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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 13 May 2007 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 36.

It never rains but...

Finally, we were promised rain this week, just as I had a garden opening, and a friend came to stay and botanise, and my brother and a friend came to walk the Romal Wall, and.....  As so often happens after a long spell of settled weather, the habit proved hard to break, and the few showers we received on the Monday and Tuesday did little more than dampen foliage. It had become a great deal cooler, gloomier and windier however. However on Wednesday we had some serious showers, not fortunately when the Cottage Garden Society were here, and we must have had four centimeters of rain since then. It remains, cool and humid, and the seedling primulas and meconopsis have grown well!

I am starting with a couple of distinguished Himalayan Soldanelloid primulas grown from seed last year, or the year before. These were overwintered in fishbox troughs, outside but covered (in fact the P. wollastonii figured here was overwintered in a pot in the alpine house as the plants in troughs are not yet in flower). The second plant figured is the better known P. reidii, perthaps the least intractable of this wonderfully scented group.

It never rains but...

A paean to peonies
If last week was rhododendron week, this is the week of the peonies. The wonderful flowers are so fleeting that we really do have only a week or so to enjoy them in, but they are so gorgeous that I forgive them the space they take up. Also, the fruits are a later bonus. Peonies have the added bonus of growing nearly anywhere, being very long-lived, and are almost no trouble as long as they are not moved. Nearly all the plants here are grown from seed. As is generally known, the seedlings do not appear above ground until the second year. As soon as they appear I move them into a small plastic pot where they spend a year, to be planted out in their final position the following spring. Care has to be taken to mark their position while they are still small! First here is the white form of the Japanese Paeonia obovata, which sows itself around gently. Like most this week, the flowers have been slightly spoilt by the rain

A paean to peonies

Next is the Spanish P. broteroi, grown from wild collected seed, and then P. mascula. I have wild seed plants of the latter too, from Mt. Baldo, but they have not flowered yet; this one was purchased at an AGS plant sale.

Finally a couple of tree peonies. When I was young and just starting into gardening, I thought tree peonies very romantic and the essence of garden 'cool'. I now realise that you get an awful lot of leaf for flower, and, when suited as they are here, they can be appallingly invasive. They are however great background plants with wonderful foliage. First is the yellow P. lutea v. ludlowii, and then its close red-flowered relative with which it will hybridise in the wild (but not apparently in the garden), P. delavayi.

Clematis arbour
When we arrived here first, we were faced with the gaunt iron skeleton of an old garden swing, embedded in a huge concrete platform. It appeared that it could only be removed with industrial quantities of dynamite, so we took the simpler route, and tied a trellis to it, planting a wisteria and some of the more vigorous species clematis. It soon become an arbour, inside which is a convenient store for sticks, canes, steps and chairs. It is in full glorious flower this week, with Clematis montana 'Tetrarose' on the right, and C. macropetala. The Wisteria floribunda is not yet in full flower, but will be good net week.

Clematis arbour

Two more plants that have been at their best in the past week. I think Ramonda nathaliae is the best of the three species for the garden. R. myconi, from the Pyrenees, does well here too, flowering later, but I think R. nathaliae is the more attractive. I grow the other Balkan species, R. serbica, too, but it is certainly the squinniest and least vigorous here.

To be able to grow Rhododendron fragrantissimum outside is a real sign of global warming. For years I struggled with it in a pot in the conservatory. In the end it stopped flowering in protest, so I set it free in a sheltered, north-facing corner and it now flowers regularly, scenting all that part of the garden, especially after rain.

A couple of Greeks
We are about to depart for a sojourn in the Greek hills, so it is appropriate to sign off with a pair of Greek mountain plants that are not often grown. First is a plant grown from seed collected on the AGS MESE expedition, from around the Drakolimni lake on Smolikas. I don't findf exact attribution of Greek minuartias easy, but this might be M. recurva. It grew in a trough for years, but when the trough was replanted last winter I propagated it, and put the main plant in a pot.

A couple of Greeks

Finally, here is another of my collection of Aubrietas. This one was grown from seed collected on Parnassos above Arachova, and is A. gracilis.

As I have intimated, your diarist is leaving for the mountains, and normal service will not be resumed for several weeks.  Have a good early summer!

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