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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 11 November 2007 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 56.

A local Show

One of the great delights of British horticulture is the willingness of growers to share their achievements and pleasure with the public. In every town and village you will find private gardens who are willing to welcome visitors on one or two days a year. It is a great way to sample the infinite variety of ways that enthusiasts express themselves in the garden, and the proceeds most usually go to a favourite, often local, charity.

Another great institution is the local Show. Despite a falling off of the number of people with the time, energy or expertise to compete in these, they remain unfailingly popular with visitors, and very many villages maintain the custom of the annual Show. We are surrounded by Agricultural Shows here, but in my small town of Hexham our local Show is based on late chrysanthemums as well as vegetables, and so is always held on the second Saturday of November.

This date is invariably the same as that of the AGS AGM, and so I have had to miss the Hexham Show for the last four years. Finally free on this date again, I was happy to help out in a modest way once more, and enjoy the company of local experts who grow chrysanthemums and vegetables to impossibly high standards. There are of course no classes for alpine plants, but there is a class for a plant in flower, and another for a foliage plant, which I entered with Crocus ochroleucus and Cyclamen mirabile 'Tilebarn Nicholas'.

More appropriate perhaps at this time of year, and more keenly contested, were classes for seasonal foliage and a display of berries. It is great to be able to celebrate autumnal glories competitively, and I entered these with gusto. Here first are the berries, which include several white berried sorbus (S. cashmiriana, S. hupehensis, S. microphylla, S. 'Harry Smith'), the yellow S. 'Joseph Rock' seedling and pink S. reducta. Also featuring were Skimmia ' Reevesiana', and Stransvesia davidiana.

A local Show

Here is the foliage entry. The red tones are provided principally by that excellent autumn plant Xanthorrhiza simplicissima (a rather unlikely member of the buttercup family) and by Viburnum tomentosum. Amongst the yellows are Liriodendron tulipifera, Acer capillipes and Corylopsis pauciflora that I featured two weeks ago.

Bark, not bight
Mention of Acer capillipes reminds me to feature its wonderful bole which becomes such a feature now the leaves are off and in low autumnal light. Tree trunks are often overlooked as an important feature in the winter garden. Here we try to make the most of them.

Bark, not bight

Downsizing
Nothing at all alpine so far, and this is an AGS website! Before I am drummed out, here are a few 'alpines' that are still contributing. Firstly, Eucomis bicolor. I have featured this excellent hardy plant from the Drakensberg twice before, but it has a very long season and this year it has turned into something exceptional. It does not provide this psychodelic display every autumn, but at present it is truly eye-catching.

Downsizing

Competition

Anyone who correctly names the out-of-focus shrub that provides the background to the last photograph, and posts it in the relevant section of the on-line discussion, I shall send them seed, guaranteed to germinate, of a petiolarid primula!

Talking of primulas, here is the wonderful P. secundiflora that has produced a late-season inflorescence. As an evergreen species it is a little susceptible to very cold weather (as well as summer heat and drought), but if it can escape these twin evils, and the perils of vine weevil, it usually flourishes. Rather surprisingly, it is in the Proliferae ('candelabra') section of the genus, rather than the Sikkimensis.

Competition

Plucked from the alpine house floor, where they revel in the shade and humidity, the Sphondylia primulas are starting to flower now. When I was working at the University of Newcastle we grew these in quantity as they flowered throughout the winter and provided useful material which students could work on for Practical classes and Projects. The two species shown here are the parents of that good plant P. kewensis. When this  new species first arose at Kew, it was shown to be a hybrid that had doubled its chromosome number and so had become true-breeding, the first time that alloploid speciation had been demonstrated. P. floribunda (left) comes from the Indian Himalayas, and P. verticillata (right) rather improbably from Saudi Arabia. Both are reasonably hardy under glass but will not survive our climate in the open garden.

I was going to feature Saxifraga fortunei that is flowering freely at present. However, Paul has done such a fantastic job showing how they flourish at Wisley, and the range of excellent new coloured cultivars that are available now (well, new to our side of the world anyway!) that my rather drab and old-fashioned form looks very much the 'poor relation' and I shall seek out some more exciting varieties.

Instead I am finishing with another plant that I have featured before, Nemesia rupicola. I collected seed of this in the Drakensberg two years ago and it is proving to be an excellent garden plant, a hardy perennial that never seems to stop flowering. I passed on a piece to our local National Collection holder of the related genus Diascia, so hopefully it will achieve a wider circulation.

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