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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 15 September 2017 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 346.

Meconopsis rosettes

Many folk associate Meconopsis chiefly with the 'big blues', but if you branch out into the species as I try to do, for many the chief pleasure comes from the rosettes. Once they flower (usually preparatory to seedling and dying), the inflorescences, often attractive at the start, soon become messy and blighted by the seed-pods. And the great thing about the rosettes is that many are evergreen and give pleasure for 12 months. As an aside, amongst my main strategies/philosophies for the garden is that it should be planned to give as close to equal pleasure and satisfaction over each of the 12 months as possible. Gardening is a year-long pursuit, not just a brief seasonal flash-in-the-pan!

At this time of year, the rosettes start to come into their own and combine well with the masses of colchicum flowering now.


Meconopsis rosettes

One of the main problems with the monocarpic mecs, highlighted by the splendid new book 'Meconopsis for Gardeners', co-published by the AGS and the Meconopsis Group, is that most garden strains are hybrid, to their extent that their ancestry has become very obscure ('M. napaulensis hort.'). (By the way, as an avid member of both Societies, I wish they would sort out their meeting dates so that meetings of the latter do not clash with major N England AGS Shows; what about Sunday meetings?).

One strategy is that if/when seed is received from a known wild source, plants should be grown in sufficient isolation in the garden that the likelihood of cross-contamination with the pollen of other strains is minimised. (Another aside, I seem to be parenthesising even more than usual this morning, try to grow a number of sister seedlings together so that the plants cross-pollinate; the monocarpic mecs are mostly self-fertile, but if only a single plant is grown, the seed will have resulted from self-pollination and the seedlings will suffer from inbreeding depression).

So it is that I have now planted groups in several parts of the garden resulting from this years sowings. This group is planted in the area cleared by the 'dexanthorrhising' commemorated earlier this summer.

One thing to remember is that the rosettes can grow to a great size. Have I planted the above group sufficiently spaced? Possibly not, but its too late now.

The rosettes are all beautiful, but telling them apart is not always easy. Here is one of the easier ones, the lovely golden 'Ghunza' strain of Meconopsis paniculata, which usually has yellow flowers.

Meconopsis paniculata 'Ghunza'

Although received as 'Ghunza', this is less golden than many and may have crossed with other strains of M. paniculata.  Until recently, M. wilsonii was rare in cultivation, but subspecies orientalis from the Wunmeng Shan in NE Yunnan is now well established in cultivation. This usually has white flowers. Races from further west have flowers of many attractive hues. I believe the present plant may be subspecies australis, well known from the Cang Shan above Dali. We shall see. As in most M. wilsonii, the leaves are dissected to the midrib. Most of the big monocarps are Himalayan, so a Chinese species is the exception in this group.

Meconopsis wilsonii

A third large rosetted species is M. staintonii. Many plants which originally came back under the banner of M. napaulensis were probably this species, and the red-flowered strains of 'M. napaulensis hort' and M. paniculata probably have M. staintonii sap in their phloem. It originates from the Annapurna area, rather to the west of M. napaulensis.

Meconopsis staintonii

In some areas of its distribution, M. staintonii is white flowered, and these young plants are said to be of the white-flowered variety.

I have raised two more groups of seedlings this year which are something of a mystery. One came as 'M. regia', which, sadly, it isn't, as that species has undivided leaves. It is probably a hybrid, but is certainly stable, all the seedlings looking alike.

The other mystery was collected by Chris Chadwell and merely comes as 'species, white'. It might be the white form of M. staintonii again, but the leaves have a rather different shape (not illustrated).

Elsewhere in the garden, one of several Meconopsis superba failed to flower this year and the rosette has now grown to a huge size. Others set seed, so this is a plant I hope to keep in the garden in future years.


Two other huge plants which failed to flower are Meconopsis integrifolia ssp. integrifolia (the northern form). Remarkably, these have both grown twinned rosettes, suggesting that it is a shared characteristic. This species should always produce a single rosette before flowering. I had wondered whether two seedlings had grown together but careful investigation shows that they are 'joined at the neck'.

Meconopsis integrifolia subsp. integrifolia

Autumn flowers

The autumnal flowering of spring flowers is a curious although welcome freak. Often the flowers are smaller or less well-formed than spring flowers, as in these sinonivalis forms of Primula chionantha.

One excellent new acquisition is Anemone 'Wild Swan' purchased from a local garden centre. Apparently this is results from a rather unlikely miscegenation between A. hupehensis ('Japanese Anemone') and the alpine A. rupicola. I grew the latter for years, a lovely plant, but we have always failed with the former. It seems to thrive in dry and dusty sites, which  our garden does not provide. Hopefully this super hybrid will thrive.

Anemone 'Wild Swan'

This is our time of year for the orientalis clematis. This one on the shed is a form of C. tangutica I think. I had to climb a ladder to take the picture!

Elsewhere a C. orientalis clambers through a pyracantha, also rather high for a good photo.

Reputedly, this is an early autumn, and folk report that their cyclamen, gentians and even crocus are going through before the autumn shows start. As always, we are laggards. Of course the garden is full of colchicums and Cyclamen hederifolium, and some of the gentians are just starting. Colchicum montanum is in full flower in the alpine house, and the first flowers have opened on Crocus banaticus, but most of the autumn bulbs seem still to be fast asleep. One autumn gentian is ahead of itself, G. 'Shot Silk'. I can't remember this being early before and it is grown with the others.

Gentiana 'Shot Silk'

We are not a good venue for Mexican sages, but I have discovered a spot in front of the alpine houses which is hot dry and sheltered (by the standards of this garden anyway) where a couple are settling down. This is the familar Salvia microphylla 'Blackcurrant Sage'. I guess it grows tall and thin due to lack of sun!

What perhaps is early is the autumn colour. We are only halfway through September, but already many trees and shrubs are starting to turn. Here is a view of the shrub area in the front garden.

And the view from where I sit, writing this.

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