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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 30 September 2013 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 254.

Autumn blues

Looks like quite an early autumn here, at least with regard to colour. As I look out of the upstairs window where I am writing this, the Acer crataegifolium has almost dropped its leaves (always the first), while Betula ermanii is yellowing well and the cherries over the road are already fiery red. It is a very good berry autumn and all the sorbus are fruiting heavily. So far none are sweet enough to tempt the birds. Colchicums started late, but came all together and are now at their best, possibly a week later than usual. Crocus are only just breaking ground, apart from C. banaticus which is in the open ground and is now in full flower. I guess that if I could grow the Mediterranean species outside they would flower rather earlier. As it is, I took several show pans and put them in the fridge for a week to try and hasten them on. As far as I can see this hasn't made a blind bit of difference!

However, the autumn gentians are well on, and doing better than in any previous year. On the whole, I have found that they don't do well planted out here, but I have had much better results recently from plants in fishbox troughs. In this photo, the two main plants are Ian McNaughton's 'Berrybank Sky' (closer) and the notably bold-striped 'Braemar'.


Autumn blues

There is 'Braemar' closer up, with a flower of G. farreri 'Silken Star group', raisings of the Levers, which has the astonishing colour of G. farreri, coupled with a pure white throat. This is now more fully in flower than in the photo which as taken last week.

Finally, a large plastic pot with Gentiana 'Blue Silk' (I think, some of my labels have got a bit mixed up by the birds), another Lever raising. This has lived in the pot for two years without watering, plunging, or any form of protection. This kind of culture in largeish, free-standing containers seems to suit them here. Once again, this is now in fuller flower than in the photo.

Another 'blue' that is good at present, but in the alpine house, is Campanula 'Joe Elliott', his cross between the two difficult Dolomite late-flowering specialities C. raineri and C. morettiana. As befits its parents' origins, this is grown with quite a lot of ground lime in the compost. I find that if it is assiduously dead-headed it sets more buds and the flowering period is prolonged (as well as looking better: I hate faded campanula flowers).

Back outside, Kiringeshoma palmata, one of the real stars of autumn here, is flourishing as ever.

At the other end of the garden, autumn colours are starting to really have an impact.

The colchicum is 'Lilac Wonder', one of the best here.

Kew in autumn

We haven't got the space, or indeed the inclination, to grow colchicums in great quantity, for the leaves get in the way for much of the summer. and it is necessary to find out of the way patches where they can do little harm. Obviously, this is not a consideration in the great wide-open spaces of Kew, which we visited a few days ago while helping out with family matters in the south. Particularly along the long walk which runs west to the Japanese garden (nearly a mile from the alpine house, but well worth the exercise), colchicums are planted in great drifts. Our visit last year was a month later, and crocuses has taken over from the colchicums, mostly C. speciosus and C. pulchellus, but in the last days of September, colchicums reigned supreme.

Kew in autumn

Kew is becoming more and more off-beat, we find, and on this occasion we derived great joy from the sculptures of fungi, fashioned from woven willow with great skill and artistry. What was really good was that each variety was so beautifully delineated. For instance, here are boletes (penny-buns, if you like)


and inkcaps

I think the right-hand ink-cap is oozing a drop of black goo (as they do). Note how each of the three is at a different stage of deliquescence. Proper observation!

I was quite surprised to see Cyclamen africanum flowering well outside on the rock garden! London, I suppose, after a hot summer. It wouldn't happen up here!

Before folk write in, I now realise that photo was taken in the alpine house, but it was flowering outside, I promise! Note the flowers all coming from the top of the tuber, not the sides and base as in C. hederifolium.

Staying in the alpine house, here is Muscari parviflorum from the Greek Peloponnese, rarely seen in cultivation, followed by its compatriot (but usually more early flowering) Biarum tenuifolium.

Here are a couple of good things from outside, on the rock garden. Firstly Erigeron compactus, from Nevada. I recently reread an old Bulletin, from 1945, where Dwight Ripley, an American refugee from his Sussex garden, while 'holed up' in the USA during the war, undertook a number of exploratory expeditions to the dryland mountains of the American West, where he extolled the virtues of E. compactus, which forms tight silvery mats in its highly stressed wild habitat. It is less extreme in cultivation, but seems to have enjoyed London's 'Nevada summer' of 2013.

It was less predictable perhaps that another American, but this time in an eastern Siberian guise, Pulsatilla patens var. flavescens, should have not only survived, but would be flowering now. In fact, close inspection reveals that it was probably roasted to a crisp in the summer, but has revived to flower in the cool of the autumn.

The salvia border, between the rock garden and the order beds, is a very good reason to visit Kew now! A general view is followed by one of Salvia concolor, three metres high!

For most of last week we were free during the day, until we needed to pick the boys up from school. On another mornign we took advantage of our National Trust membership to visit Osterley Park, and were very impressed. The borders were terrific, and there were some very adventurous and successful combinations, as in this purple kale and red amaranth.

I loved the use of perovskya as a screen through which to view the banked asters.

And some of the best remaining examples of Capability Brown's Cedrus libani.

In this illustrated epistle, we have strayed rather a long way from the alpine garden! To finish with, one of my favourite Thames-side flowers (I was raised by the Thames and have a soft spot for London River), the blood-drop emlets (what a great name!) Impatiens capensis. This spectacular annual originates not from the Thames, or even the Cape, but from eastern north America, but is now completely at home  in the Riverrein tangles of the Thames floodplain. Unlike its relative, I glandulifera, it is not invasive, and neither does it smell (stink?), but it is just as popular with bees, something which is often forgotten by those who would rid us of Himalayan Balsam, but would foster our native bees.

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