A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: 19 May 2008 by John Richards
Northumberland Diary. Entry 75.
Fare thee well, so long, farewell........
Southport Show on Saturday was the last Show I and many other northern exhibitors will be attending until the autumn, a shame because I am sure many of us have some great plants coming along. The Summer Show (South) in Dorset is much too far for many of us to travel, and Pershore is nearly a five hour drive from here, even if I had suitable plants in July, which is unlikely. Unfortunately, East Anglia has come forward from its very useful late May date to double up with other venues in the crowded spring schedule. It is very good to hear rumours that the Summer Show (North) may be returning in mid June next year, although personally I shall miss the delightful cricket-ground-side venue at Headingley (no, not THAT cricket ground!). Also, it seems extraordinary that the Show Secretary elect, however welcome, comes from outwith the county (just!). Noble fellow!
Having said which, I found I had very little to offer on Saturday. I quite like this little Androsace, A. cantabrica, a north-west Spanish member of the A. carnea contingent, with leanings towards A. lactiflora. This two-year old plant was grown in the alpine house, but it has done well outside in a crevice bed as well.
Another plant I grow both in a pot and in a crevice bed outside (this time within a large trough) is that great saxifrage relative from the Rocky Mountains, Telesonix jamesii. I think I featured this last year, but it goes from strength to strength and the plant I took to Southport has no less than seven spikes of flowers. Unable to be entered in the Saxifraga class (Saxifragaceae would have been useful!) it had to complete in the rough and tumble of the Americas. Here is the plant that thrives outside.
Its a long time since I mentioned the crevice bed (finished just over a year ago), so here are two more plants from here. First is Draba condensata that seems to be setlling in well. This is one of six different American drabas I have been trialling, mostly in the Alpine House. The best seems to be the very attractive D. ventosa and D. condensata will never make an exhibition plant. but it certainly has its place in the garden.
Here is one of the brilliant Ashwood 'Carosel' hybrid lewisias, so much easier to grow outside here than the cotyledons.
No-one has yet spotted the crass mistake in the last diary entry, where I named the rather horrid giant corydalis smothering Trillium grandiflorum as C. nobilis. The latter is indeed a big plant but much more classy and with cream to white, dense spikes of flowers. I am not sure what the present offender is, perhaps C. ochroleuca in a superior form, but in any case I no longer grow it although the trilliums look a bit bereft without the support.
The other mistake is considerably less culpable, and a good example of how vital a good card index or other reference system is to the elderly and those with failing memories. In the last entry I proudly displayed my newly acquired omphalogramma, relating breathlessly that another one had come through the ground and was about to flower. When I checked my records, I found that I had indeed acquired the same species (i.e. as O. forrestii, which it is not) from the same source (Edrom) in 2006. I had entirely forgotten this, not least because I am almost sure that it failed to put in an appearence at all in 2007, so I had not unreasonably assumed it was dead and had forgotten it. Not at all, and here it is, showing how much dwarfer O. vincaeiflorum can be when grown in the open ground. By the way, O. vincaeiflorum is the only species with a narrow cylindrical corolla tube and flat-faced flower, so it must be this.
Time for a roam around the garden to look at some rather larger things at this productive time of year. Firstly a couple of May rhododendrons that have done rather better than the April ones. Here is Rh. campylogynum, followed by that good Rh. ludlowii cross, 'Chikor'. I have had the latter for 30 years, and it always flowers well; one of the earliest Cox crosses, and still one of the best.
The Red Flag
This is a Meconopsis punicea year here. I say this, because although I am on my fifth or sixth generation of this monocarpic species, I have yet had the sense or foodhardiness to hang on to some seeds (in the 'fridge) for an extra year so that I have alternating generations. So, one year I have seed and seedlings, and the next year flowers. This year I am flowering about 10, five here and five in the Botanic Garden.
Many people find so-called M. punicea seed fails to germinate. This is because the capsules swell anyway and contain non-developed dried ovules that look much like the seed of other meconopsis species. The actual seed is much larger, the size of grapeshot. Seed is only set when a cross occurs between two different individuals (self-incompatibility). Here, anyway, I have found that pollen is only shed from the anthers after the petals have dropped, so it is necessary to find a withered flower, take the anthers, now with abundant dust-like pollen, and cross it onto the stigma of the flower of another plant.
Near the meconopsis another favourite is starting to flower. Glaucidium palmatum is not always easy to establish, but once it has found its niche in a humid, sheletered, deep but well-drained soil, it is very permanent, and comes at a rush through any old rubbish, here vigorous ground cover such as Lamiastrum galeobdolon and Ajuga. At this stage it looks modest, but later it lifts its head and forms a robust plant, equal to most invaders.
Another two beautiful woodlanders that are good competitors in the wilder parts of my garden follow. The first, like glaucidium, is a Japanese member of the Paeoniaceae, the beautiful Paeonia obovata in the white form that seems to predominate in gardens in this country. Not only does this thrive here, but it self-sows, slightly spookily as I try to gather all the seed to send to the exchanges each year.
And here is Dicentra spectabilis, the 'bleeding heart', such a great 'Cottage Garden' (for which read 'I can't be bothered to weed') plant.
This entry could go on and on! Here are a couple of combinations I am pleased with the first planned and the second more or less accidental. Here the gorgeous fire-red Ribes speciosum links with Ceanothus 'Puget Blue'.
In the second, the difficult-to-place Euphorbia griffithii combines with Polemonium carneum and Pentaglottis sempervirens. The latter is a weed here, but is tolerated when, as here, it goes well with other things.
I am finishing with a true harbinger of spring, the orange tip butterfly. Here a female rests, showing the beautifully camoflaged underwing.