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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 26 October 2015 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 306

Harlow Carr Show

Its now over a week since the brilliant Show at Harlow Carr, Harrogate, the last of the season, and much has been written since, but I did want to add my two-pennyworth. Obviously, from the point of view of the AGS, and hopefully of the RHS too, this is a totally outstanding venue. The only downers were the rather cramped rooms, so that the Show itself had to be split into two rooms, and the plant sales into a third. Such was the popularity of the Show that all three venues were very crowded and a bit claustrophobic. However, we are led to expect that facilities may improve markedly in a year or two and it will be worth suffering minor inconveniences in the interim.

On the plus side, both the show and the sales areas enjoyed far better attendance that is usual at our Shows, and the nurserymen left wreathed with broad grins. Consequently, the AGS received excellent exposure to a new public, and gained quite a number of new members as a result. Importantly, the RHS were of the opinion that their own attendance had also been greatly boosted by the added attraction of our Show, and whether or not it was true, the perception is crucial to the ongoing success of this venture. Who knows, in the future Shows might also be held at Hyde Hall, Rosemoor, and even at the newly announced venue, Bridgewater, in Salford, Manchester?


What was striking was the heart-warming enthusiasm amongst RHS staff at Harlow Carr who were extremely keen to optimise the access and publicity to the Show. I am uncertain who funded the two signs illustrated below, but they were conspicuously and helpfully displayed. Even more noticeably, RHS staff at the entrance went out of their way to publicise our Show verbally, and I think that the majority of visitors to the Gardens that day may have attended the Show. Furthermore, judges meals and the Joint Rock Garden Committee were helpfully accommodated at no little inconvenience to RHS staff, whose cooperation throughout was exemplary. Dare one say that it is hoped that this cooperative attitude will spread to ALL RHS venues and employees?

Autumn gentians

Autumn-flowering gentians tend to be associated with northern England, not entirely accurately (many of the best earlier hybrids were in fact raised at Sawbridgeworth in Hertfordshire). However,  as most enjoy cool conditions and an acidic soil that does not dry out, perhaps these conditions are often more easily satisfied in the north. Certainly, Harlow Carr has long had a reputation for fine plantings of autumn gentians, since the time of Geoffrey Smith who was an enthusiast and advocate of the genus.

Such has been the plethora of fine new hybrids with fresh vigour that Aberconwy nursery, Ian and Beryl McNaughton and others have released in recent years, that it was interesting to see so many of the older forms flourishing at Harlow Carr. As many are not often seen these days, I thought it would be interesting to display a selection.

First, Gentiana 'Devonhall'. 'Iona' and 'Strathmore' (in that order), all of which share a certain similarity, and both G. farreri and G. veitchiorum somewhere in their complex parentage.

Gentiana 'Devonhall' Gentiana 'Iona' Gentiana 'Strathmore'

There are two seldom-seen off-white clones, G. 'Angel's Wings' and G.'Ettrick'. The latter name recalls a stirring ballad I used to sing years ago when I was a member of a Male Voice Choir which started 'Ettrick and Teviotdale, why the De'il don't you march, forward in order; All the Blue Bonnets are bound for the border', and it is not impossible that this 'White Bonnet' was named with the song in mind. Driving through the wild country of Ettrick from here, en route to the 'Botanics', sometimes I recall the ballad and glance nervously in my mirror. Today the greatest threat to my well-being comes from speed-cameras!

Gentiana 'Angel's Wings' Gentiana 'Ettrick'

Autumn gentians suit troughs in cool positions (also fishboxes) as the extra light, air and drainage seems to be their liking, as long as the roots remain cool and damp. Despite the presence of the genes of G. sino-ornata, a real swamp dweller in the wild, in the constitution of most clones, modern autumn gentians resent waterlogging at the root, and a good admixture of perlite in the compost seems to suit them. Here is a large container displayed by Hartside Nursery at Harlow Carr, planted out with an attractive mix of autumn gentians.

Before we leave the subject of autumn gentains, we were all privileged to see the legendary Gentiana  depressa on the Show bench, exhibited by Tim Lever from Aberconwy. This difficult high alpine from the central Himalaya, which ironically is not at all hardy, has nearly disappeared from cultivation, despite having been seen frequently in the 1980's. I suspect that a cool position in a poly tunnel may suit it well. The combination of humidity and draughtiness in the absence of frost is hard to mimic elsewhere.

Gentiana depressa

Just one further treasure from the Show bench, a good form of Crocus mathewii.

Crocus mathewii

Back home

This is proving another vintage year for autumn colour, which is stretching on and on. Here are a few subjects from my own garden, firstly a small plant of Acer palmatum 'Dissectum Atropurpureum'.

Acer palmatum 'Dissectum Atropurpureum'

Acer micranthum, perhaps the best of the small species (loves shelter)

Acer micranthum

Acer circinatum, grown from seed, is now quite a tall tree, crowded in with Sorbus commixta.

Our Sorbus 'Joseph Rock' seedling is a really good colour this year and keep its leaves for ages.

Here is a general view featuring Fothergilla major.

In the distance is the Sorbus reducta, featured in the last episode. My only excuse for finishing by showing a small part again is the contrast with a small patch of Crocus banaticus, one of several in the garden.

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