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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 08 September 2013 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 253.

Two new sand beds

I closed the last offering by noting that I had cleared out two scree beds which had become overrun with perennial weeds, one next to the Korean Fir, and the other by the alpine houses ('glasshouse bed'). Those plants I had wanted to keep had been potted temporarily and stored in a cool place (important as the weather had stayed warm and dry until two days ago; indeed we had become very dry).

No sooner had I written this than I ordered a  two tonne dumpy bag of concreting sand which was delivered in our absence just inside the front gate with accustomed punctuality and accuracy. Thereby hangs a tale, for a handwritten note was attached to the bag apologising for a hole in the tarmacadam by the gate, caused by the 'leg' on which the lorry hoists itself when the crane is operating. This was a very little hole which I might not have noticed, but sure enough, come teatime, the lorry driver reappears, blocking the access road, with a bucket of tarmacadam. Having no means of application (he could have asked!), he preceded to fill the hole using his hand, and then knocked on the door to ask if he could wash his hands! After five minutes hard washing he used up most of a container of liquid soap, and ruined the rest by coating the exterior with a thick smear of tar! But its the thought that counts, and it was a very nice thought.

At present, my back and hip are not in tip-top shape, so we paid the fit young step-son of a friend to barrow the sand, first to finally complete the plunge in alpine house 2, and then to give about 20 cm depth of pure sand over the scree mix which had survived the clearences. Here, first, is the Fir bed filled. It remains mostly unplanted.

Two new sand beds

As can be seen, this is a reasonable area, about 3 m square, shaded by the fir on the east side, but in full morning sun. The large Callianthemum anemonoides which was temporarily lifted has gone back in since. I did think about keeping it in its 25cm diameter pot until after the spring shows, but it seems to enjoy this site outside (under a pane of glass in winter), and I work on the principle of 'better the devil you know'.

The greenhouse bed was  edged with Bradstone 2 x 1 pavers placed vertically to give extra height. It is a large area, about 8 m long x 1 m on average. I have started to replant it; indeed more than 50 small plants have gone in and so far look lost. I intend to top-dress it with gravel and sandstone flakes when it has received some more plants, as it looks a little bare at present. The first picture shows it in preparation, then filled with sand, and then planted as it is so far.

Incidentally, you may recognise this as the view used by Jim to introduce all the diaries on the website, a photo taken some six years ago now. Things change, gardens are never static!

Here is the same bed planted, facing the other direction.

Well, at least I have some planting space spare for the smaler alpines which tend to get swamped in some of my other areas.

Continuing for a moment with matters mentioned in my last epistle, we visited Belsay Gardens last weekend with my son and family and were taken with plantings of a lily there which showed up well against the yew hedging. I am fairly sure this really is the tiger lily of Lewis Carroll, L. lancifolium (one of the few asiatic lilies grown in the mid nineteenth century, and probably something of a Oxford novelty then, when it was known as L. tigrinum). It differs from my plant, illustrated last week, in paler flowers, and an absence of stem bulbils. Is this significant? If so, perhaps my plant really is L. henryi?

Autumn bulbs

Typically, the first autumn bulb to flower under glass is Merendera montana (now reclassified as a Colchicum, but I shall remain traditionalist here, at least for a few years of adjustment!). However, its timing is strange in that it is well ahead of colchicums in the garden. The latter are a good two weeks late this year, and are only just starting to appear now, fostering hopes that some might still be in good shape for the shows. However, Cyclamen hederifolium is if anything early, and is making a great show at present! Here is the Merendera.

Autumn bulbs

Many people regard Papaver atlanticum as a weed, together with its close cousin P. lateritium. Indeed the former appears in the British flora as a garden escape, so it can indeed be weedy. Here, grown in a scree it behaves itself and has a long flowering period, prolonged by deadheading. It is gawky and an odd colour, but it provides colour at a difficult time of year and I keep faith with it.

Two off-season flowers to conclude this short offering. First, Primula angustifolia. Although we saw this species on the high Colorado tundras during our August visits back in the '90's, it was over flower. It has become very rare in cultivation, so I was delighted to see that the Levers were offering it for sale (Aberconwy Nursery) last spring. The potted plant was kept in a shady place under glass and became too hot, disappearing almost entirely. Moved to a cool spot outside, it has recovered somewhat, and deigned to produce a flower, possibly the first time I ever saw this species in bloom.

Another purchased primula is a P. capitata which I saw for sale on a stall in Hexham market earlier this summer and could not resist buying. Planted out in a fishbox, it is in full flower now (subsp. sphaerocephala), next to more off-season flowers, this time from a blue corydalis. This was also purchased, this time from a members stall at a spring show as 'C. flexuosa dwarf form'. Well, whatever this lovely plant is, it is not C. flexuosa, which has crowded, erect, linear spurs, whereas in my plant the spurs are horizontal with a drooping tip and quite stout. The nearest I can get to is C. pseudoadoxa, a plant which I have seen several times in the wild in NW Yunnan and WC Sichuan. The oblanceolate entire bracts also point to this species.

Here are two photos of C. pseudoadoxa in the wild, both from the Jiulong region, first from the Zi Chou pass.

And from Huai Hai Zi. I think the first in particularly seems to be the same as my plant.

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