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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 25 March 2008 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 68.

March lions

It is not so unusual for March to go out like a lion; I can remember anxiously scanning weather forecasts before snowy Show Saturdays on many occasions before. Not often, however, was that Show the Cleveland Show which is held on Easter Saturday, as I believe that inconveniently moveable feast was last celebrated this early as long ago as 1915. In the event the Show itself was untroubled by the bad weather, although many transPennine exhibitors had an uncomfortable start to their journeys. Nevertheless, almost everyone in the UK suffered a most miserable Easter with considerable falls of snow, gale-force freezing winds and ice predominating.

'Real' alpines take this kind of thing in their stride. Here is a miscellany of bulbs (Fritillaria meleagris, Chionodoxa sardensis and Erythronium tolumnense), followed by Primula marginata in the 'cliff', Saxifraga ferdinandi-coburgii and Primula 'Arduaine', each with their little cap of snow. All were unblemished the next day.

March lions

Not so rhododendrons, the flowers of which are so easily damaged by cold weather. After this indignity, the flowers of Rh. chamaethomsonii 'pink form' soon turned to mush.

Head to head
What a fantastic garden plant Narcissus 'Tete a Tete' is! Just because it is mass planted in every garden, roundabout, park, and windowbox in the land doesn't mean that we should not enjoy its sterling qualities. This planting started with just six bulbs about 13 years ago; also the flowers last for weeks and are such a cheerful colour.

Head to head

A host of the most
Shortly after I wrote the last entry I went for a walk south from the garden to Letah Wood, two miles distant from here, and managed by the Woodland Trust. Although 'wild type' Narcissus pseudonarcissus occur in small quantities in many of our local woods, most sites are contaminated with garden varieties, with which the little natives unfortunately miscegenate. Also, there tend to be rather more natives in town gardens than in the countryside, the product one suspects of centuries of misappropriation by Hexham residents. However, the population at Letah Wood is still considerable (thousands of plants) and is racially 'pure'. Six days ago they were just coming into flower.

A host of the most

This really is a tiny plant, only about 15 cm high with very narrow leaves and narrow, bicolored, drooping flowers.

In the same site was one of our more charming spring natives, the 'Town Hall Clock', Adoxa moschatellina. This was successfully shown at Cleveland in the class for a native of the British Isles, by Norma Pagdin the Show Secretary. It is a curious little plant, classified in its own family in which there are also single Chinese species in each of the genera Sinadoxa and Tetradoxa.

Primula sinuata

Ron McBeath of Lamberton Nurseries is currently offering a strange little primula introduced by SSSE (the Sino-Scottish Sichuan Expedition). It was originally thought to be P. moupinensis, but that lovely species (figured on March 4th) is much larger, abundantly stoloniferous, and the exannulate flowers have a yellow throat. In fact the new plant is closer to the plant originally introduced as P. moupinensis, now correctly known as P. hoffmanniana. However the latter is also stoloniferous (although with thread-like 'strawberry' runners), is without meal (farina), and has a different calyx. Comparison with herbarium material shows that the SSSE plant is P. sinuata, a little-known non-stoloniferous species that has never been in cultivation previously.

A photo of P. sinuata is followed by one of P. hoffmanniana.

Primula sinuata

Staying with Chinese 'petiolarid' primulas for a moment, here is one of the new seedlings of P. sonchifolia that is flowering at present. I work hard at maintaining this lovely species, raising batches of new seedlings every year as I find it short-lived. It is also a variable species and this is one of the better seedlings raised recently. I am concentrating on the more attractive forms when choosing parents for crossing.

Finally, another seed-raised plant, one of the easiest Fritillaries here (I struggle with most 'frits' in pots). This is F. sewerzowii. Two of the seedlings raised are yellowish and two purplish, so it is useful for the 'to demonstrate variability from seed' classes.

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