba sphaeroides. There are very few Brassicaeae that flower this early (Kendal, at least, has a Brassicaceae class), and it can always serve for 'North America' as well, if trillums are not yet quite there. Its a good subject for a large pot which flowers reliably in early March, and which I at least don't find too difficult. I had been eyeing my plant for weeks,  not least because it had set buds which didn't seem to be developing. Finally I put my glasses on, to find that I was looking at bitten-off stems. A mouse, presumably, had eaten almost every one! No, not at all funny. I have now set several traps, but I guess it knew that no buds were left.

Mouse alert

Alphabet taxonomy.

I shall let you into a secret. When I have problems getting to sleep, instead of counting sheeep, for a given genus I try to think of a species starting with every letter of the alphabet. Very sad I know, but who knows, it may yet help to keep my marbles intact as I age!  Naturally, 'q', 'x' ,'y; and 'z' are particular problems, although roman numerals are a blessing for 'q' (Rhododendron quinquefolium) as is a certain Chinese province (Primula qinghaiensis). Japan serves us well for 'y' (Rhododendron yakusimanum, Primula yuparensis), and central Asia for 'z' (Fritillaria zagrica, Tulipa and Iris zenaidae), and there is a reasonable chance that anything yellow may start with 'x' (Lilium xanthellum, Rhododendron xanthostephanum). You can't have Rh. xanthocodon, I only accept currently valid species! Curiously, the letter 'n' can be very difficult to resource, unless plants come from high alpine areas (Primula nivalis, Rhododendron nivale). So far I know of two genera which have a species for every letter, unsurprisingly both huge (Rhododendron and Primula). I don't know of a Fritillaria beginning with  'x', and Crocus, surprisingly, lacks several letters (q,x,y and z, C. zonatus is now C. kotschyanus!).

PS For a less than enormous genus, Dianthus is a remarkably good bet, but lacks a 'q', and, I think, a 'y'. Any offers? Also, I thought Fritillaria was 'grand slam', but seems to lack an 'x'?.

I hope I haven't spoilt my little game too much for you. Its good for long car journeys too, but only when shared with other madmen/women! The best fun is when you try a smallish genus and try to fit 50-odd species into 26 letters.

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