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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 17 November 2013 by John Richards

AGS Tour to the southern Peloponnese. Entry 257.

AGS Tour to the southern Peloponnese

One of several reasons why these pages have remained blank for the last three weeks is that Sheila and I were leading the AGS Tour to the southern Peloponnese from October 30th to November 8th. It was a lovely tour, 20 of us including ourselves, and with two 'Merlins', young  professional gardeners on a scholarship, Andrew Turvey from Myddleton House garden (once E A Bowles' estate) and Louise Hay, recently of Branklyn garden, Perth, and recently appointed to the Eden Project in Cornwall. Both were really keen, helpful and a pleasure to have along.

The Tour went very well, fortunately, and without major hitches, and the bulbs were in fine form. I have written about most of the sites and plants we visited two years ago (issues 195-197), and I shall try not to repeat myself too much. We still found it difficult to separate Crocus niveus from C. cancellatus on the uplands above Metamorphosi, and believe they hybridise there, and we still think it can be very difficult to separate Crocus laevigatus from C. boryi. This year, in a slightly earlier season, the populations by the chapel on the southern Karies road were mostly C. laevigatus, with a few clumps of C. boryi by the road (I think). There were also isolated plants of C. melantherus and C. hadriaticus there, making this perhaps the only four-crocus site I know.

C. laevigatus is of course a smaller plant than C. boryi with stouter, stockier flowers which are often cream rather than pure white as in C. boryi. When C. laevigatus fades, it often turns almost primrose yellow, which is quite distinctive. In these areas, only about half of the C. laevigatus have slight feathering outside, which is diagnostic when it occurs (although we did find a single C. boryi with faint bluish markings outside).

Here is C. laevigatus from there, followed by C. boryi.

AGS Tour to the southern Peloponnese


These and other crocus problems were discussed in issue 195. In issue 196 I considered some problems of identification in the smaller colchicums, notably the differences between C. cupanii and C. psaridis. I looked hard at these this year, and came to some rather different conclusions, helped by Lafranchis and Sfikas, 'Flowers of Greece'; Grey-Wilson, 'Bulbs of Greece', and Flora Europaea.

These two species can look very alike and undoubtedly grow together at some sites. They are easily separated by their underground parts, for C. cupanii is non-stoloniferous, but the narrow corms of C. psaridis are stoloniferous. However, I have never dug them up. Both species have two leaves developed at flowering, but those of C. cupanii are broader. I was wrong previously in thinking that the anthers of C. psaridis are always yellow. They can be dark, although those of C. cupanii are always so, I think. A new character, which I think works, is that C. cupanii has long anthers, while those of C. psaridis are shorter, not more than 1.5 times as long as broad.

Here first are three images of C. psaridis, from near Areopolis, Stavri, and Cape Tigana.


And here are three images of C. cupanii from near Sikea, Monemvasia, and a broad-leaved variety from Monemvasia which would be called v. glossocentrum. I am not sure that this variety had much merit, as broad-leaved plants can be found in many populations of C. cupanii.

Incidentally, we found a little C. pusillum at both Cape Tigana and Cape Tainairo. At the former site it was showing its diagnostic multiple leaf formation.

Most of the larger colchicums tend to flower earlier, in late September or early October. Generally we found C. lingulatum only as its characteristic leaves which lie on the ground and look rather like a seedling bluebell in the garden. Here is is for instance on the path to Cape Tainaro.

However, when we walked up the fascinating Neokaria gorge above Mistras one afternoon, we did find a solitary colchicum flower which gave us some problems with identification. Although it is very faintly tesslated, I believe that this is probably a late flower of C. lingulatum. Leaves of that species were fairly plentiful lower down the gorge.

Incidentally, the leaves alongside belong to Biarum tenuifolium, a species were were not lucky enough to see in flower.

However, we  did rather unexpectly stumble across a small population of the orchid Spiranthes spiralis in the gorge, a species we failed to find in 2011.

Another bulb that we have seen flowering in spring in this district, but never before in autumn, is the rather dubiously native Narcissus tazzetta. This was a most unexpected discovery when we stopped to photo the famous wreck north-east of Gytheion. We found it again in the southern Mani, east of Lagia, where we were investigating a recent report of Narcissus elegans new to Greece. We failed to find the latter, but instead in the exact spot found N. tazzetta again (and indeed N. serotinus) which made us a little suspicious.

What is Allium ritsii?

Fairly recently, a new endemic autumn-flowering Allium has been described from the region around Monemvasia. A. ritsii is distinguished from A. callimischon, with which it often grows, by being smaller, fewer-flowered, with two spathes exceeding the inflorescence, and flowers with a green rather than purple single stripe.

One afternoon we were investigating an acidic area above Kalives, on the mainland south of Monemvasia. This district is notable for its arbutus woods, which were in full berry.

What is Allium ritsii?

Some of the bushes had deep pink flowers, corresponding to the var. rubra of cultivation.

Amongst the scrub was a small allium which looked rather different from A. callimischon to my eyes, and the flowers had two spathes.

Note the two spathes, and undoubtedly green stripes to the flower.

The next day we walked past the 'Belle Helene' hotel to Ageranos, a splendid walk, with thousands of Allium callimischon, well out of the supposed range of A. ritsii. When examined most of these seemed to have two spathes and a green stripe!

I conclude from this that we probably did not find A. ritsii above Kalives, and that the spathe number character and green stripe feature used by Lafranchis and Sfikas do not work. Quite how you DO tell A. ritsii is another matter, although I see Grey-Wilson says that the uppermost leaf is green at flowering and exceeds the inforescence.

Enough is enough. Next entry I hope to talk about the cyclamens we saw, snowdrop variation, and some of the  non-bulbous plants we saw. As a taster, here is a vision of autumn colour north of Lambokamos, featuring that spelndid garden shrub Cotinus coggygria.

Website photogallery

On a quite different topic, I feel that it is important to publicise the magnificent resource now available on this website, the image gallery. This is accessed by clicking on 'images' at the top of the homepage. As well as the main gallery images, many of which were taken at plant shows, there are special pages devoted to snowdrops, crocuses, a wild plant gallery and plants given awards by the Joint Rock Garden Committee, as well as entries to the photographic competition.. About 7000 images scanned in from the slide collection are being made accessible. Increasingly, images from elswhere on the website, including this diary, are also being made available. In total there are some 30,000! I am finding this a quite invaluable resource, and I am sure that our webmaster Jim McGregor, whose brainchild this is, would not only encourage you to use it, but also to discuss its future expansion and welcome new material.

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