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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 01 October 2017 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 347.


I have commented before that high amongst my many faults as a gardener is my sentimentality, a tendency to keep less-than-worthwhile plants which hog valuable ground from some mistaken sense of loyalty. A good example has been Rosa heckeliana. We collected hips of this dwarf(-ish) rose on the MESE seed expedition in 1999, from the slopes of Timfi as I remember. Here it forms a compact shrub of 50 cm covered with bright red shiny hips. I raised (or at least kept) two plants. One was placed on the main alpine terrace where it rapidly proved to be a menace, suckering vigorously. It has long since been removed, yet the suckers tenaciously continue to appear above ground in a variety of inconvenient places, and I need to don thick leather gloves each time one appears!

The other one was planted on the other side of the house in a very spartan stony scree in a good deal of shade (from the house which is only a path's width away). Here it has been tolerated for the best part of two decades, for the reasonable display of the fruits rather than for the rather small and insubstantial pink flowers. Although this one has not suckered to any extent, it has been pruned from time to time to take out the more vigorous leaders, and it has remained at about a metre in height (and two metres through). It has probably occupied some 20% of the total planting area. Once I had heavily cut back the neighbouring Pinus mugo with beneficial results it was clear that the rose had to go. Here are two pictures of the site before removal.



And here is a picture of the site once the rose had been chopped back, and the roots all removed. The site had some old compost and slow-release fertiliser dug in but is still basically a very impoverished scree in a good deal of shade. I have used it as a site for several primulas which has outlived their useful life in pots. They were divided and planted into the renovated scree. Notice also some of the species Digitalis seedlings (D. lanata, D.laevigata and D. viridiflora) grown from seed collected in NE Greece last autumn.

As you can see an added bonus is that the removal has opened up a vista across the scree gardens and down to the alpine houses which has been hidden before. This is the second large rose which has gone this autumn. I am greatly looking forward to developing the land freed up by the removal of the large and ancient R. 'Nevada' once the leaves have been cleared (the next, looming, task).

The Show season has restarted and I thoroughly enjoyed the day at Loughborough yesterday, chatting to many enthusiasts revitalised after the summer break. It was a good Show, remarkably so  considering the topsy-turvy autumn which was the subject of many conversations. For many cyclamens and crocuses have been extraordinarily early, so that they had gone thorugh for even this, the first of the autumn shows. I have found crocuses early, but then I often struggle to flower them even for the last autumn show. I was pleased to be able to show what I think is the finest of the Greek autumn crocuses, C. melantherus, in good condition. This is usually considered to be a subspecies of C. biflorus, but here, for once, I am with Ruksans. This is quite an early autumn-flowering species well out of the geographic range of other C. biflorus which are nearly all spring-flowering. Surely it deserves specific rank?!


Crocus melantherus

Crocus boryi has also flowered early (as hasC. goulimyi) and was past its best yesterday.

The autumn gentians have also been very early here and I cannot remember an earlier year. I was able to stage five yesterday. This first one was put up to the Joint Rock Garden Committee , as G. 'Murrayfield'. I find it vigorous and notably even-flowered.

Gentiana 'Murrayfield'

Gentiana 'Braemar' with its notably striped corolla is another reliable doer here, grown in plastic pots and repotted every March as they come into growth. On the whole I am finding the plants raised by the McNaughtons at 'Berrybank' to be the best doers in our conditions. Our climate is quite like that of the Edinburgh region. However, one of the Lever (Aberconwy) hybrids which shares this heavily striped corolla, but lacks the distinctive white marks at the throat is G. 'Silken Giant', shown here, and this has also settled to pot culture well.

We have had a protracted season with colchicums. The first ones flowers six weeks ago, but some of the later forms are still in good condition. Here are two that are still at their best today, the first day of October. They may be 'Rosy Dawn' and 'Purpureum'.

In late September we had another foray southwards to visit family. We manage to fit in a couple of hours at Saville. Usually our favourite southern garden, particularly in autumn, it seemed dry and between-times, the herbaceous tired and most of the autumn colour scarcely started. The ever-reliable Euonymus alatus was good though.

I always enjoy the unusual, a good plant of which I had never heard, and Viburnum setigerum fits this bill. I like berried plants which produce good leaf colour as well.

Viburnum setigerum

Another plant new to me at Saviile was Colchicum 'Little Woods'. This is a miniature C. speciosum type, less thn half the size of most and very distinctive.

Colchicum 'Little Woods'

As I say, much of the herbaceous was over but we greatly enjoyed this 'coup de theatre' of Cannas backed by Cortaderias. Wow!

Saville has many notable trees, none more so that this monstrous Podocarpus salignus. We grew this at the Newcastle Botanic Garden, but Saville must have the champion of this rather rarely-seen Chilean gymnosperm (no, its strictly speaking not a conifer!).

One our way back north we indulged ourselves with a couple of days on the Suffolk coast, near Southwold. We had a great day at Minsmere, seeing  a Red-necked Phalarope, and the resident Bearded Tits were very cooperative, even though I could not get the sharpest of pictures!

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