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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 28 September 2008 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 92.

Seasonal tasks

Over the last week or so I have been busy preparing for winter. As the day-length and strength of the sun declines, I have brought a number of subjects, paraquilegias, some primulas and androsaces from the shady plunge where they spent the summer into the alpine house. Here they should no longer be subject to cooking in bright sunlight, but nevertheless receive good light and are kept relatively dry as the autumn progresses. Hopefully this mimics the drier autumns typical of the monsoon climates most inhabit, and which the plants enjoy as they shut down metabolism for winter. At the same time, the asiatic primula fishbox troughs have been brought out from their shady summer retreat into the relatively better light and good air-flow near the front gate. However I have not yet moved the porophyllum saxifrages from the shady plunge. They still look in prime condition, and I have found that if they are moved inside too early they become very prone to botrytis, especially those with S. poluniniana in their parentage. Probably, I won't move these inside until November.

It is also the time of year to send seed off, and I sent 34 packets of clean seed to the AGS during the week. This is not the limit of what I collected. For nearly another 20 subjects that I want to sow myself, there was not enough extra to spare for the seed exchanges. Also, because I doubt if the seed sent is stored subsequently in refrigerators, there is little point in sending some subjects, Ranunculaceae and some primulas, which have a very short viability if kept at temperatures above 5C.

If that sounds like a gripe, it isn't really as I realise that the practicalities of keep vast amounts of seed refrigerated are problematic. Nevertheless, investment in large amounts of refrigeration is something the AGS should perhaps contemplate. I do have a minor complaint however, which is directed not at the AGS but some of the specialist Societies/Groups. No less than three of them to which I belong have requested seed to be sent to their specialist seed-lists during the last week, AFTER I had sent my seed to the AGS. Too late!

In mid-September last year I reported on the 'Sapphire Strain' of Gentians that were being sold then. I have not seen them this year, but the plants purchased then have lasted quite well and are now coming into flower. Here is a white-flowered plant I bought, close to 'Serenity' perhaps?

Seasonal tasks

Berry bonanza
I have reported on the sorbus in the garden in previous years, but it is that time of year, so here is a selection, including a couple that I have not shown before I think. Firstly the lovely S. reducta, now approaching its best. Years ago I wrote this plant up for the 'Plant of the month' section of the website. Since then the plant has been uprooted and replanted as the 'D' bed was refurbished, but it did not turn a hair, and some bits propagated at the time sold like hot cakes. This may not be clear from the photo, but this venerable plant (more than 20 years) is only about 60 cm high.

Berry bonanza

Next, I want to highlight the difference between the popular S. hupehensis and its less frequently grown relation, S. glabrescens. It is often said that the berries of S. hupehensis turn pink, while those of S. glabrescens remain white, but I find that both vary in this respect, depending on the weather and the season. Rather, the habit of the plants differs, S. hupehensis being more upright, while the lower branches of S. glabrescens droop. Also the leaflets of the former have a different texture and shape, being fleshier and rounder. I am showing S. hupehensis first, followed by S. glabrescens.

Finally, in this section, the ever-reliable S. eburnea (previously S. 'Harry Smith'). I have shown this before, but what a good plant!

Many of the garden pleasuresat this time of year are foliage-based. Some subjects are starting to colour, and as the weather finally starts to dry up after such a soggy summer, the signs are that we may be enjoying good colour in a month's time. In the meantime, the gentle pleasures to be gained from New Zealand alpines come to the foreground. Here is part of the trough that I planted two years ago with a selection of celmisias. The silver subject in the centre is that curious form of C. angustifolia with an almost oyster-like silver gloss to the upper leaf surface. For years I was convinced that this distinctive plant was a hybrid, but I am coming round to the view expressed by others that it is a form of the species. I see Gary Dunlop (Ballyrogan Nurseries) lists is as 'silver-leaved form', but there is something at the back of my mind that it has been named for a person or garden Can anybody help me? The other two plants in this photo are C. du-retzii (left) and C. discolor (right).

Staying with foliage, here are two plants of Meconopsis superba, grown from seed in 2007. They didn't flower this year, but if they overwinter safely, they are large enough to flower next summer.

Straying inside, I had already said last week that the autumn crocus are flowering in plenty of time for the two 'northern' shows this year (I persist in thinking that this weekend, occupied by the Horsham Show this year, is a week early for the first autumn show, but then, I do not exhibit cyclamen!). Four years ago, Kath Baker, in the company of the Wallises, collected crocus seed in the Peloponnesos in the spring. The species involved was always going to be something of a gamble at that time of year, but the first one is flowering now, and is correct to name as C. hadriaticus. In fact with its substantial yellow anthers, small style, yellow base to the corolla inside and brown tube it is very typical of the species and indistinguishable from my established pan also coming into flower, which was built up from a few bulbs purchased from the self-same Wallises more than a decade ago.

Most of the newly popular Chinese Petrocosmeas flower too late to be of much service at the Shows. However the lovely P. begoniifolia is proving an exception to this rule and is just coming to its best now. Since I took this photo I have removed some dog-eared foliage (woodlice? they are a plague) and built up the top-dressing so it looks smarter. This plant suffered -9C under glass last winter without incurring any damage.

A Show next weekend! Yippee!

John Richards

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