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Wisley's Alpine Diary

This entry: 29 September 2008 by Paul Cumbleton

Log 31

Wisley’s Alpine Log

By Paul Cumbleton

Log 31… 29 September 2008

A short break from work means I’m a few days later than usual in posting this new log. After a bit of a summer lull in colour, later summer and early autumn has brought a welcome return to rich and varied hues in the garden and in the display house. The zauschnerias have been looking fantastic. They seem to do really well here planted in warm sunny spots in free-draining sites. This one is Zauschneria californica ‘Western Hills’, a very fiery red selection that justifiably owns an RHS Award of Garden Merit:

This is in a raised bed right outside the Display House, and next to it is another form whose flowers are a little larger and wider and a more orange-red. This is Zauschneria californica ‘Ed Carman’

It is fascinating watching the bees on these plants. There are always swarms of them among the flowers, clearly attracted by the bright colours. In their native America, Zauschneria are pollinated by humming birds that can get their long tongues down the tubular flowers. Here, the bees first try to gain entry the usual way:

They soon discover they can’t get very far and are unable to reach the nectar at the back of the flower. So they have another plan up their sleeves – they cheat! They make a bee line (sorry!) to the outside of the rear of the flower:

Here they make a hole through which they can get at the nectar.

The end result is a feast for the bee but the poor flower has been robbed without being pollinated.

Elsewhere in the rock garden some late colour is being provided by some balloon flowers, Platycodon grandiflorus. The normal plants are a bit large for a rock garden, but there are some dwarf forms which are excellent. The so called Astra Series were developed mainly for use as pot plants, but are equally happy outside in the garden.

They grow only around 15 to 20 cm tall and come in a variety of shades of blue, pink and white with also some doubles and semi-doubles being available. We have used mainly the Astra Blue and Astra White:

Above: Platycodon grandiflorus 'Astra Blue'

Below: Platycodon grandiflorus  'Astra White'

There is a very similarly sized and most attractive form that has blue veining on a white flower; this is Platycodon grandiflorus Apoyama group ‘Fairy Snow’:

They have all been flowering for weeks now. Also flowering for some time has been the reliable and often seen Silene schafta, here in the form ‘Robusta’

Moving inside, the Display House is a mass of Cyclamen and other autumn bulbs. Our Cyclamen graecum have all flowered well this year. Here are just a few examples of the variation in flower colours we have:First a pink one:

Next, white with a pink nose:

Thirdly, a good deep pink one:

Cyclamen intaminatum has also been looking good. We have two forms currently on display, one with more pink (shown second below) compared to the other’s near-white:


Though with the main flush of bloom earlier in the year, Viola pedata has been throwing further occasional flowers ever since. Both the “normal” form and the nice one called ‘Bicolor’ have been doing this.

Finally, moving away from Wisley and up to our garden at Harlow Carr, work is progressing on the new alpine house there. The structure is up and glazed and the insides being worked on. Kaye Griffiths who will be responsible for this house has provided these glimpses of the progress:

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