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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 19 March 2008 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 67.

Midweek meander

Only six days since the last entry, but now I am travelling to Shows every weekend, a midweek contribution suits me better. Despite night frosts at night and perishing winds during the day, the sun is now on the garden for 10 hours and spring is moving on exorably, providing plenty of material for discussion. Having taken photographs of 26 subjects over the last two days, I looked through last year's contributions, only to find that I had featured nearly half of these last year. Although the cast changes annually (and seed is germinating fast as I write), sooner or later I shall run out of material. We shall see!

Three shrubs to start with. Corylopsis pauciflora was poor last year, having suffered from late frosts and aggressive weeds. I cleaned it out, top-dressed it, gave it a prune and it looks much better this spring, growing in a sheltered, semi-shaded corner. It keeps in scale here, and associates well with woodland alpines (mostly Trilliums and Erythroniums).

Midweek meander

Two viburnums
The 'winter-flowering' viburnums are familiar garden subjects. I am including them here to make a point. We have grown V. farreri and its hybrid V. x bodnantense 'Dawn' for most of our garden lives. Generally we found that although some flower could be found at any time from September to April, the main display was in late October and November. However, in the last couple of years this has been far from true, and the best display has been provided in early spring. Whether this is an attribute of 'climate change' remains to be seen. In fact the form of V. farreri we have has been a poor flowerer in general and its donor has destroyed his plant. However, our offset really is very good at the moment.

Two viburnums

Here is V. x bodnantense 'Dawn', as we suppose. We inherited this plant which must now be a considerable age, leaving a similar plant in our last garden.

Descending to the ground, daffodils (main crop!) are just starting here. Here is one of my favourite N. cyclamineus hybrids, 'Jetfire'.

One of the most successful early spring 'bulbs' for the open ground in this garden is, rather unexpectedly, the California and Oregon native Olsynium douglasii. It just adores a leafy acid soil and humidity and is easily propagated by division while in growth. It dies down at the end of May and it is important that the site is marked so that it is not 'planted over'.

Rhododendron chamaethomsonii is now in flower, as yet to be spoiled by frosts, and its close relative Rh. forrestii (featured) has opened a single flower. Some of the plants of the latter are well-budded; hopefully they will wait on a time when frosts become unlikely.

I pictured Corydalis 'Beth Evans' two weeks ago, and it is still superb. Elsewhere, a later form of C. solida has come into flower. This is a taller plant with different bracts and may be a hybrid. I acquired it on the members stall at the Loughborough Show in 1999 merely labelled 'pink form' and it may be without a name.

I was delighted to see that several plants of Primula spectabilis, grown from seed gathered above Lake Garda in 2003, are flowering moderately well in troughs. Most 'Arthritica' primulas (Pp. spectabilis, clusiana, wulfeniana and glaucescens) are easy  enough to grow, but are shy-flowering, especially as they age.

This gives me an excuse to pop inside the Alpine Houses, firstly to feature another European primula. I grow rather few P. allionii varieties, probably less than 10. Here is 'Ken's Seedling', that seems more vigorous than most.

Last year, Aberconwy nurseries were selling seedlings of Androsace delavayi in a white-flowered, Himalayan form. It has overwintered successfully and is now in full flower.

Finally, another rather tricky Himalayan high alpine, the purple-flowered Saxifraga lowndesii. This has a reputation for difficulty, and certainly it is not vigorous, but I have grown it for many years by plunging the pot in a cool humid site in summer, and bringing it into the alpine house in winter. Incidentally, I know that people have problems pronouncing its name, and not only those for whom English is not their first language! The trick is to forget the 'd', so that it becomes something like 'lowansee-eye'.

John Richards

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