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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 11 May 2009 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 115.

Garden opening
I guess this is the time of year when more of us open our gardens to visitors, or the general public than any other. We enjoyed welcoming a group (a HUGE bus, holding 42!) from Galloway last Thursday. They were later than expected, as the bus stuck in Hexham's narrow roads, but they stayed even later, bless them, and they were really excellent company, enthusiastic, cheerful and knowledgeable, and it didn't go amiss that the sun shone, even if it was very windy. An hour before they arrived I ran the mower over the lawn, not to cut the grass but merely to hoover up the twigs, leaves and bud scales that had been raining down on the pristine lawn, or 'moss' I should say! Here are a couple of views of the main part of the garden as it was when they came.

Garden opening

Visitors were kind enough to admire Meconopsis delavayi (see last week's entry) which had also come into flower outside, in a fishbox, and I am glad to say that Meconopsis aculeata and the 'scarlet flag' M. punicea  had opened too. In fact, altogether, five different mecs were in flower.

The 'scarlet flag' was growing with two colour forms of Primula chionantha, the white chionantha and the purple sinopurpurea. Luckily, one is a pin and the other a thrum, so I garnered heaps of seed last year and a good amount of this has germinated this spring.

The camassias were good on the day too. These had been in a D bed, where they were too robust, so they have been consigned to the back of Sheila's border where they are not too obtrusive for the 50 weeks of the year when they are out of flower.

I don't think I have drawn attention to the lovely white form of Haberlea, 'virginalis' before. This was originally saved from Randle Cooke's garden, Kilbryde (featured in these pages during last winter) and I have grown it for 35 years. In this garden we plant it in a gap in the terrace wall, between railway sleepers. It is easy, free-flowering and apparently immortal. I can't say fairer than that!

As May rolls on, I am faced with a never ending pageant of delights. Saxifraga latepetiolata is monocarpic, but sets so much seed that I think I shall never be without it. I kept a few self-sown seedlings in the alpine house plunge, which grew vigorously in pure sand, and just before they flowered I transplanted them into the scree, in the hope that they would self-sow again and form a colony. I think it is a lovely thing.

Another well-established plant is figured below. Like several of its kin, it is self-sown. I think its mother was Pulsatilla georgica, but it was grown together with P. cernua (no longer with us in a pure form here, although we have it at Moorbank) and P. campanella. I think this is a hybrid, but I cannot be sure of the exact parentage.

Another plant giving me endless pleasure is that most amenable of the Soldanelloid primulas, P. reidii. I have germinated seed of P. wollastonii, and thrill of thrills, P. wattii, this year and it will be interesting to see if either are half as amenable. The plant in the picture was pot-grown and is figured on the bench of the East Cheshire Show last weekend, but two have since flowered outside, in a fishbox. The first five to flower were all thrums, but number six is a pin at last, so I guess it will have to do quite a bit of child-bearing!

Primula reidii

One more plant from home. Long-term readers will recall that Sheila and I revisited the remote site on the Greek mountain Vermion at this time last year, where the MESE expedition found a new daphne, later to be christened D. sokjae (not by us!). Although MESE collected seed in 1999, D. sokjae grows together with D. oleioides, and most of the plants that flowered proved to be that. Some of the seed really was true to name, but most of those plants, sadly, seem not to have been free-flowering.

Last year we collected some cuttings, in an attempt to remedy that. It was rather early in the year, and the cuttings all failed. The graft take, too was less than good, perhaps because only the deciduous D. mezereum was available as a stock (D. sokjae is evergreen). However, two did strike (as well as three D. jasminea cuttings from Delphi), and greatly to my surprise, one has come into flower. I thought you might like to see it as it has flowered so rarely in cultivation.

And Moorbank opened too.....

As a daphne, this provides a convenient link to the Botanic Garden of the University of Newcastle, Moorbank, for which we organise the Volunteer 'Friends', the only gardeners outside at the 4 acre garden. We open many times a year for prearranged parties (0191 2328063!), but on four dates we also open for NGS ('Yellow Book') and yesterday was one of these days. Luckily the sun shone again, and we had (including many children, some on bicycles!) 140 visitors.

The garden was in tip-top condition, but first I wanted to show you the Daphne x hendersonii 'Nota PInk' grown from grafted cuttings collected on the Nota Pass, to the west of Lake Garda, in 2003, and now in a trough at Moorbank. The other mature plant of this greatly disliked a pot and is now dead! We hope to be back at the Nota Pass again this year, possibly at flowering time.

Another rare plant flowering at Moorbank is Primula malvacea. I have failed with this at home, but the drier, warmer air in the city seems to suit it and it reappears every year, although the crown is never protected. There are two individuals, a thrum and a pin, so good seed is assured and I have many new seedlings this year.

Meconopsis paniculata has started to flower there too, a good two weeks ahead of my Hexham garden. I think this monocarpic group are at their best as they start to open, before the inflorescence gets untidy with spent flowers.

And here is the fine Paeonia obovata alba that grows there.

I love this combination of the azalea Rhododendron vaseyi and Rh. thomsonii.

Finally, a couple of views of the rhododendron area which was looking particularly good. Most of these plants originated at Kilbryde and were moved or were propagated in 1982.

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