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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 08 October 2006 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary Entry 8.

More Crocuses

What a difference a week makes! Last week I could only take one measley pot of crocuses with four flowers to the Loughborough Show, but there are now at least 10 different species or forms in full flower. Having decided that the 400 odd miles to Horsham (and back!) was a step too far  for me this year, in fact yesterday might have been too early anyway as most crocuses opened on the Show day, or today, a day later, in remarkable synchronicity. I think the windy, chilly snap three days earlier  must have provided a concerted stimulus to flowering.

Here is the first crocus I am going to figure this week, Crocus goulimyi, from the south of the lovely Peloponnesos in Greece where it mostly flowers  in early November, a month later than this. Its a good pot plant here in a cold house, flowering from seed in three or even two years and multiplying well. I have yet to try it outside although I believe it thrives outside for some who live further south. In fact, things are changing so fast that there seem to be no north/south rules any more, so it might be worth a try next time I repot. Crocus niveus , also from the Peloponnese, is flowering in a trough outside at the moment.

More Crocuses

Autumn-flowering crocuses are very collectable, as there are about 40 species that flower at this time of year, probably about as many as flower in the spring, but they flower at an unfashionable time of year, which is great. Also, I may be biased by the shortening days and gloomy nights but I prefer many to the spring species, not least because many come from southern Greece and this is a splendid excuse to visit them in our autumn, while it remains warm in Greece. Most seem perfectly at home in an unheated alpine house, dried out plunged for three months in summer and repotted in August. The next one I am showing was grown from Gothenburg Botanic Garden seed about six years ago. Crocus robertianus was only discovered in the Pindos about 35 years ago by John Marr and named after his son who died in infancy. It looks superficially like C. niveus from much further south, but is in fact an autumnal relative of C. sieberi.

Autumn crocus outside
I do have a few Crocus pulchellus and C. speciosus outside, but they don't thrive in this cool north-facing garden. Quite different in its requirements is C. banaticus, which likes nothing better than a cool humusy acid soil that never dries out, and here we grow it between dwarf rhododendrons. In summer it disappears beneath a rampaging carpet of oak fern (NOT a good idea, don't do it!), but doesn't actually seem to mind, as I think it goes dormant just as the fern comes into its rather belated growth in early May.

Autumn crocus outside

Blue sow thistles

Another out of season flower, although we have found that if you dead-head Cicerbita alpina it may flower until the first frosts (tonight, if the forecast is anything to go by!). This is  plant of non-alpine dimensions, being a metre tall, although as the name suggests it has real alpine credentials, being a subalpine forest plant from the Alps and Scandinavia. It survives in four rock-ledge sites high in the eastern Scottish Highlands too, where it is jealously protected, and is one of the rarest and most romantic of all British native plants. In fact it was one of the first 12 species of plant to be protected by law in Great Britain in the first Wildlife and Countryside Bill (1972). More than 100 species are listed for Britain nowadays. This plant was a gift from Ian Bainbridge who grew it from Norwegian seed, and it is one of my most prized possessions.

Blue sow thistles
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