A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: 20 October 2016 by John Richards
Northumberland Diary. Entry 327.
Paved with 'gold'
Our house is a 1970's Swedish-style wooden frame-built construction built by the owner in the grounds of a 19th Century mansion so that he and his wife could downsize once their children left home. Although the house itself is presentable, one feels that our predecessors (long since demised) lacked on appreciation for the finer touches of design and finish. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the garden paths and house surrounds which were uniformly finished using extremely ugly grey concrete pavers. Over the years these have been replaced by gravel, used as stepping stones in grass, colonised by moss and lichen, or in other ways their rawness has been disguised. However, this has never been possible next to the house, the surrounds of which were disfigured by loose, cracked, poorly laid pavers.
While we were in Greece, we finally got round to booking a professional landscaper to remove these and replace them with high quality sandstone slabs. We are delighted with the result, and, although not cheap, we feel that the job was well-worth the investment.
Here first are two views of the front, with the pavers partly removed (taken as we left home for our holiday).
I should explain that the tap has two nozzles one of which is permanently attached to the hose which carries the automatic watering to the alpine houses. Here are the steps by the front door, prior to repaving.
Here are those steps repaved, followed by the tap areas ditto.
The stone used was J T Dove's calibrated classic standstone, 'buff'. There is the side of the house, repaved.
Elsewhere we have also been busy. For many years a Cotoneaster horizontalis has grown against one of the alpine houses, constricting access along the path. More importantly it has also acted as a reservoir for weeds, and has acted as a barrier against the further development of the colony of Nerine bowdenii which has lived there for many years. Sadly I took no 'before' photo. However, the following snap shows that I achieved my goal of uniting the narrow nerine border (which also contains a salvia, lavender and some large alliums) with the path. In doing so I removed not only the cotoneaster, but also some vertical concrete dividers. The plan is to introduce some more hybrid nerines (currently taking space in the alpine house), and some salvias, once the cuttings, courtesy of my recent Oxford host, Alice Munsey, have rooted. This garden has few other 'hot' beds with good drainage, so the space is extra valuable.
Elsewhere in the garden it is very much autumn colour and berry time. Most of these subjects have been 'outed' publicly on at least one occasion. However, a Sorbus commixta, grown from seed nearly 20 years ago, has never featured largely because it has never before yielded a really worthwhile display. Both the neighbouring hedge and a large Rosa sericea have been hacked back this year, which may have contributed to this year's display. This fine sexual Japanese rowan usually has redder berries than this, so it is possible that my plant is a hybrid, although the flat clustered berry heads are typical. It grows sandwiched between what I now know to be Sorbus ellipsoides (previously thought to be S. hupehensis, a redundant name, now rechristened S. pseudohuphehensis) and an Acer circinatum.
As I write the sorbus has been invaded by a flock of redwings. I have brought my big camera lens upstairs, but the birds were flightly and soon disappeared. Probably, the berries were yet to ripen.
Autumn crocus are now starting to flower. It looks as if will be a poor year. The Crocus kotschyanus, C. boryi, C. niveus, C. laevigatus and C. ochroleucus are not as good as last year. At repotting time, I had tried the experiment of not disturbing the bulbs, merely replacing the compost above them. This seems not to have been a success. Other autumn bulbs have flowered poorly (my Sternbergia sicula not at all, and Galanthus reginae-olgae, only two flowers). We have not had a bad summer, so the bulbs should have been baked under glass, but I did try not allowing them to dry out fully, watering them several times during the summer. Next time I shall dry them out for two months and repot completely.
However, I am pleased to welcome a new autumn crocus to the community. AGS Seed of Crocus longiflorus was sown in 2012. I have three bulbs, one of which is now flowering for the first time. Judging from its rarity on the show table, this southern Italian seems not to be very common in cultivation.
Not all the late crocus have been poor. C. melantherus and C. banaticus, both now finished flower, were both quite good, and the big pan of Crocus goulimyi was sufficiently advanced to win a red ticket at Harlow Carr (not in a crocus class, as, unbelievably for mid October, there isn't one! Here is is a few days later. Today it has 65 open flowers.
Mention of Crocus goulimyi and Harlow Carr segues smoothly to that splendid show last weekend. I covered some features this time last year, but here are some different aspects. I admired Crocus goulimyi in its pale eastern form ssp. leucanthus in the alpine house on that occasion, but this year took a photograph.
I also admired in the Harlow Carr alpine house a neat colchicum under the name 'Dick Trotter'. As a show plant, this has the meritorious features of being rather small and squat (for one of the larger hybrids), flowering late and not flopping. I must try to get hold of it.
I also admired a campanula grown neatly in a crevice under the name 'WH Paine'. Two points here. One is that the label clearly displays the fact that this plant has an RHS AGM award. There is much more scope for publicity of AGMs, certainly as RHS gardens, but also in plant nurseries and even at our Shows. The second is, of all the leading public alpine houses, certainly Kew, Wisley, even RBG Edinburgh, Harlow Carr surely has the best. Large, airy, cool, with plenty of space for the public and beautifully planted.
The original Harlow Carr owed much to the late Geoffrey Smith, a true Yorkshireman, who scoured the local countryside for old stone troughs at a time when they could be had for very little. I suspect that many of the fine and well-planted examples around the Harlow Carr alpine house originated with Smith, and it would be interesting to know if this is indeed true. Here are a couple of the best examples.
Elsewhere in the garden, the herbaceous borders have become one of the best features and were still magnificent.
Time again to publicise my website www.autumncolour.co.uk!
Autumn colour was of course superb at Harlow Carr. Here is a general view, followed by some notable examples.
Euonymus alatus 'Compactus'
Acer japonicum 'Aconitifolium'
Acer x freemanii 'Autumn Blaze' (new to me).
And, finally, good old Cornus alba 'Sibirica'. Mine is partial host to the parasite Lathraea clandestina and has lost its leaves prematurely!