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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 12 October 2010 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 162.

Picture diary

Goodness, its a fortnight since I last visited these pages, as I was reminded by a senior member of the Society at the excellent Ponteland Show last Saturday (well done Mike and Pearl on your last outing, best wishes to the two Alans who will take over next year).

Well, what news? Kind of you to ask. Nothing sensational but have been kept busy in the garden with lots of little things. We bought and planted two small decorative trees to fill in the space left by the removal of the old lime. We wanted a narrow upright shape, blossom, fruit, autumn colour. In the end we settled for two old favourites; Malus 'Red Sentinel' and Prunus x hillieri. Both are already 2 m high and were £20 each which I thought very reasonable. Its easy to pay twice as much. Good big planting holes in the rootbound ground (dead roots now), plenty of garden compost, well-rotted, and a good firm planting stake each.

I have replanted two troughs. One was a big fishbox with a corner missing; the first one that has broken (while moving it when it was too wet and heavy). I have glued the corner back with a pvc cement, waited two days and filled it with a mix of 30% sieved leafmould, sharp sand, JI3 and perlite. It has been planted with a selection of autumn gentians. They don't get enough light, air and drainage late on in this garden, so this is another attempt to please them. It is now in what passes for full light in this garden in mid October. The other one had been neglected in a corner. Virtually its only surviving inhabitant was Primula juliae which was replanted in crevices in limestone as reported in the last issue. I have refilled it with a mix with rather more leafmould and perlite and planted it chiefly with 'rescue' petiolarid primulas, especially P.boothii autumnalis which had been having rather a rough time.

 Lots more plants have been brought inside the drier alpine house which is now nearly full. Now that the cooler weather is upon us and the plunges have been thoroughly watered, everything looks very content so far. Even when the sun shines, which it has today for the first time for 10 days or more (while the rest of you have been basking in a golden autumn, we have had an easterly fret = ha), it only gets onto the alpine houses for a few hours a day now. An exciting new acquisition give to me at our meeting last night (thank you for the informative talk Vic) was from our member Ray Johnstone. Ray and Gloria are even more afficiandos of the Peloponnesos than we are, and they collected seed last autumn from a large boulder below a monastery-crowned cliff on the road into southern Parnon above Leonidio. This is the site from which I collected seed of a very nice lemon form of Stachys chrysantha some years back (which is now in circulation). But Ray's plant is much more exciting. For years it was thought that Diosphaera asperuloides, that wonderful cushion campanula which Roy Elliott grew so well, was restricted to the Styx on Chelmos. However, it is now known from Lake Stymfalia and, I had heard, Parnon. Ray handed over a super little seedling which is now residing in a new home in the plunge, nestling in a cradle of home-made tufa!

What else? I have reworked the peat walls where many of the petiolarid primulas live, pulling out polytrichum moss and adding new compost into the spaces. Many plants were divided and replanted in the process. Not an ideal time of year (I prefer the plants to be in active root-growth) but the spring is so busy. Both there and elsewhere I have removed a myriad of sporeling ferns. If I left these to their own devices the garden would disappear under a mass of male fern and lady fern (and oak fern, but that is another story, it creeps, rather than spores). To get out the fern hearts from the crevices they insert themselves into needs a sharp-pointed trowel and a strong wrist. Some of these areas have been demossed, weeded and regravelled. 

And I have (finally) mown the lawn today, after, probably, three weeks. It doesn't grow so fast in these shorter cooler days, but it needed doing, hopefully for the last time before winter sets in. In fact, a lot of the mowing was hoovering really, debris, leaves, bud scales.


I headed this 'picture diary'. I have gabbled on more than I meant to. Now that the sun has appeared it is a glorious time of year, almost my favourite, so I thought I would let the pictures, all taken in our garden in the last 24 hours, speak for themselves.

Firstly some berries. Pyracanthas are not my favourite as they are horribly prickly, need constant pruning and don't fruit that well here in this rather shady site. We inherited these, so I am not sure of the names. The first is probably 'Golden Charmer' and the second perhaps 'Mohave'.

Next the common honeysuckle, Lonicera periclymenum, Berberis thunbergii and Cotoneaster horizontalis. Common plants all, and worth their space!

Now for some Sorbus. S. cashmiriana, S. glabrescens, S. eburnea and S. 'Joseph Rock' seedling.

Now some autumn colour. It is proving to be a good autumn for colour and an early one. I have posted pictures of most of these subjects in earlier years, but its a small garden and I love them!. Often these pictures have been taken at the end of the month; we seem to be a good fortnight early this year. So here is Acer palmatum underplanted with Euonymus 'Silver 'n Gold, Parrotia persica,  and a Vaccinium that I have down as a gift from Peter Bland as V. macranthum x nummularium . I can't trace this and have no idea if its right, but if not its definitely my fault, not Peter's! Finally, Davidia involucrata.

Some autumn flowering subjects. Desfontainea spinosa is now onto its second stint of the year, which is usually more spectacular than the first. The last of the colchicums here is I think genuine C. speciosum. It has less of a narrow tube and abrupt flare than the hybrids. Meconopsis quintuplinervia, the 'Harebell Poppy' often throws the odd autumn flower. This is an old plant, not one of the many seedlings I have raised this year. Gentiana 'Kidbrooke Seedling' is followed by the familiar Sedum spectabile 'Autumn Joy'.

A few nerines to finish with. Firstly, part of the main bed of N. bowdenii. This is flourishing with more than 30 spikes this year, despite the coldest winter for 30 years and yet another indifferent summer. There were some intriguing plants for sale at the Ponteland Show, labelled 'N. sarniensis hybrids'. If this is right, they are liable to be less hardy that N. bowdenii and I have planted the two I bought in pots in the alpine house. What a stunning red!

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