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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 31 May 2009 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 117.

Heat and Dust

Well! After two miserable summers (excellent for primulas and meconopsis, bad for the flowering of many bulbs) we were promised a lovely summer, and the early signs look promising, or ominous, depending on your point of view. Already, we have enjoyed a very dry spring, not unusual in the north-east of England, but now it has been hot and summy (well, up to 25C which is hot here!) for at least a week, and there is no respite in the weather forecast. This early-arriving Azores High seems set. Apart from two days spent travelling to the Birimingham Conference and back, I have now been watering various susceptible beds in the garden with the 'up and over' for several days, and aim to continue for as long as it takes, and I am allowed (we are lucky that the vast, and usually pointless Kielder Reservoir means that we should never have to suffer a water shortage here: if they did ever limit us it would be out of sympathy to the rest of the Nation, for which I would have very little sympathy!).

It seems that the ocean currents in the eastern Pacific have reversed again (I can never remember whether we are now 'El Nino' or 'El Nina'), which has pushed the jet stream further north, allowing the Azores High to creep further north. It follows that Iceland and to a less extent north-west Scotland are having a miserable time, whereas in 2007 and 2008 they had excellent summers.

Everything that should be out of the alpine house and in shady plunges have been moved, which has not stopped the cushions of several saxifrages from suffering patchy scorch. The primula fishboxes have been wheeled under the shady parrotia and we are 'buttoning down' for summer.

The warm weather has brought things forward, so that we are enjoying June in late May. Most of the section Proliferae ('candelabra') primulas are in full flower. Here is one of the sunken 'sumps' in the terrace.

This warm weather has given us a touch of June in May

Heat and Dust

The above photo features Primula x bullesiana (pink), P. prolifera (yellow, including the tiny smithiana variety from the Himalayas on the right), P. 'Inverewe' (scarlet), and P. secundiflora (purple). Elsewhere in the garden other species are flowering. A batch of P. chungensis raised last year have turned out to be a burnt orange in colour. This is unusual; more usually this species has red buds and golden flowers, but orange populations are known in the wild.

A planting of the delicate P. cockburniana is also flowering. I raised this from seed every year; like so many asiatic primulas it is effectively biennial. I think it is the fourth generation of this yellow race, originating with Edrom Nursery, that I have raised. More usually it is scarlet of course, the colour of P. 'Inverewe' but tiny. At least it seems that this self-fertile species is not succumbing to inbreeding depression, perhaps because I usually grow a group together, as here, allowing cross-pollination to occur.

A touch of the blues
This is also the month of the meconopsis of course. 'Slieve Donard', featured last time, is nearly over, and Mrs Jebb' is now on song. Several more, for instance the fertile 'Lingholm' are yet to flower. Here is 'Mrs Jebb'.

A touch of the blues

Knowing ones Anemone
I grew Pulsatilla alpina from seed many years ago. This clump may well be 20 years old and has never been moved. It is never overfloriferous, and the flowers seem small in comparison with the size of the plant, or its performance in the wild. Maybe this is why this lovely species is rarely seen in cultivation, but for all its faults, I still love it. It reminds me of many super holidays in the Alps.

Knowing ones Anemone

A much better garden plant, at least here, is Anemone rupicola. It is always a great thrill to find this lovely thing in the wild, in the Himalayas or China, and it is most unexpected that it turns out to be such a good garden plant when so many of its congeners are miffy when introduced into cultivation. It sows around as well as creeping, and I must propagate this fine form and get it about.

Several other anemones are at their best now, A. prattii and A. multifida for instance. I featured these in previous years.

Very few celmisias have featured in this diary, partly because they flowered disappointingly last year. This year has shown an improvement, and the fishbox in which I grow nine of the smaller varieties is full of flower. Here are, from the left, C. angustifolia, C. discolor and C. hieracifolia.

Elsewhere, a more 'conventional' variety of C. angustifolia (rather than the oyster-leaved variant now, I believe, known as 'Edrom') is flowering. This one more resembles a narrow-leaved form of C. allanii which thrives in the same bed.

At this time of year, aquilegias form a staple. They are very informal here, seeding around and hybridising. Nevertheless, A. pyrenaica stays largely aloof from the riot and remains very attractive. About six years ago I introduced A. atrata from wild Lake Garda seed. This also remains largely true, although it has also crossed with some of the local pink vulgaris. This bed, viewed from a distance, is presently dominated by columbines, although the pale blue Campanula foliosa, introduced by MESE from Kajmaktcalan, is also influential.

Anbother Greek introduction is Aubrieta gracilis from Parnassos. I believe this is now subsumed within A. scardica, although Flora European has it the other way round. Whatever, it is an excellent, rather late-flowering aubrieta.

Later saxs
One of the great merits of the saxifrages is the way that the silvers remind us of great things long after the earlier Porophyllums and the like have finished. Here is S. paniculata 'Minutifolia', followed by S. hostii rhaetica, grown from wild seed collected near the Cornone Blanca.

Later saxs

And a couple of intersectional hybrids growing together; 'Winifred Bevington', and S. x zimmeteri. Both have S. paniculata as one parent. The other parents are, respectively, S. umbrosa and S. cuneifolia.

A touch of herbaceous.
Sheila has just read this far and said 'very good, but where is my herbaceous border'. Well, fair do's, its a bit early for the full pomp, but there is quite a bit of colour now, so we'll end with that.

A touch of herbaceous.
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