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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 04 March 2008 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 65.

Bulb troughs
A bit late with this week's entry, having been south to visit the excellent Harlow Show, and to stay with my daughter. Just before I left the north last week, I spent a lovely sunny morning at our Botanic Garden (Moorbank) at Newcastle. I had promised a few more pictures from here, and the troughs were looking so sensational, mass planted with common dwarf bulbs, that I couldn't resist posting a few pictures.

Bulb troughs

You may well ask what the containers are. In fact they were designed to hold rainwater drained from the glasshouse roofs and are, I think, galvanised cast iron. They were provided with drainage in the form of basal drainage pipes (originally provided with valves), so all that has been necessary is to prop them up on breeze blocks, fill them with free-draining compost (very proud, to allow for settling), plant and top-dress. They are full of alpines as well, but dwarf bulbs have been a great success in spring and autumn. Some have been in place three years and have increased vigorously.

Here is Crocus sieberi 'tricolor'.

These two photos show Crocus 'Cream Beauty' and are followed by 'Snow Bunting'.

Looking good elsewhere in the garden is what we received many years ago as Narcissus cyclamineus. This thrives on the heavy rich soils derived from Newcastle's Town Moor, that has been pasture for more than a millenium. The identity of this plant has been doubted because the perianth segments are not fully reflexed. I believe that this character can vary in wild populations, so these plants may be true to name and not hybrid. Anyone with an opinion on the matter, please post it on the discussion page for this diary.

Clearly the way to stimulate discussion is to get something wrong! Thank you David Hoare and Adrian Young for telling me that the plant figured two entries ago was not Saxifraga burserana 'Falstaff' but S. x irvingii 'His Majesty'. As I have an index card for the latter, I am sure this is right and thank you for this information, and for posting beautiful pictures of forms of the true plant.

I enjoyed showing some of my petiolarid primulas at Harlow. Here is Primula moupinensis from a CDR collection. This can be a rather straggly plant, but I have been raising plants from seed and selecting better forms for some years now, and the present plant awarded a PC and cultural commendation is a lovely thing. Previous awards given to this name have in fact been for P. hoffmanniana (BC, 1998) and the inferior P. moupinensis subsp. barkamensis (2001).

I am showing Primula nana again, if only to emphasise that the same plant that featured its first flowers before Christmas is still showworthy!

Beacon box

On the Sunday after the Show, the family drove to Ivinghoe Beacon and walked round the horseshoe of hills. Just below the car-park, on beautiful species-rich chalk grassland, I was delighted to find several thickets of what is clearly native box (Buxus sempervirens), any exceptionally rare native plant with only a handful of British sites. Curiously, the magisterial 'New Atlas of the Brirtish and Irish Flora (2002) does not give this as a native site, but I am sure it must be. I forgot to take my camera, so I picked a sprig to photograph later. What an interesting plant it is when flowering! (of course, when we snip it into shape in the garden we never see the flowers).

Beacon box
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