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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 04 November 2007 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 55.

Announcement

I may have mentioned this before, but as this diary progresses into its second year, I won't attempt to maintain a weekly contribution, particularly at the less productive times of year. Its difficult to continue to say something new every week about the contents of a half-acre patch, and its better that I limit myself to occasions when there is something worthwhile to talk about. Now that Paul has joined the diary section and is doing such a good job telling us about the huge resources that Wisley has to offer, I feel less pressured to provide a weekly contribution.

However, my own garden is not the only garden I help to run. Since I retired, three years ago, and for a year or two before that, I have been coordinating garden volunteers at the four acre Botanic Garden, 'Moorbank', of the University of Newcastle, my former employer. The extensive areas of glass there are managed by professional horticultural technicians, but the plantings outside had received little care for many years, apart from the grass and hedges that are maintained by the University groundstaff. The volunteers have been successful in returning the garden to something close to its original condition, and for the last two years have opened to the public several times a year through the NGS ('yellow book') scheme. We welcome private parties too, and last year more than 1000 adults visited (many parties of school children come too). Of course, Moorbank is not primarily an alpine garden, although it has inherited the collections of that fine alpine plantsman Randall Cooke. Nevertheless there are troughs, raised beds, plantings of primulas, meconopsis and rhododendron and other features of interest to AGS members, so in the future I do intend to feature items from Moorbank on occasion.

John Richards

Autumn views
Here are a couple of general views of my own garden. The first one shows the scene through the study window as I write this (isn't the immediacy of digital photography wonderful!). It is similar to the view shown two weeks ago, but now the yellow of Acer capillipes dominates the view. Secondly is another section of the garden with Acer griseum, not perhaps quite as good as it was when figured this time last year, but still a wonderful plant.

Autumn views

Two more for autumn
I am very fond of the shrub genus Corylopsis, not grown often enough in my view. Not only do they offer entrancing catkins on bare twigs in spring, but they mostly have good autumn colour. We have a good collection at Moorbank and harbour plans to possibly register them as a National Collection. Here at High Trees we only have two, but C. pauciflora is colouring well at present. Not many alpines are renowned for their autumn colour, but several are in the Rosaceae, so it is perhaps not surprising that the Rocky Mountain endemic Telesonix jamesii should colour well when planted out in a trough.

Two more for autumn

Cover up

I have three areas that I cover for the winter to protect the vulnerable resting buds of asiatic primulas and meconopsis, not from cold but from damp (and leaf-fall!). Two are specialist beds that I have featured before, and the third an area with no less than 10 different 'fishbox'-type containers. The covers are made of clear polyurethane sheet screwed onto wooden frames. They are suspended on upturned plastic bakers trays and held in position with car roof-rack ties. In summer the covers are stored behind an alpine house. In most autumns they are in place by October 20th, but this autumn is so warm and dry that I have waited another two weeks. I need to be careful that these areas do not dry out too much during the winter and I usually remove the covers and, if necessary, carefully water around the plants early in the New Year.

In the first photo, the celmisia is the rare  coastal endemic from the Banks Peninsula, C. mackaui. It has lovely sea-green foliage. The third of the photos shown below shows the resting buds of Primula moupinensis just before the covers were put on.

Cover up

Looking at the photos above, it will be realised how much effort is expended here at this time of year clearing leaves! The exercise is good for my waistline, and I remind myself how much the plants will enjoy the leaf mould that is accrued on these occasions. Also, I forgot to say that old refrigerator trays (inverted) are also used as a prop for frame lights.

Mention of Celmisia mackaui prompts mention of another rare Celmisia with good foliage at this time of year. C. hieracifolia is a dwarf relative of C. dallii. The olive leathery leaves have lovely golden backs. It has grown for nearly two years outside here in a trough without cover.

In another trough, a seedling of Gentiana clusii from seed collected on Monte Baldo is flowering. Notice the triangular sepals. In G. acaulis the sepal teeth contract at the base. It is often said that the flowers of G. clusii are darker blue and lack internal spots compared with G. acaulis, but in my experience these differences are relative rather than absolute and both species vary. Typically, G. clusii is a limestone plant and here is is grown amongst limestone rocks.

Two petrocosmeas
The east Asian gesneriad genus Petrocosmea is still something of a Cinderella. Although a number of very attractive species are offered by several well-known nurserymen in the UK at very reasonable prices, they are still considered as a minority interest, perhaps because they are suspected of being not very hardy. Bearing in mind their warm-temperate habitats, this might be thought a reasonable proposition, but given protection under cold glass, no direct sunlight at any time, high humidity in summer and a compost rich in composted bark, sieved leaf-mould and perlite, they seem easy-going and will certainly resist -8C in these conditions. I now know that the correct name for the first-featured, acquired as P. cf ioides is in fact P. sericea. The second one here, P. grandiflora, seems less free-flowering, but does indeed have large flowers. Unlike P. kerrii, both are autumn-flowering.

Two petrocosmeas
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