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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 06 May 2007 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 35.

Rhodo-fest

The drought continues into a sixth week, although it has been a good deal cooler, and we are promised rain later in the week. We will see! Much of my spare time over the last 10 days has been taken up with potting on seedlings. More than 90 pans have germinated so far (better than 65% of those sown, although some of the germinated bulbs were sown last year). Of the germinators, 37 are bulbs which have been left intact to be grown on, and 25  are judged too young as yet to leave home. This leaves 36 items that have been pricked out as 267 individual plants. Many are meconopsis and the rarer asiatic primulas, and we will have to see how these fare as the summer continues. At present they are in a sheltered rather cool spot and are watered regularly. Sometimes I think I would be more successful with seed if I grew more tractable things, but then I would have too many young plants to find a home for!

Another task last week was to move the primula troughs (fishboxes) into dense shade under a parrotia ready for the summer. After the dry sunny spring this move was overdue and the plants were looking pale and exhausted. Very soon after the move, followed by a good water and liquid feed, the foliage had darkened and the plants were already looking much fitter.

This is the season of the rhododendron. This reminds me of the apocryphal tale of the 'Major' who when encountered on the famous (for birders) East Bank at Cley (Norfolk) and asked what he had seen, replied 'the duck, the wader, the hawk and the goose'. Rhododendrons can flower from January to August, but the first week of May is as fecund a time as any. I am starting with two general views of the 'D' beds (named for their shape) where some of the rhodos and other Ericaceae are grown here. They were originally constructed about 15 years ago from rotted compost topped with one-year old leaf-mould and are top-dressed with whatever spare leaf-mould I may have.

Rhodo-fest

The red-flowered plant on the left is Rh. 'Carmen' and the red plant on the right 'Rh. 'Scarlet Wonder'. Here is the latter in more detail.

The next photo shows the large Pieris formosa 'Firecrest', brought as a cutting from our last garden, together with Rhododendron hippophaeoides.

Ffur good dwarf rhodos follow. I figured Rh. 'Chikor' recently, and here is its stable sister (from Glendoick) 'Curlew', later flowering, and perhaps the best of the yellow Rh. ludlowii crosses.

Next the excellent Rh. calostrotum, the earliest of the late-flowering Saluense group. I acquired this as 'Gigha', named for the Horlicks' Scottish island, but that good form is a brighter rose colour. In any case, this one is also excellent, growing here with Rh. impeditum.

Then Rh. campylogynum. I find this rather straggly, but the flowers are individually charming. There are much better dark-flowered varieties with a grey bloom under the epithet 'myrtilloides', but nevertheless I am fond of mine.

Last but not least is the entrancing dwarf yellow Anthopogon Rh. sargentianum. This has the reputation of not being easy, and I grow it in a shady raised bed with asiatic primulas. So far it has not yet flowered well enough for the show bench where it might well be appreciated.

Green and yeller

Leaving the rhodos but staying with a yellow theme, here is a small 'yellow corner' where Fritillaria pallidiflora fights for space with Euonymus 'Emerald 'n Gold' and a yellowish Japanese maple; a successful combination in early May, and one of the few actually planned in this garden.

Green and yeller

A plant I eagerly await each year is Telesonix jamesii. This was a gift from the Society's first Director and later Anthologist, and is greatly treasured. It is not particularly free-flowering, with only one or two spikes every year, and I can't manage it outside. Having seen inferior forms flowering in the Bighorn Mountains, I appreciate the delightful qualities of this superior form from Pikes Peak.

Wildlings from seed
I am finishing with two introductions from the Balkans. First is the very dwarf form of Anthemis columnae that our MESE expedition collected seed of in 1999 from 2000m on Kajmaktcalan. This is an excellent trough plant, as seen here, but is not easy and this plant has since collapsed, perhaps because of a worm at its root. It has at times been propagated and distributed by Brian Burrow.

Wildlings from seed

Finally, here is a Thlaspi from seed collected on Vichren, Bulgaria Pirin. There is some doubt as to the correct name of this plant. It was collected as T. bellidifolium, but this Balkan expression of the T. rotundifolium group is said by Flora Europea to have petals that are 'dark purple', although in my experience a pleasant pink. This batch have all come white, but seem not to be T. praecox, T. graecum or other white-flowered Balkan possibilities. In any event, it is an attractive little plant for a trough.

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