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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 16 May 2010 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 148.

Entre deux Shows

I am dumbfounded to find that I haven't delivered a 'normal' report on the garden for more than a month. Too busy galavanting abroad and to Shows. What a contrast between Malvern and Southport! Malvern freezing cold, 7C, gale force winds, horizontal rain at times, no central heating, everyone blue and frozen, and a very long day of course. Southport warm and sunny, everyone smiling and cheerful, spring well advanced.

In between we have suffered several nights of frosts up here. Ground frosts certainly, with all the dwarf Ericaceae spoilt, and a touch of an air frost, so that the new pieris leaves lost their pristine colour, the ageing camellias turned the colour of old teabags, and much of the magnolia blossom dropped. Mid-May frosts were an almost constant feature of our early years in Hexham in the 1970's, but we haven't suffered so late for several decades (although similar damage often occurred in April during moreadvancedseasons).

Last Sunday, the day before the first frost I took some general views of the garden. Here is Pieris forrestii 'Firecrest, Rhododendron 'King George', Rh. Dora Amateis' and supporting cast.

Entre deux Shows

Next is a view from the terrace to one of the 'D' beds, taking in the mound of artificial tufa.

Conspicuous in the last photo were Saxifraga intricata and Arnebia echioides, both of which love the tufa. There they are in more detail.

Another much more modest subject that had settled down in the tufa is that little Engleria-type saxifrage from Bulgaria and Falakron in Greece, S. stribrnyi.

Moving to nearby troughs, a number of subjects are making themselves felt, not least the excellent form of Gentiana angustifolia which I grew from seed collected in the Pyrenees and offered by the AGS seed exchange some years ago.

In a different corner of the same trough is Androsace mucronifolia. This little plant from the NW Himalaya is said to be not too easy, but I have grown it for many years. I find it is best left undisturbed in a trough where it will travel around.

A much more straightforward plant, perhaps the best androsace for the open garden, originates in the same part of the world. I grow A. sempervivoides in a scree, a raised bed and in troughs. Here it is growing in a scree made of nothing except assorted sizes of gravel.

Back to the troughs where I am delighted to see how permanent some of John Massey's Lewisia 'Carosel' hybrids have proved. I can't do this outside here with any other unprotected lewisias, although, curiously, several species (L. cotyledon, L. longipetala, L. sierrae, L. tweedyi) grow well in uncovered troughs and raised beds in the warmer, drier atmosphere of the Moorbank Botanic Garden at Newcastle.

By the way (ADVERTISEMENT!!) Moorbank garden, Claremont Road, Newcastle, is open for the NGS on this Wednesday evening (May 19th) from 5 pm to 8 pm. Entry 2.50 goes to cancer charities. Lots of alpines, shrubs, rhodos and much else to see on what promises to be a warm and sunny eveing. Come along!

Back to our own garden and a few frits outside. After many disappointments and failures, chronicled in earlier issues of the diary in years past, I have essentially stopped growing frits under glass, but I do now grow about 14 species to flowering outside. First is that good garden plant F. pallidiflora, lighting up the 'yellow corner' as I write.

Now for a couple of Greek frits. Both tend to have a whorl of three bracts under the flower and opposite pairs of stem leaves, but the flower shape is very different. It is distinctively bulbous and 'sheared off' in F. thessala. Second, F. messanensis has a longer, parallel-sided flower.

It has been a fantastic season for trilliums and erythroniums. To mark this, here is Erythronium californicum 'White Beauty' which forms great clumps here, followed by the lovely Trillium grandiflorum roseum which I find is quite as good a doer as the white form (which also colours pink late on).

Now for a few slightly more special plants. Here are two small meconopsis. I have totally fallen for this wonderful bluish-metallic form of M. rudis, grown from Mec Group seed collected in SE Tibet.  It has been grown in the alpine house throughout.Lets hope the seed comes true!

Stock of M. delavayi is getting thin. I still have three plants, but only one seedling has germinated from last years seed. The best one is two years old and has produced three flowers this year. By the way, this reminds me to say what a wonderful year for germination this has been. I have had over 70% of the seed pans show some germination and almost 100 seed pans will need to be dealt with.

 I have no current photo of M. delavayi, so here instead is M. x cookei 'Old Rose' in the garden. This hybrid between the scarlet M. punicea and the creeping blue M. quintuplinervia was named for Randle Cooke whose garden 'Kilbryde' I took over for the University back in 1974, so it is a special plant for me!



A few more Yunnan specials that are featuring here at present. Go to the northern end of the Zhongdian plateau and on dry banks, the scarlet monocarpic Androsace bulleyana is conspicuous. I grow it in the alpine house and am careful to collect seed as it dies after flowering. I have selected dwarf types in the seven or eight generations I have raised since it was first collected as seed by the ACE expedition in 1994.

Next the white and purple forms of Primula chionatha, another species I regularly raise from seed. The white form is localised in the wild, but the purple form is easy to find on the Bei Ma Shan, where P. zambalensis grows in roadside gravel.

Finally for this week, the ACE expedition made many excellent discoveries, and one of the most surprising was a golden androsace, something most people had never heard of previously. Latterly, this beautiful alpine was found to be abundant in short dry grasslands around the high western Sichuanese town of Litang. Unfortunately it has posed a great challenge in cultivation and it has not often been kept for long or flowered. By dint of potting the young seedlings on whole (it seems to like root association and to hate disturbance), keeping the plant damp and very cool in summer (not difficult the last two summers!) and dryish in winter and spring, I have managed to produce seven flowers this spring!! Here are four of them.

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