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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 02 September 2007 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 49.

Trough questioning
I  counted before I started this contribution, and find that I now have 33 'troughs' planted up in the garden. In fact, none of these are actually old stone troughs. The nearest I can manage are several farm troughs, originally of glazed ironware, and stamped 'Corbridge' (a local small town that once had a 'pottery') in the corner. One is massive, 1.2 m long, but the others are smaller. These Corbridge troughs may not be stone but have at least weathered to an acceptable patina. It is nearly a year since I reported on the replanting of some of these troughs, and I have photographed some as a progress report. None were covered last winter.

Trough questioning

There are several saxifrages in this trough, from the left Saxifraga ''Minutifolia', S. juniperinifolia (that we were delighted to find in the wild on Pangeion this spring), Saxifraga cochlearis 'minor', and S. 'Suendermanii'. The rather similar looking round-leaved rosettes are Telesonix jamesii (left) and Geum cockayniana (the correct name for G. parviflorum, Ross Graham tells me). Aficionados will also notice Androsace himalaica, an excellent plant for an unprotected trough.

The next trough to be featured is constructed of another medium used several times here, a 'slab' trough in which York stone pavers have been drilled and bolted together with angle brackets inside. Like the Corbridge trough, this uses the local shale as vertical top-dressing to make minor 'crevices'.

Two plants of Saxifraga x kochii feature here; not 'Firebrand', but the plant originally distributed by the late Duncan Lowe. There is Primula spectabilis, from seed collected to the west of Lake Garda, Gentiana clusii from the same origin, while the Himalayan androsace featuring here is A. mucronifolia. Notice too a young plant of Androsace cantabrica.

The final trough featured today is one of my many fishboxes, covered with plasticated paint and coarse sand. This is one of the smaller ones, that can be lifted comfortably even when planted and taken to meetings, Shows etc.

Notice here not only another Primula spectabilis in the centre, but a small P. glaucescens which accidentally sowed into a batch of Gentiana tergestina seedlings (collected from the Slovenian karst). Saxifraga ferdinandi-coburgii was grown from seed collected in the southern Pirin, while I have grown the Saxifraga exarata for several decades. It originally came from Austria back in the 1960's.

To finish this section, I am showing part of the terrace on the south side of the house where about half of my troughs are placed; those for plants that enjoy full light and air and good drainage. This is a diverse collection of twelve of them; an excellent way to grow small alpines that enjoy being outside, but welcome that extra bit of TLC.

The pierced wall
When we moved here 18 years ago, we inherited a rather horrid 1960's type 'pierced wall' that we rapidly hid with climbers. At least it makes a good prop and plants can infoltrate from one side to the other. The soil at the base is not well drained, and has a very intransigent yellow clay near the surface. We have never really tried to modify this, but have found a few subjects that thrive there. Unlike most of the garden, this area is at its best now.

The pierced wall

From the left we have Lysimachia clethroides, the dwarfish bamboo Pleioblastus auricomus and the native marsh mallow, Althaea officinalis. (I wonder if that stately tennis player of yesteryear who did so much for the status of Afroamericans realised she was named for a marshmallow?). Each of these has, of its kind, a quirkish individuality.

Lysimachia clethroides

Autumnal notes
Time for a couple of autumnal favourites. I featured both of these a year ago, but the photographs were not good, and I am repeating them a year on. Firstly the earliest colchicum here, the species C. bivonae.

Autumnal notes

Here is Eucomis bicolor. I still grow this in the conservatory (although the tubs are outside at present), but a few spare bulbs placed outside have proved very permanent.

I featured Hydrangea quercifolia a few weeks ago, largely because I was so delighted that it has finally started to flower. Latterly it became much more spectacular. However the species that really flourishes here is H. paniculata. It goes so well with the Desfontainea and autumn cyclamen.

I am finishing with an out of season flower. The Greek Dianthus haematocalyx is best known in its serpentine northern subspecies pindicola and the MESE expedition collected some excellent new forms in 1999. However there are two other worthy races of a quite different aspect. The nominate subspecies hails from limestone at quite low levels in north-eastern Greece and has very large flowers of a penetrating magenta. It can have long stalks, but the form I have kept is quite compact. Unfortunately, it rarely covers itself with flowers.

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