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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 29 October 2010 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 164.

Autumn Glory


I find the most difficult part of writing this diary is to get the tone right; neither too preachy, nor too self-satisfied. I do it because I love conveying my own delight in plants to others. I am only too aware that what turns me on is not necessarily of the slightest interest to others, but then again, if they are not interested, they don't have to read it! 

A few days ago I derived the greatest pleasure from looking, not up but down, on the ground, as I walked round the garden. Depending on one's mood, or perception, the nuisance and mess of autumn leaves, harbingers of decay and corruption, transform into transient jewels, intricate patterns, wonderful designs. I find a camera is such a help here, serving to frame chaos, transporting it to beauty. Here are a few examples.


Autumn Glory

Those were all maples: Acer palmatum, A. capillipes, A. platanoides, A. griseum, A. crataegifolium. Here is Parrotia persica.

And Parthenocissus quinquefolius.

It is turning out to be one of the better autumns for colour. We went to Harlow Carr yesterday, and I stupidly forgot the camera. The colour and juxtaposition of planting was often stunning. I liked many of the new beds, planted during Matthew Wilson's time, specifically designed to look good in winter, and they are terrific, modern in concept and planting. But who could surpass the genius of the late Geoffrey Smith? Many of the ancient acers and conifers which match so harmoniously at this time are the product of his foresight and planning more than half a century ago. Interestingly, this garden looks it best now. I was there in the first week of June and thought it a mess. It is glorious now.

Instead here are a few vistas at home which I did not cover in issue 162. Firstly Abies koreana and Acer griseum.

The wonderful Acer capillipes has outgrown its space and is about to be coppiced. We will continue to enjoy the leaves, but not the 'snake-bark'! Here is its swan-song.

A view up the hill during the pellucid dusk we have just enjoyed. The reddish subject is Sorbus 'Joseph Rock' seedling.

Cups and rings and other ancient artefacts

In these letters, I have strayed from the topic of alpine plants quite frequently, particularly when I botanise locally, or  travel to foreign parts, or when I visit other gardens. Only rarely have I abandoned the topic of plants completely. However, I am working on the assumption that people who like alpines are curious folk who take enjoyment in other natural phenonema, or, as in this case, ancient artefacts.

Last Wednesday, our Botany walking group visited the far north of our long county, nearly 70 miles from here, in the vicinity of the lovely planned village (with its own castle) of Ford, not far south of the Tweed. Our walk was led by three expert archaeologists, and the object was to view ancient rock carvings in that vicinity. These carvings are famous within our county, but are perhaps not very well-known outside it. I found them fascinating, and I thought I would share them with you. We were fortunate on this late October day to be favoured by a slanting, golden sunlight which showed the artwork in relief.

The artefacts best known are the 'cup and rings'. These are self-explanatory, at least in the following photographs (at Routing Linn), but their age and purpose is not known. They are at least as old as Bronze Age, but may be mesolithic. There are literally hundreds of explanations as to their purpose, but they are probably of religious significance of course, and may signifiy the sun. Personally I think they may represent an ancient game of 'ptich and toss'. If your marble rests in the cup, you get 100 points, or maybe you are saved from sacrifice, who knows?

Cups and rings and other ancient artefacts

Not all the drawings are cup and rings. Here is a strange circle; even a diagrammatic face? And stalky flowers? Who knows? Their significance is lost in time.

Still more spooky (and it is Halloween, what a transatlantic abomination!) is nearby Goat Crag where you can climb to an ancient rock shelter eroded under the sandstone. Other ancient artefacts have been found here, suggesting that the site was important in the Mesolithic, but these carvings, obstensibly of Red Deer, are remarkable. Apparently they have no British counterpart, but very similar figures are known further south in Europe. Some of the deer clearly have antlers. At first it is easy to think that they are of natural origin, but the more you look at them, the clearer it seems that they are carved.

Its a lovely area. Another outcrop, Broomridge, has been harvested for another, more practical artefact, millstones. Some were abandoned half cut-out. Clearly there was a recession, a collapse in the grain market, caused by, who knows, the Black Death?

Gentian trough

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I had planted up a fishbox with gentians, including a fine form of G. farreri bought from Aberconwy Nurseries at the Ponteland Show. Really, I has planted this up with an eye to a superb display next year, but rather to my surprise the contents, which included a Kidbroke Seedling and a form of G. sinoornata lifted from the garden, have gone from strength to strength and are at their best now. The present warm spell has encouraged the flowers to open.

I am also including a photo of G. sino-ornata growing in a D bed. It is not flowering as well, and I do think that trough culture may be the way forward here.

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