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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 21 October 2007 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 54.

Early autumn
Now that this diary has been running for more than twelve months, it has been fascinating to compare the timing of seasonal events between years. On the whole, the general feeling that the autumn of 2007 is very early seems to be borne out. Some of our trees and shrubs have already lost all their leaves, and by the middle of October there was a good deal of mature colour. Someone suggested recently that if deciduous plants carry their leaves for an allotted span, this is an inevitable consequence of an warm early spring. If trees leaf early, the leaves are bound to fall early. I have absolutely no idea if this is true, but at least it sounds plausible! The first picture shows the scene from out of the window as I write this contribution. On the left is Acer crataegifolium, and on the right our Sorbus 'Joseph Rock' seedling. I discussed the latter last autumn. It has the typical purple autumn foliage of its parent, but the berries are more orange, suggesting that it may be hybrid with the rowan S. aucuparia.

Early autumn

Virginia Creeper
When we moved here 18 years ago (almost to the day!), we inherited a peculiarily ugly double garage. As we have only ever had one car since we moved here, one garage was rapidly transformed into a potting shed (capacious, but rather dark). This metamorphosis did little for the garage in the pulchritude stakes, so we have expended some effort and money in hiding the garage as much as possible. The south facing wall was easy, but the east facing wall presented some problems, not least because there was no soil at its foot, only solid concrete. Rooted at one end, Parthenocissus quinquefolius has taken some time to cover the surface, but now it flowers and fruits and is a lovely sight at this time of year.

Virginia Creeper

One more autumn foliage subject, the excellent shrub Fothergilla major. Although this is grown primarily for its attractive spring catkins, I love the way the veins are picked out in the colouring leaves. In the foreground, the dark leaves are Pittosporum 'Tom Thumb'.

Berries are also part of the autumn scene of course, and here is one of several Sorbus reducta we grow. Some have already lost their leaves (but not their berries), but growing in a very sheltered part of the garden, this individual is slow to lose its leaves. This does not stop the berries colouring. At their best, they are a dazzling 'day-glo' pink when the sun catches them. All our Sorbus reducta are of the so-called non-suckering form. In truth they do throw a few off-shoots, but much fewer and shorter than suckering individuals.

Before we step inside, I cannot resist a shot of the group of Primula boothii 'Annapurna autumn'. These were lifted for two autumn shows, and I have figured them before, but they have since been divided and returned to a newly filled part of a primula bed, as well as the original peat wall from where they were lifted. Doubtless their vigour bears witness to a cool damp summer.

In ye go
I have been checking out the crocuses featured last autumn, and to my relief find that some of the best escaped mention last year. For some reason my C. goulimyi 'Mani White' flowers about three weeks later than my seed-raised typical lilac C. goulimyi. What a splendid crocus this is! Restricted to the southern Greek Peloponnesos in the wild, it evaded discovery until fifty years ago. However, it is a good deal more widespread than originally thought, and rather surprisingly grows on top of the spectacular Monemvasia rock as well as occurring on the mainland opposite. Hereabouts, some of the mainland sites are represented by the white-flowered variety leucanthus, but white-flowered plants also occur within primarily lilac populations on the rock, as well as further west on the Mani peninsula, where the 'Mani White' strain originated. We grow both in pots inside, but they flourish in frames and planted out in Rod Leeds' Suffolk garden, and I think this a good open ground plant for a hot dry location in the southern half of Britain.

In ye go

Another good doer in a pot here is the Spanish Crocus serotinus subsp. salzmannii from southern Iberia and north Africa.

For many weeks I have been meaning to feature the little yellow Oxalis from the South African Drakensberg mountains, O. lobata. The best thing about this little plant is its exceptionally long flowering season, over some three autumn months, particularly if the withered flowers are tidied away. I have only had it for a couple of years and have yet to build up a large pan as is sometimes seen at our Shows, but it is definitely a worthwhile subject.

Finally, another perpetual flowerer. I am a devotee of the chasmophyte (cliff or ravine crevice) flora of Crete where many remarkable species of ancient lineage find their only home. Amongst these is one of the few perennial Verbascum, which forms great woody, woolly-leaved clumps. V. arcturus is not a small plant, and the many flowering spikes can reach a metre in height, but planted out in the sand plunge of the alpine house it is exceptionally long-lived and it can be in flower every month of the year. I am more than content to give it the extra room it demands.

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