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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 23 September 2007 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 52.

Bin composting...

Here we are, half century up and more than a year in and I haven't yet mentioned composting. My conscience was finally jogged by Monty Don on 'Gardener's World' (BBC 2, Friday evening). I am not always on the same wave-length as Monty; we seem to garden for diametricaly opposed reasons and I am sure he would not claim to be a 'plantsman', but we do share a passion for compost. This humid, bosky, fertile and not always very well manicured garden yields masses of green waste; certainly I don't have to manufacture it by wasting valuable garden space planting 'green manure' as Monty does. I have more than enough already!

I have several types of garden waste. Green waste, including mowings, go on the compost heaps, with the important exception of uneradicible perennial weeds that I know will survive my composting. These include ground elder (bishopweed, Aegopodium podagraria), bellbine (Calystegia sepium), and celandine (Ranunculus ficaria). These go into the green waste 'wheelybin' thoughtfully provided by the council and collected fortnightly. Into here, too, goes small twiggy waste that is too woody to compost readily (I don't have a chipper; not 'green' whatever 'they' say!). Big woody waste is stacked beside the compost bins ready for burning in the late autumn (we are fortunate here, not being 'smokeless', to be able to burn woody rubbish). Also not 'green' you may say, but we do cook jacket potatoes in the embers! Leaves go into the leaf heaps, that I have discussed before, last November. Incidentally, whatever else might be said about the weather this year, it has been ideal for decomposition. Both here and at the Botanic Garden I help to run, the speed of breakdown and quality of the resultant compost/leafmould has been outstanding this summer. Last autumn's leafmould has been ready to use for some months. Usually I have to wait until after the next years leaves have been collected. In fact I am still using leaf-mould from the year before. I put some, sieved, into all my potting composts.

Back to the garden compost. This goes into one of three bins, pictured below.

Bin composting...

The bins are made from tanellised (pressure treated) timber. There are eight corner posts, 8 cm square, 1.5 m long, buried to 30% of their length and concreted in. On each of the two 'inside'  faces are twin 2.5 cm square batons, fixed to provide a lengthwise slot, down which 150 x 15 cm 2.5 cm wide planks are inserted. To make the whole structure rigid, there are horizontal struts, top and bottom on each of the ten 'walls' the structure provides. When a bin is full, planks are put into the near side, and old 'dumpy bags' (used for transporting grit or gravel by the tonne) are placed on top. In the picture above, the left hand bin is ready for use and has been half emptied, and the central compartment is nearly full. I shall finish emptying the left hand bin and start on the right-hand one next month. Incidentally, I don't turn the compost in the bin at all. I think it would get hotter, break down faster, and kill more weed seeds if I did, but life is too short and I am too lazy. In any case I get very good compost in a few months in the summer (breakdown takes longer in the winter of course).

Here is some of the compost in use. I have removed some summer bedding that was getting tired and have top-dressed the lilies. This bed is full of bulbs and cyclamens that will appreciate the extra feed and soil conditioning.

More silver saxs
To continue my occasional series on silver saxifrages, here is a trough, made from four fairly thin pieces of sandstone cemented together, that was planted up at least 15 years ago and has scarcely been touched since. Some of the plants are showing signs of starvation, but it does give some indication of how long-lived and trouble-free many of this group can be. They include the long-leaved S. hostii, and S. crustata that have been featured before. The other two are a largeish S. cochlearis and a fairly 'standard' eastern alpine form of S. paniculata, collected in Austria many years ago. The same clone, or at least a very similar one, is featured in the following photograph.

More silver saxs

I should have noted that the above trough also has a plant of Saxifraga scardica. The S. paniculata follows.

No, looking at it again, I think the above photo is of another, larger, clone. The primula is P. glaucescens.

I have noted my fascination with parallel evolution before, where two unrelated alpines have come to closely resemble one another. Every garden is able to grow at least some supposedly 'difficult' alpines without any effort; its merely a question of finding out which! One plant which loves this garden is the Patagonian umbellifer Bolax gummifer. It somewhat resembles some silver saxifrages vegetatively (although with toothed leaves), and here grows even bigger. This plant is more than fifteen years old and overlaps a trough.

Naked ladies
Time for a little colour to finish with. This is the week that the colchicums are at their best. I reviewed those I showed last year, so as not to repeat myself now. Since then, Rod Leeds' excellent 'Autumn Bulbs' has appeared and this book features a good number of colchicums with names brought up to date after the RHS trial that Rod was closely involved with. Thus I now know that the plant I confidently named C. speciosum 'purpureum' last year is correctly known as C. speciosum 'rubrum', very close to C. speciosum 'atrorubens' but more slender and with a tube that is dark from the start.

Naked ladies

I am nearly sure the next one is C. 'Rosy Dawn'.

Finally, here is C. 'Giant' (formerly known as 'The Giant': apparently the definite article is now a no-no!).

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