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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 11 October 2017 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 348.

Autumn blues

Two of the autumn Shows been and gone, and two to go, not that I'll be trekking to Kent, and I guess it will be a week too late for many other exhibitors too. Saying which, several of my bulbs are just peeking through the ground, not least a nice pan of Crocus laevigatus that won't make it for Harrogate. Never mind, the gentians have held up quite well. I showed a couple ten days ago, and here are two more, both from the Aberconwy stable. First up, 'Silken Skies' which here seems to have the capacity to form a bigger plant under pot culture than most. Also it is a very nice darkish sky-blue and so is well named.

Gentiana 'Silken Skies'

The other gentian I wanted to share just now is a new acquisition. I no longer grew any clones of straight G. sino-ornata, the best-known and most widely grown of the western Chinese autumnal species. Autumn gentians do not thrive in the open ground here, and as I grow most in pots for exhibition, the straggly habit of most forms of this species are quite unsuitable. This is why the major contribution of the genes of the more erect, tufted, compact (and dry-land) G. veitchiorum in most modern clones raised by the Levers (Aberconwy), the McNaughtons (Berrybank) and others has revolutionised autumn gentians for exhibition. Thus, I was surprised when viewing the trial at Holehird garden last week with RHS Joint Rock Garden Committee members to see that one of the most desirable, and compact, of all the clones was named as a straight G. sino-ornata, under the clonal name 'Gorau Glas'. This is a super plant, possibly showing some influence of G. hexaphylla or G. ternifolia, but arguably a straight G.sino-ornata as named. Naturally I went straight out and bought one!

Gentiana sino-ornata 'Gorau Glas'

The afore-mentioned 'Joint Rock' also met at the 'Botanics' (RBG Edinburgh) last week and enjoyed a whistle-stop tour of the garden. Some autumn gentians are still grown in large spreads there, a traditional feature, not least their eponymous clone 'Inverleith'. However I was delighted to see that one of the best of the recent clones, G. 'The Caley', named for the Royal Caldeonian Horticultural Society, is also being grown in this extensive (and doubtless labour-intensive) way.

Gentiana 'The Caley'

During our ramble round the garden we encountered an enchanting and distinctive Colchicum grown in the open ground in good groups under the name C. atropurpureum. This dwarf plant opens dark pink and rapidly deepens to a bright rich purple. Investigations continue as to the correct name of this plant, as C. atropurpureum seems not to be a validly published name. It has been suggested that it represents a dark variant of C. turcicum, from the eastern side of the Bosphorus. If so, a new clonal name would be appropriate, as a well-known C. speciosum-type clone is also known as 'Atropurpureum'. The Committee was sufficiently taken by the clone to award it a Preliminary Commendation.

I have Frank Hoyle to thank for a delightful little plant which I took to the Ponteland Show, where it most unexpectedly won its class. He gave me a rooted cutting some time last year, and in a small crock pot in the alpine house it has grown slowly but surely and is now coming into full flower. Campanula 'Blue Pearl' is the hybrid between the Turkish C. myrtifolia and the Greek C. asperuloides, perhaps better known as Diophaera asperuloides. One has to say that this liason does seem to confirm that the latter is indeed a campanula (or C. myrtifolia is a Diosphaera!).

Campanula 'Blue Pearl'

Out with the chopper and off with its head!

Last week I reported on the removal of a Greek rose. This emboldened me to look further along the same path to the front door which has been obscured almost from the start by a very large Camellia 'Donation' which we planted on arrival. It is invariably smothered with its gaudy flowers and is very large, and for many years it has seduced me every April. Sheila has never liked it, having arguably better taste than me, and when I suggested that the space might be used more productively I could hardly see her for smoke. When the dust had settled, two bags had been filled, and a very small remnant (albeit with flower buds) was left. It only remained for me to take one of several branches of the desfontainea which the camellia had dominated, to create yet more room, top dress with some leaf mould, and plant in some cyclamen seedlings. Here first are two views, each 'before and after'.

Out with the chopper and off with its head!

Autumn fires

The seasonal display is reaching its height here and I thought I would indulge myself with a few pictures of plants which have been featured before, but not for a few years. First the wonderful Acer palmatum 'Osakazuki'.

Acer palmatum 'Osakazuki'

Davidia involucrata. Still hasn't flowered. I don't care any more!

Viburnum plicatum 'Mariesii' and Pyracantha spinosa.

Here is the view out of my window as I write.

And the vertical view from here onto one of the raised beds.

And finally.....

I find that a visit to RBG Edinburgh is very good for my immortal soul. Just when I was congratulating myself on 40 flowering spikes on Nerine bowdenii, I was faced with this vision. Note to self, must try harder!

Nerine bowdenii
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