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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 26 May 2012 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 215.


Well, 'phew what a scorcher' etc etc.. Typical perhaps of where the British weather seems to have got to, that after the coldest, wettest, dreichest May in living memory, the climate has suddenly lurched in a day from winter to high summer (well, actually nothing like recent high summers!) and we are baking in 27C heat. This is the fifth day of unbroken hot sunshine we have enjoyed here, and there is little indication of a change in the forecast. Its lucky that we have had so much rain recently, as watering (except pots and the alpine houses) is not yet an issue. However, plants are starting to wilt and scorch in the heat under glass (I do not use shading; I rarely have to and the plants remain less drawn), so over the last hour I have removed about 30 plants from the plunge where they roast in full sun (despite the fans) and have put them in shade on the glasshouse floors.

Here they have joined the seed-pots that have not been pricked out (about 70% of them have now been potted-on). In the meantime, sensitive young plants (primulas, mecs, woodland subjects) are put into the shady 'well' I reserve for little plants in hot weather, and where they usually thrive however hot the sun. The remainder do get quite a lot of sun, but outside I find them less prone to scorch than under glass, and I need hardly say that everything (even Primula allionii and cushion androsaces under glass) get a good spray at the close of play when the sun is finally off them.

Not much remains in flower under glass, but the South African Delospermas love the heat and sun, despite the fact that they are drenched with thunderstorms most afternoons in the wild. And they are SO hardy! Delosperma compacta, figured here, survived the cold winters before the last one, which killed so many supposedly hardy subjects, without turning a gland.


I took this to the Southport Show last week where, despite a South African class, it performed as usual on a cool day and failed to open its flowers, or inspire the judges!

Another South African I took along, which fared rather better in the senior classes, was Zaluzianskya ovata. I find this is an excellent show plant. Cuttings root easily and grow to show size in a year; also, its another Drakensberg plant which is completely hardy, and even small cuttings survived the hard winters under glass (the plant seen below was one of them!). Last winter, several plants overwintered well outside without cover, and once out, it flowers for many weeks. The main problem is finding cutting material, it flowers so profusely!

In the same class I exhibited a Primula which has given me a good deal of pleasure this spring. It was grown from Meconopsis Group seed under the name of P. macrophylla. It grew so well last summer that I was suspicious of the name, and when the group of seedlings came into flower in early May it was clear that they represented a most magnificent form of the variable P. chionantha. These plants have big flowers, broad leaves and white farina, which Smith and Fletcher thought significant in their monograph. Typical P. chionantha and its relatives (sinopurpurea and its ilk) have yellowish farina, and S & F hived off everything with white farina into other species, for instance P. melanops.

I was fortunate to spend a couple of days in the Edinburgh herbaium at the end of March in the company of Pam Eveleigh and David Rankin, and one group we reviewed were plants referred to the many synonyms of P. chionantha. A magnificent form with white farina from the Myanmar border was originally named P. sinonivalis and the present plants seems to resemble this. At present I am calling them 'P. chionantha, sinonivalis form'.

The other plant in the last photograph is the white-flowered relative of Primula sikkimensis which is called P. hopeana. At present I am treating it at specific rank.

Another interesting primula flowering here at present came from Holubec seed under the name P. fasciculata. I have been looking at it with some interest, as there has been a minor dispute about the boundaries between this, classically western Chinese, species, and P. tibetica from further west, even west Nepal and NW India. The technical difference between them is the leaf-sahpe; P. tibetica has virtually no petiole, whereas P. fasciculata has a narrow petiole about one quarter of the length of the leaf blade. Using this criterion, it seems that P. fasciculata must stretch much further into Tibet than formerly realised, at least as far as Lhasa, although the flowers of these plants look more like those of P. tibetica and lack the classic waxy 'crinkled' look of Chinese fasciculata.

This is exactly what we have here from this material of Tibetan origin; fasciculata leaves and tibetica-type flowers.

There are some nice meconopsis flowering now. The superb form of M. grandis grown from Evelyn Stevens' seed under her number 84 is coming to its best despite the heat.

Meconopsis x cookei 'Old Rose' is such a vigorous plant! I dug a plant to take to Southport, and the next day split it into about eight pieces to replant. Unfortuntely, the hot weather started the next day and I am having to irrigate the bits on a daily basis.

On a much smaller scale, M. delavayi has finished now (but after cross-pollinations is setting good seed, I think), but M. rudis and M. aculeata are just coming into flower. Here is part of a planting of the latter.

It is indeed the time of big sexy flowers, and with peonies you can't go wrong! P. mascula, flowering here, originated from seed we collected in Provence back in 2006.

P. broteroi also came from collected seed, this time from near Ronda; we have grown it for nearly 20 years.

Almost a weed here, it self-sows so much (and crosses with the yellow P. ludlowii to give 'blood-orange' seedlings, P. delavayi has rather small 'meaty' flwoers, but I love the foliage and fruits!

At present, the biggest impact of all comes from dear old, reliable, Rhododendron 'Pink Pearl'. During last week's Chelsea coverage, we were constantly being told that rhododendrons were 'unfashionable', to the extent that Chris Beardshaw was praised for includining them in his exhibit. Unfashionable? Well, not here they ain't, and never have been, although after last years excesses this has been a predictably poor flowering season. Which is why the reliablility of 'Pink Pearl' is such a bonus.

Another tremendous plant at the moment is the pink Clematis alpina variety called 'Willy'.

Viburnum plicatum 'Mariesii' is another standby here. This was one of the few class plants that we inherited 22 years ago; in a very poor state I have to say. Sheila has fed it, mulched it and pruned it to shape, and its present glorious condition is largely down to her.

An alpine to finish with. I took Oxalis enneaphylla 'dark eye' to Southport, but the flowers didn't open and I left it under the bench. I has been wonderful in the sun over the last few days.

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