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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 27 May 2007 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 37.

Green heaven
After a week away in north-eastern Greece (great Porophyllum saxifrages!), we returned to find that a wet week had advanced the garden into early summer, with everything now in full leaf and many of the shrub and climbing roses already in flower. Over the nine months that I have recorded in this diary, I have mostly concentrated on plants, and sometimes techniques, and there have been very few views of this half-acre garden.  I am starting with a couple of pictures of the largest part of the garden, uphill and to the south side of the centrally-placed house.

Green heaven

This picture gives a fair impression of that part of the garden with island beds (so-called 'D' beds as they are raised and terraced with sleepers (railway 'ties') on the downhill (north) side. The house is out of sight to the right; the house that can be seen beyond the hedge belongs to our neighbours.

This second picture is the exact reversal of the first, looking up the hill to the south. A grey-leaved Salix helvetica (one of the few plants we inherited when we moved here 17 years ago, although it has been moved) contrasts with the yellow globe of Chamaecyparis obtusa aurea nana (bought 34 years ago, so this is a reliable dwarf!) and the Abies koreana that has figured in these pages before. In the distance, Betula ermanii provides a focal point; the foliage on the left of the foreground is a Davidia, as yet too young to flower (next year maybe?). The haze of blue under the Acer griseum is Aquilegia pyrenaica which selfs-sows here and remains fairly pure despite the proximity of several other species.

Here are the aquilegias beside the revamped pond area (with the National Trust ducks!) in a little more detail. The small conifer in the bottom left-hand corner is Sciadopitys verticillata.

The next picture continues the columbine theme with a large A. atrata. This was grown from seed collected from above Lake Garda in 2003; once again this is starting to self-sow and remains fairly pure. Often I try to contrast its blackish-purple tones with yellow.

A for Anemone
Late May is also the best time for some of the alpine anemones, and I am figuring three. First, my favourite of all, the wonderful A. rupicola from the Himalayas and western China, that I have seen flowering on the cliffs above the Gan-ho-Ba. This seems to do quite well in a cool, gritty, well-drained position next to Himalayan primulas.

A for Anemone

Next is a very little-known plant, also Chinese, that I obtained from the Edrom nursery three years ago. Anemone prattii manages well in a cool raised high humus bed, despite the threat of being swamped by Dicentra oregonum.

Finally a plant I grew from AGS seed as Anemone multifida. I am not really sure how this differs from A. magellanica, or indeed whether the Patagonian plant is really distinct from its north American cousin. However, this plant is rather more showy than some A. magellanica.

Oxalis for the garden.
I have not always succeeded with the Patagonian oxalis outside, but I have now found a sheltered gritty corner that seems to suit them, and various forms of O. enneaphylla in particular have settled in. These two are 'Dark Eye' (on the left) and O. 'patagonica'. I bought 'Dark Eye' from Ian Christie who first distributed it. O. patagonica used to be treated as a separate species, but it is now usually regarded as a form of O. enneaphylla.

Oxalis for the garden.

One of the best forms is the lovely white variety that Peter Erskine introduced from the Falkland Islands, and named for his former ship 'Sheffield Swan'. I find this reliable both in the garden and as a show plant in a pot.

Spoilt for choice
Its difficult knowing what to leave out at this time of year, but I have decided to continue with two of the later dwarf rhododendrons. Of the Saluenense species I have already featured Rh. calostrotum. The next plant is closely related and might best be considered conspecific, but in the garden it is quite distinct, flowering four weeks later and with smaller, more glaucous foliage. I acquired it as Rh. calciphilum that I see Cox treats as a variety of Rh. calostrotum from Burma. This is followed by the yellow Lapponicum species Rh. chryseum, very reliable here.

Spoilt for choice

Candelabra-mass
The later primulas are just starting to make an impression, so I am ending with two section Proliferae ('candelabra') species that are just coming into flower. Unlike many plants this spring, these are certainly not early this year and I can look forward to the main flowering extending into July. The orange P. chungensis is always the earliest, if not the showiest of this section. P. secundiflora mimics some of the Sikkimensis species, but its biological features, misalliances and DNA reveal it as a candelbra manque.

Candelabra-mass
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