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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 17 September 2006 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary Entry 5

Artificial Tufa

I have not found ?real? tufa easy to come by, and I am not convinced that its removal from the wild is always ethical. Soon after Dave Philbey gave his comprehensive report on making articial tufa (Bulletin 64: 454-9), I tried my own recipes, and I have now made about a dozen lumps, ranging in size from 20 to 1 m across. Some of these are planted in troughs, and I have broken two down to make tufa lumps to incorporate in some planting media in pots (see last weeks Daphne), but the majority were placed on an old sand plunge in the alpine house. Holes are made with a drill, and small plants inserted in the time honoured way.

My recipes have centred on one part cement to one part vermiculite to one part living moss, torn into tiny shreds. Thee components are thoroughly mixed dry, and then wet; I have found that a good deal of water needs to be used. The moss used is usually Rhytidiadelphus squarrosus, raked from our rather mossy lawn. Thats the scrambling moss with tiny grapnel hooks. I have used sphagnum as well, but it is not easy to come by and I am not convinced it is any better. I set the mix on newspaper on the garage floor, and mould it roughly to the shape I want (using gloves!).

I have found this ?pseudotufa? quite as useful as the real thing, and in particular this is the only way I can grow dionysias. In fact I have had five planted this way, mostly for two years now (under glass of course) and all are thriving. The photo shows Dionysia ?Ganymede? (a Paul Ransom cross involving D. archibaldii, together with Briggsia muscicola, and a small Dionysia odora.

Artificial Tufa

The garden is really cheering up again, and one of my all-time favourite plants is coming into flower. At more than one metre in height, Kirengeshoma palmata, is no alpine, although it hails from montane forests in Japan, but its ?old ivory? flowers have a beautiful texture and the whole plant exudes ?class?. It is a plant for dappled shade and should never dry out.

An ACE sage
Another plant at its best about now is Salvia bulleyana, grown originally from seed collected on our Society expedition to Yunnan. Again, this yellow sage is no dwarf, but it thrives in a host of well-drained, sheltered sites, even in full shade, and is very popular with insects. Hummingbird hawk moths are a rarity this far north, but we have had several in the garden this autumn, and they have majored on this sage.

An ACE sage

More scarlets
This is often a good time for 'off-season' flowers, and one of a number of plants flowering for the second time is this lovely Ourisia. This is the only scarlet species which flourishes here, and I have found it straightforward, particularly if it has some rotton logs to creep about. I received it under another name many years ago, but I think it must be O. ruelloides

More scarlets

Yet another colchicum!
I promise this is the last colchicum I shall show this year, but it is usually the last to flower here, and is amongst my favourites being a good multiplier and neater than most. It has mid purple flowers and a purple tube, and I think is correctly C. speciosum 'purpureum'.

Yet another colchicum!
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