Alpine Garden Society

01386 554790
Back to List of Entries for A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

Go to bottom

You can add your comments on the content of this diary entry by starting a discussion, but you need to login first

A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 27 May 2015 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 297.

Before we went

Yes, yes, we have been away again, and nearly four weeks since the last entry. Such a busy time of year, so much to say and water under the bridge. I think I may split this epistle into three sections. A few garden plants before our trip away, a brief discourse on Orkney and some Scottish gardens, and then a few comments on new things on view today.

Southport was a great Show, and red tickets were hard to come by. We left for Scotland the day after, so some of the larger plants that had been lifted were grouped in a shady place, rather than risking  putting them back in the ground before we left. This proved to be a wise decision as it clearly has been quite warm and dry in our absence (but not far up north where we were!), and the garden was flagging a bit on our return. Its raining now however. Excellent! Here is a group which includes Meconopsis x cookei 'Old Rose', M. simplicifolia and Primula melanops.

Before we went

I was pleased with the Meconopsis simplicifolia, raised from Meconopsis Group seed last year. I have two plants, one in a pot and the other in a trough and both have flowered well. This is a monocarpic species of course, but with both flowering together there is a chance of good seed and I believe that this is a good form of a species that is rarely seen today. It is very important NOT to turn the pot, as this species has a tendency to twist its neck, like a Wryneck!!

The corydalis on the left is the excellent Lever cross 'Kingfisher' by the way (C. cashmeriana x flexuosa).

Among the more esoteric plants I took to Southport was a hybrid Meconopsis, raised from seed that set on my super M. pseudointegrifolia last year. I confess that these hybrids (three have now flowered and all are the same) have disappointed me as they are no way as good as their mother. They grew close to M. baileyi, so I suppose they represent this cross (close to M x 'Beamishii'), although their dwarf habit makes me wonder if M. delavayi (also present) might be the other parent. Either way, I suppose they are unique and new to Science.

I didn't take Primula reidii to the Show. Its a young plant, and hopefully will grow bigger for another year.

Primula reidii var williamsii

Another plant that stayed at home, as the pan is still very 'gappy' is this interesting Himalayan saxifrage which I acquired a few years ago under the name Saxifraga micans. Clearly a relative of S.andersonii, like S.stolitzkae, it may not be totally distinct, or possibly it may represent a stabilised hybrid. The taxonomy of Himalayan Porophyllums is fraught with difficulties. However, it has distinctly rough greyish leaves, which does set it apart.

Saxifraga micans

Rhododendron keiskei 'Yaku Fairy', planted in a tub, nearly 30 years of age, and far too large for exhibition now, has been superb for several weeks, but as I write it is nearly over.

Rhododendron keiskei 'Yaku Fairy'

Daphne x susannae 'Tichbourne' is another old plant which now covers quite a lot of ground. It no longer seems to flower as well as formerly.

Daphne x susannae 'Tichbourne'

One of the more startling colour combinations we have is formed by the ever reliable Rhododendron 'George' and a clipped Euonymus 'Emerald 'n Gold'. I can't say I am particularly proud of this, but it certainly arrests the eye!

Rhododendron 'George'


OK, time to go walkabout, whichwe did on May 17th, drving north to a simply wonderful B & B on the banks of the Spey in Kincraig. This was so good that we are keeping it to ourselves and will certainly go again when the weather is warmer! As you will see from this photo of nearby Loch an Eilean, snow was well down the slopes of Braeriach still.


Also not far away on the 'back road' is Inshriach, formerly Jack Drake's famous alpine nursery, latterly run by John Lawson. We enjoyed excellent tea and cakes here, watching red squirrels and crossbills on the feeders, but the garden and nursery are a pale shadow of their former selves. There were still plantings of the lovely Celmisia 'Inshriach hybrids', but there were none to sell and it looked as if few of the special plants for which the nursery had been famous are propagated any more.

Celmisia 'Inshriach hybrids'

A noble Leucogynes leontopodium still survived neglect.

Leucogynes leontopodium

It was interesting to see an alpine house still full of hybrid lewisias. I guess they are colorful and sell!


On then to Mainland, Orkney, where we took the car on the really excellent Scrabster ferry and spent four nights. Mostly I was chasing birds and dandelions (!), there are some endemics which I was thrilled to find, and we were too early for many plants although the islands were very colourful with Caltha. However we did visit Yesnaby on the west coast, not only for a dandelion (which we found), but also for Primula scotica which was just coming into flower.

Primula scotica

Scilla verna was flowering nearby, on the edge of the sea-cliffs (the primula was a little further inland).

Scilla verna

We enjoyed a day on spectacular Hoy, seeing nesting Sea Eagles, and refinding a local endemic dandelion, previously lost to science. The scenery of the west cliffs near Rastwick is terrific.

Back on Mainland, I can't resist showing the fantastic 5300 year-old dwellings at Skara Brae, in such a wonderful setting too.

Primroses were everywhere on Orkney and particularly fine and beautiful.

Arduaine, Ardmaddy and An Cala

On the way home we spent two nights near Oban, and, the weather being unsuitable for butterflies, used the intervening day to visit gardens. We went first to Arduaine, well-known to connoisseurs as the name of a hybrid petiolarid primula, but in fact a fine garden on the coast, rich in tender subjects with many magnificent rhodos and other shrubs and trees. It is striking how well the tender Maddenii rhodos grow here. Although none seemed to be labelled, this may be Rh. edgeworthii. There were also many Rh. rhabdotum hybrids.

Arduaine, Ardmaddy and An Cala

I loved the colour of this Rh. cinnabarinum.

Rhododendron cinnabarinum

And a super form of Rh. wardii.

Rhododendron wardii

Phytophthora ramorum

At the entrance to the garden was a notice to say that there were no longer selling plants as the garden had acquired an infection of Phytophthora ramorum. Certainly it has, and there were signs of this pernicious disease in several places.

Phytophthora ramorum

At the entrance to Arduaine, Orchis mascula made a show amongst the bluebells.

Orchis mascula

We also visited Ardmaddy, a delightful informal garden not far to the north of Arduaine, unmanned, where vast rhodos wrapped in plastic were for sale, unpriced, with an honesty box!! There is a splendid new water garden well worth seeing.

Thirty years ago we enjoyed a family holiday at Easdale on the Island of Seil (reached by an old hump-backed bridge!), so we popped in for a nostalgic peep, and found a garden, An Cala, open. This is a '30's garden, highly spectacular.

Back home

I promised three sections, but this has turned out to be such a long entry that I shall save the remainder for another day, save for a pulsatilla that is in full flower now. I have belatedly acquired Kit Grey-Wilson's excellent and informative new monograph on the genus, in which he says that P. georgica is not in cultivation. Well, I have long grown a plant under that name which looks like his picture, and which, indeed, self-sows in a modest way. Its not the greatest pulsatilla, but I am fond of it, even more so now!!

Pulsatilla georgica
Go to top
Back to List of Entries for A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

You can add your comments on the content of this diary entry by starting a discussion, but you need to login first