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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 14 May 2012 by John Richards

Alpes Maritimes 2. Issue 214.

Bulbs in Provence.

To continue the tale of our trip to the south of France in the last week of April, here are a few more bulbs. Firstly, we were delighted to find Erythronium dens-canis still in flower, growing in the duff below cliffs full of Primula marginata at the western end of the Clue de Greolieres. This is a very accessible site, with good parking. The only place I had previously seen the Erythronium in flower in the wild was in its only Greek station, on Falakro. It is best known from the Pyrenees, which we have only visited later in the season, and I think it must be very local in most of the Alps. It was nice for Canadian Pam to see our sole representative of this largely north American genus.

Bulbs in Provence.

Not perhaps a true bulb, but Hepatica nobilis is so common in this area that the last photograph reminds one that it crops up in so many other pictures! At the Clue de Greolieres it was particularly variable in flower colour, with pinks and whites as well as the usual blues.

Greolieres is a delightful base, and I am including a picture of the village from the Chambres d'hote just up the road, which made us very welcome.

From here it is a short drive south to Cipieres on one road, and to Gourdon on another. Both these roads wind through limestone gorge country and are full of good flowers. Just below Cipieres are horse fields full of Narcissus poeticus, and nearby woods have populations of Scilla hyacinthoides, which together with its more slender relative S. italica is locally common.

Fritillaria involucrata is really a surprisingly common plant in this district and we saw it in many places. It is very variable in flower colour, and often very beautiful. As the second photo shows, it is remarkable it does so well as it is popular with lily beetles and the bracts are often chewed to bits.

At Greolieres we were also not far from Thorenc and the  Col de Bleine. A word of warning here. Maps seem to show that roads north over the Col to pass through Thorenc, but the village seems in fact to be a cul de sac and the road to the Col branches off several kilometres to the east and is not well signposted.

Our main quarry on the Col was Fritillaria tubiformis. On an earlier visit later in May we found a single flower after a long search. On this occasion,in late April, lots of plants were just coming through the ground (as were masses of Tulipa australis), but we were fortunate slightly below the ridge to find one small group already at its best.

On the same earlier visit, on the Italian side at Limonetto, we had been delighted to come across quite a large flowering population of Fritillaria moggridgei (which, by the way I am convinced is a good species and not just the yellow form of F. tubiformis; it seems to me to differ in various characteristics of leaf and flower, and I have never seen the two flower forms growing together). On this occasion, I had expected that we would be far too early, but serendipity lent a hand with one abnormally early individual. We did see another singleton on the road to Trinita too.

Staying at Trinita for a moment, I had already mentioned the wonderful populations of Corydalis cava (and hybrids with C. solida) there, but in places it grew mixed in with superb forms of Leucojum vernum, right at their loveliest.

Time for a few orchids. It was not a rich orchid trip (we only saw 15 species I think), and we may have been too early for most, as the lower sites were best. In particular, the Col de Vence had super forms of the Green-winged Orchid, Anacamptis morio, in white and purple forms, and Orchis mascula.

We saw more orchids on the road from Greolieres to Cipieres than anywhere else, with good Lady Orchids, Orchis purpurea, and Neotinea tridentata (pictured).

On the same road, Dactylorhiza majalis was coming into flower in a damp spot.

Not far away, on cliffs to the north of Gourdon, we found a nice population of virtually the only ophrys we saw. This is one of the relatives of the Early Spider Orchid, O. sphegodes. If one splits, the correct name is probably O. provincialis.

The last named was growing together with Cephalanthera longifolia, a strange combination! For a final orchid, here is Orchis pallens, growing beside the road up to Casterino in the Miniere Valley (a good area for orchids later in the spring).

Before we leave our French visit, one more plant. As previously mentioned, very few plants were in flower in the Vesubie, either at Madone, or in the Gordolasque. However, both areas did have early flowers of a delightful mountain pansy which I have not been alone  in calling Viola calcarata. However, it is not that, but a local endemic V. bertolonii, and unlike the former, which spawns an eastern yellow form V. zoysii, it seems most often to be yellow-flowered.

Back home

I spewnt last weekend visiting the Malvern Show, a rather brash gesture for what is a long journey and a long day, although the weather did smile on us for once. I had several plants of Meconopsis delavayi which promised to flower in time for the show, a plant which I suspect it not often seen south of the border.

Back home

I also lugged along a huge Meconopsis x cookei 'Old Rose', rendered yet more painful by the long distances between the dropping off points and the show tables!

The Daphne petraea cuttings from above Lake Garda which I grafted three years ago are now reaching a size at which they look not out of place on the Show table. Hopefully they will do better in years to come.

Some of the South African Scrophulariaceae grow very fast when suited, and this Zaluzianskya ovata grew from a rooted cutting and was only potted on this time last year. Sister cuttings have grown even larger planted out, where they were untouched by the last farily mild winter.

Finally, a couple of plants which are ineligible for exhibition as I have not owned them for sufficiently long. First. a lovely white form of Gentiana angulosa, which I hope will set lots of good seed, and then Primula calderiana subsp. strumosa, a recently acquired gift, originally from Tromso seed, which I was delighted to see flowering.

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