A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: 12 November 2006 by John Richards
Northumberland diary. Entry 13.
The world is full of leaves
Have the leaves fallen later this year? I am still waiting for the last ones to fall off the limes which border the south side of the garden and some plants have hardly started to shed their leaves, for instance the maples Acer capillipes and A. griseum. More on the A. griseum later. Still, I must start on the leaves this afternoon, partly because if they become mushy they are much harder to rake up, and also because many have now fallen on alpines, from which they will have to be lightly raked. At least, I know that the tons of leaf-mould that result will amply repay the sweat. This view of one corner of the garden will give some idea of the scale of the problem here.
As is clear from the above, this is not the best-ventilated garden (’sheltered’ is kind!) and the alpine houses have dense hedges along the north-side, which cuts down the air-movement still more. Not surprisingly, my plants tend to suffer from botrytis at this time of year and I have been running a small glasshouse fan for a few years. However, having seen the Two Wests and Elliot catalogue, I splashed out on a big cylinder fan, ordered over the phone (about £80 with postage) and it arrived a few days later. I am very pleased with it, and hope the plants will be too. Here it is installed.
An autumn primula
Time for an alpine in flower, rather thin on the ground at this time of year. There is an autumn-flowering petiolarid primula, P. boothii subsp. autumnalis which reliably flowers about now, sometimes earlier in October. It is fairly typical of P. boothii, but hardier than most and it has persisted in cultivation where most of the spring-flowering forms have long since disappeared. Like most, it is not very free with its flowers, but anything is welcome now. This clone has been called 'Annapurna autumn' which is a little superfluous as it is typical of the subspecies, but it does tell us from where it originated.
Reading another obituary for Val Finnis, I became aware that she had supplied virtually all the colour plates for Anna Griffith’s ’Collins Guide to Alpines’ when it first appeared back in 1964. She could have only been about 40 when it first appeared, and it was remarkable that she had already built up such a comprehensive and excellent set of colour pictures at a time when colour photography was still uncommon and the films rather unreliable. This was, and still is, a magnificent book for the beginner. It was largely responsible for starting me on my way, and this must be true of many alpine gardeners. The policy of using many colour plates was pioneered by Collins, and this Guide was massively influential.
I promised a picture of the Acer griseum. ’griseus-a-um’ means grey. What could possibly be grey about this superb small tree with splended scarlet autumn foliage and magnificent bark throughout the year?. Were I to choose one tree to associate with the alpine garden, this would be it.
I promise there will be more alpines in a month or two, but most of us grow alpines in a garden context. I am a firm believer that gardens should be rewarding for 12 months, and the bark of decorative small trees is vital to this, particularly when placed against foliage plants. This is an 'ordinary' silver birch Betula pendula which self-sowed, but we kept it when we say what a good form it was. This is a 'standard' Berbis thunbergii, unlike the fastigiate one shown last week.