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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 09 September 2007 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 50.

Half a ton, half a ton, half a ton under
I see I have reached a milestone, half a century of entries. Being a garrulous writer,  a keen recorder of the seasons, and an enthusiastic photographer, writing this diary has on the whole been more of a pleasure than a curse. In fact I look forward to my Sunday task. I have almost no idea whether anyone reads these amateur jottings (thank you Val and Jim for your kind words); I would enjoy reading some more occasional feedback in the discussion column.

Planned companions.
I have written on the subject of happy combinations before, and here is one that has given us a lot of pleasure for more than a month now. Not at all alpine I fear, but I guess most of us grow alpines in a wider context and for better or worse that is what you get here. I have no idea of the name of this vigorous astilbe, as it came with the garden. It is the only one that self-sows here, and often we have to pull out volunteers. The lovely Japanese Sanguisorba obtusa is such a good plant, and if deadheaded has a long season. It really has a most distinct character, not much like anything else.

Planned companions.

And chance bedfellows
That association was planned, but the next one was accidental. Leycesteria formosa and Cotoneaster bullatus are  somewhat invasive shrubs from western China, and I have to rogue out self-sown seedlings (from blackbirds eating the berries) of both. I also try to deadhead the leycesteria. However the old cotoneaster parent died this year of some fungal disease, possible silverleaf, so I welcomed this attractive pairing when it occurred.

And chance bedfellows

And a borrowed plant
We have two neighbours, and one grows many interesting plants. We enjoy each others marginal shrubs, trees and climbers. We have never planted any of the autumn-flowering yellow clematis ourselves, but a fairly unspectacular form of, C. orientalis rather than C. tangutica I guess, has colonised our side and we welcome its late charm.

And a borrowed plant

White-berried sorbus

I have reviewed the sorbus featured in the diary at this time last year as they are now approaching their best in the garden again. Here are two that got no mention last year. The first, S. cashmiriana (misspelled in the AGS cumulative index by the way; I have just looked it up, and although I did so because I was unsure of the spelling, I still thought it looked wrong!) is nowadays very commonly planted. Unlike many of the rowans it has nice flowers, relatively large and a good white with rosy buds. It has the largest berries of all, and it remains dwarf and rather craggy. Like most of its relatives it loves shelter and hates the wind and sun. There is an even better close relative, also from the north-west Himalayan, S. rosea, that looks very similar but has bright pink berries; rare but well worth seeking out.

White-berried sorbus

The other white berried sorbus was grown from berries taken (not by me I hasten to add!) from a plant at Ness Gardens labelled S. 'Harry Smith'. It is a plant with a very distinct facies, strict and almost fastigiate, and losing its leaves very early. I had always supposed it was one of the S. koehneana alliance, as McAllister (1986) pictures it under Harry Smith 12799 in his Ness Gardens booklet 'The Rowan and its relatives'. However, I now see from 'The genus Sorbus' (2005) that this number includes the type of McAllister's new species S. eburnea. As it was originally collected from above Kanding, Sichuan in 1934, I have probably seen it in the wild as I was there this summer. Sorbus were in flower then of course. By the way, Harry Smith was, most unexpectedly, Swedish!

Autumn bulbs
Bulbs are starting to flower in the alpine house after their repot last month. The first Sternbergia to flower by far was received as S. 'angustifolia'. When received last year the bulbs were too small by far to flower, but this year I have been able to examine the first flower. As expected it resembles S. sicula but with erect leaves of a darker green. Such plants are often encountered in Greece when S. sicula and S.lutea grow together and in my view they are hybrids between them.

Autumn bulbs

Here is Meredera montana 'Norman Barker'. This is a good subject for a pot and multiplies well, but I have yet to find the secret of getting all the flowers to appear at once.

Finally, the familiar Zephranthes candida. I like this easy autumn-flowering subject, but suspect that in other gardens it is much happier and more free-flowering in the open garden. It is spectacular at the AGS garden at Pershore each autumn. A lover of sun and good drainage, it would be unlikely to flourish outside here.

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