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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 05 September 2009 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 126.

Growing meconopsis

This diary received more feedback after the few notes I had made about oversummering asiatic primulas than ever before, so I thought another contribution on how I grow a particular group of desirable plants might be welcome.

I don't have a particularly big collection of meconopsis, and tend to collect the species rather than endless varieties of 'big blue poppies'. Nevertheless, I do grow about ten varieties of M. grandis, M. baileyi (as we must now call it again) and their hybrid M. x sheldonii and on the whole they perform and persist quite well.

All the sites in which I grow 'big blue poppies' are sheltered, partially shaded, humid, raised, and are made up with a compost of well-rotted garden compost topped with composted leaf-mould. Occasionally they are top-dressed with more leaf-mould after they have died down in the winter. They are not covered in winter. The main site in which I grow them runs alongside the kitchen window and is shown below.

Growing meconopsis

I have come to the conclusion that 'big blue poppies' like some competition, that is they like to grow in close proximity to other herbaceous perennials. I think that jostling for space in this way lowers the air movement and increases humidity around the leaf surface which meconopsis enjoy. It is important to choose partners carefully, so that they have a large leaf surface area, but are not too vigorous and tend to grow only early in the season. Sanguinaria and Dicentras make good partners. Here is 'Slieve Donard' elbowing aside Sanguinaria canadensis.

'Mrs Jebb' is a good grower here, and is relatively early to flower. Compared to 'Slieve Donard' and 'Lingholm' is is rather lightly built, so it needs less hearty companions.

Notice the nomocharis fruits ripening in the last photo. Yum!

I also grow two varieties of M. grandis, both soundly perennial and a goodish blue. The first was collected by Mike Hirst many years ago and is called 'Early Sikkim' from its habit of opening in mid-May. It has huge flowers, 15 cm across. My plant had stopped flowering in recent years, but it has been replanted into new ground, and looks much more vigorous again.

The other one was acquired from a commercial source a couple of years back.

Moving on to other species, by far the most showy at this time of year is the wonderful monocarpic rosette plant introduced into cultivation by Aberconwy nursery as M. paniculata 'Ghunsa Group'. I think seed might have been introduced from Nepal by Pete Boardman, but am unsure. Definite information would be welcome. Here, it needs a cloche in winter if it is not to rot.

Finally, here are two monocarpic species that have both been grown from my own seed this year. Two points here; firstly, it is important to save seed (and store it in a fridge), particularly of the monocarpic species. Second, the sooner the seedlings are pricked out, and the sooner the young plants are put into their permanent place once they are big enough (hopefully by the end of June), the more likely you are to have large plants that will overwinter successfully and flower the next year. M. integrifolia, the first figured, nevertheless needs a cloche in winter, but M. latifolia (second) survives well without.

You will see from the rather dirty leaves how much rain we have had recently, give rise to mud-splash. Meconopsis love the (monsoon) rain now, but not later, in the autumn!

This rain has caused me to take many subjects from the shady plunge and put them back in the hotter of the alpines houses (not so hot now!). Most of the subjects that are left in the plunge are asiatic primulas, which will not go inside until the sun is a good deal lower, perhaps in a month's time.

However, several small meconopsis have gone in (but to the cooler of the houses), notably M. delavayi, M. impedita (I think) and what may be M. rudis.

I have left a few subjects out to enjoy the rain. Here is Rhodohypoxis 'Hebron Farm Red Eye'. This has adored the monsoon, flowering non-stop for months, but sooner or later it will need drying out for the winter.

Autumn is definitely with us now. The Cyclamen hederifolium are at their best.

And here is the first of the colchicums here, the species C. bivonae.

Eucryphia x nymansensis 'Nymansay' has flowered quite well this year. I can see it from the window as I write this.

Finally, both the surviving grafts I made from Daphne jasminea scions onto D. mezereum after a visit to Delphi last year have produced a few flowers. I am pleased with this one which has quite dark tubes to the flower, like the legendary Ralph Heywood form of yesteryear.

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