A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: 12 September 2014 by John Richards
Northumberland Diary. Entry 283.
It is now more than a fortnight since we returned from the south of England, a visit which stimulated the last entry to this diary. There was so much to report on the garden front that I omitted to report on a quick visit I made between family duties to one of my favourite venues in the Reading area, Greenham Common.
Greenham lies at the southern edge of the Kennet valley, south of Thatcham and east of Newbury. Since it was abandoned as a US base for the deadly Cruse missiles it has become a Nature Reserve and Recreational area, open to the public. It is a great place for birding, and I had excellent views of Dartford Warbler, Nightingale and Wood Lark, as well as butterflies (Graylings were still flying, and earlier there are Silver-studded Blues and Dark-green Fritillaries), dragonflies and reptiles. In fact, it is a splendid chunk of 'southern heath', which has been interestingly modified by semi-buried concrete runways etc to be lime-rich in parts. This habitat has proved ideal for the Lady's-tresses orchid, Spiranthes spiralis, which occurs by the thousand.
There are interesting wet depressions and several ponds. Sadly, these have been invaded by the alien waterweeds Crassula helmsii and Lagarosiphon major, and it is difficult to know what is native there, but it was a pleasure to see the Flowering Rush, Butomus umbellatus.
One of the characteristic plants of southern heath is the gorse, Ulex minor. In common with the western gorse, but unlike the common gorse, this flowers at the end of the summer, which is a good initial identification factor. In this photo, the larger non-flowering plant is common gorse, U. europaeus
Since then we have had a short break in the western Lakes, a district of which I have great affection as I spent my summer holidays there as a child. One of the great features there is Western Gorse, Ulex gallii, which covers great areas of late summer hillside in a cloth of gold, particularly in the fells south of Ennerdale, and on the coastal heaths.
One day we took a journey up Eskdale on the 'Ratty', the little railway, which I first travelled on in 1947. When first steam-hauled, I think in 1949, the restored loco was the 'River Irt' (dating originally from the 1880's) and to my delight it provided our traction last weekend.
While at the Dalegarth terminus, we took the opportunity to walk to Stanley Force, a local waterfall in a spectacular gorge. This is the site for two rare ferns, both of which can be found alongside the path. The filmy fern there is Hymenophyllum wilsonii.
A much larger fern, but even rarer, is the Hay-secnted Buckler, Dryopteris aemula, a plant largely restricted to very humid Atlantic gorges such as this. To my delight we also found it in Muncaster gardens, Ravenglass, growing amongst the wonderful collections of large-leaved rhodos that grow so well there. This appears to be a new station for this rare plant.
Not an enormous amount to report on in the garden. This is a good time of year to dispose of well-rotted compost and leaf-mould, and I have been dumping barrow-loads on neglected spots, often after using a glyphosate herbicide on any weeds there. I don't bother to dig it in; the worms manage that. However, these areas do apparently provide the 'perfect loo' for visiting felines, so I have had to put netting down in several areas. Sometimes I have planted seedlings straight into the compost, and on the whole they have prospered, particularly several pulsatillas and aquilegias. Lychnis cognata, grown from my own seed this spring, is in flower already. I am not sure that this is much better than an annual (last years plants did not survive the winter), the colour is hard to place, and it seems much beloved of the small slugs which also seem to favour the newly composted areas.
Note the weed seedlings that also flourish in the newly tipped compost! But they are very easily removed, and it usually needs to be done once only. This is, I believe, what is sometimes known in the kitchen garden as 'no-dig gardening', and if this is what it is, I have been practising it for many years and calling it 'top-dressing'.
The lychnis is an example of a number of rather more distinguished subjects which have flowered immediately, having germinated this spring. I planted out several Calceolaria uniflora (AGS seed), and most have not grown much in a sand-bed (north-facing), but one has romped away and produced two flowers.
Lewisia longipetala (own seed) has also flowered while very young. I find this the easiest, if not the most distinguished, of all the lewisias.
I was also delighted to see that in the alpine house, two seedlings of Stachys spreitzenhoferi ssp. virella, an endemic to the rock of Monemvasia, southern Peloponnese where it grows on walls and gateways in the town, had also flowered in their first year.
Androsace lanuginosa is one of the joys of late summer. Recently it struggled here and stopped flowering. However, I think it was in competition with Parahebe catarractae, and when this was removed and the area replaced with a sand-bed, the androsace was left untouched, but able to root into the new sand. It has not looked back and is now flowering well.
Now that I grow several autumn gentians in large plastic pots, stood out on the terrace, it has been interesting to observed that they seem to have different flowering periods. Ian McNaughton's raising 'Braemar' is much the earliest and is at its best now. I doubt it will last for Pontefract!
Another 'Blue' on the terrace is the lovely Salvia patens, far from being an alpine, or even hardy. We plan to bring this into the conservatory, and then to root cuttings as it grows away in spring.
The berry season is upon us, so a couple to end with. First, the curious Actaea pachypoda, which does not thrive here, but always produces a few spikes of these remarkable white berries.
Finally, our lovely Sorbus 'Joseph Rock' seedling is lighting up the main garden, where it has a central position, so that the suns shines through it from where we sit.