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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 5th November 2006 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 12.

Cover Story
Once the clocks have changed, my first job is to get the covers on the beds where I grow the more specialised asiatic primulas, the petiolarids, nivalids, soldanelloides etc. As you will see from the accompanying photos, I am no handyman, and the means of covering the plants are pretty makeshift, but they seem to work. Basically, I use polyacetate clear corrugated sheeting which is often screwed to a wooden frame. These lights are either propped onto stakes, bricks or just the raised bed edge, and are kept in place with car roof-rack ties attached to tent pegs. The amount of light that gets through is not high, but the plants are dormant and don't seem to mind if the lights are removed early enough in spring. I find the area underneath gets quite dry, and I like to lift the covers for a gentle water between the plants in early January. The covers serve several purposes, of which protection from overhead moisture is undoubtedly the most important, but protection from extremes of cold, and being smothered by fallen leaves also figure.

Cover Story

Covering the fishboxes
I also cover the fishboxes in a similar way, which is helped by grouping the eight boxes which hold primulas as closely together as possible. For this job I prop the lights on bakers trays which are placed upside down on the boxes, thus giving good clearance. Since I have done this we have twice had 100 km gales (although the garden is well sheltered) and nothing has budged (so far!).

Covering the fishboxes

Firework display
Tonight is the night when the English traditionally burn the effigy of a catholic rebel. If you are not English, don't ask! This is nowadays usually accompanied by fireworks, and we went to a superb and very noisy display last night. Mahonia 'Winter Sunshine' and Berberis thunbergii 'Helmond Pillar' are providing their own fireworks at present

Firework display

And a bonfire
The Acer crataegifolium has figured before but has now gone yellow and forms a fiery companion for a Sorbus 'Joseph Rock' seedling. I knew the mother of this plant well, and it had the typical butter-yellow berries of the real thing. The fiery orange of my plant suggests that it is the result of a  cross with the rowan, S. aucuparia. However, it has retained the characteristic purple autumn foliage of its parent.

And a bonfire

And a narcissus
Well, this is supposed to be about alpines, so I thought I would include one that came into flower this week, if you can so describe a bulb from the low hills north of Malaga in Spanish Andalucia. I find that Narcissus cantabricus (v. cantabricus I think) seems to flower earlier every year, and for the first time it just made the last day of October - really an autumn rather than winter bulb now! All it needs is drying off in summer and an annual repot, and cold glass of course, but it will certainly withstand ten degrees of centigrade frost; in fact it received six degrees of frost over the past week.

And a narcissus
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