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Midsummer (June 2019)

June 22, 2019
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Read previous diary entries here.

My personal misfortunes seem to occur in the late spring and early summer, the busiest times of year, just when the garden is at its most rewarding (and demanding!). Luckily, my recent two weeks in hospital occurred during a mostly rather cool, moist spell, so that little harm has been done (although the weeds have of course grown monstrously). However, many of the painstakingly pricked-out seedlings have suffered from molluscan ravages.

Anyway, here we are past the solstice and I thought I would just picture some of the more interesting subjects that have flowered here during the intervening month. Luckily, I seem to have completely missed very little during my enforced absence. Here, first is a view along the back border and lawn path which has rarely featured here before.

Notice the Meconopsis ‘Lingholm’ (blue) and ‘Marit’ (white), Corydalis emeiensis this side of the magnolia trunk. Lovely dark forms of Primula alpicola x sikkimensis have graced this bed too.

Nearby, Rhododendron myrtilloides is just about the last dwarf rhodo to flower.

To add to last month’s entry, elsewhere in this bed, one of several Meconopsis staintonii has made a good show. This is the typical (and in my view best) red-flowered form, with lovely golden-tinged foliage. These germinated last year and have been forced on to flower this year. Like so many mecs it is of course monocarpic and I have been careful to cross-pollinate distant plants. I am happy to see several swelling pods. In the first photo it is growing with Primula japonica in a pink form.

Elsewhere in the garden, several Meconopsis napaulensis are flowering. This name was often used as a ‘catch-all’ for monocarpic mecs, but since Christopher Grey-Wilson’s work it is much better understood as a rather small and delicate, usually pale yellow-flowered plant, localised in the wild.

All these mecs have to be grown from seed and it is very rewarding when a prized panful of seedlings finally comes to flowering size a number of years after they were sown. Thus it is with Lilium oxypetalum (in its purple form) which had always been grown outside in plastic pots, reppotted every year and stored in slightly damp peat in the garage over winter. It germinated six years ago.

Amongst other early summer bulbs, Allium karataviense is a much easier plant here in a cool scree, very persistent and self-sows.

Tulipa sprengeri (in the last photo) and Allium moly, here with the creeping Centaurea cana, are equally persistent

Elsewhere, in the borders alliums such as ‘Purple Sensation’ have a great effect and combine well with other plantings.

One of the great treasures of the early summer rock garden in recent years has been this Moltkia petraea, grown from seed. Grown in a raised sand bed with little in the way of soil, this has grown steadily and now flowers reliably every year, the more established it has become. The flowers are a penetrating gentian-blue.

The moltkia is a Greek alpine, mostly on limestone cliffs in the north-west. Also Greek is this dwarf form of what I think must be Campanula lingulata. This was grown from seed I colected on Pangeon in the Greek NE in September 2017. At present it is flowering both in the alpine house, where it sprawls somewhat, and in a rather shady gravel scree where it has remained rather tidier and really quite attractive.

One or two more Balkan alpines while we are about it. Over the last few years I have tried to grow a number of dwarf Dianthus in pots in the alpine house but curiously they seem to resent the dry hot atmosphere in summer and the buds abort. However, seedlings planted out in raised scree beds and troughs outside have fared rather better. Here is Dianthus freynii in a rather shady scree which had elongated the flower stems somewhat.

Now for two of the more tricky Greek alpines. Back in 1999, the MESE expedition that I led was fortunate enough to discover a new species of Daphne on Vermion. This was subsequently named D. sojakii by Haalda before I had a chance to describe it. Although I grow several individuals, both in pots in the alpine house and in a south-facing scree, it has proved slow-growing and very shy to flower. This year, the outside plant produced two flowers, quite a triumph!

Also, I have grown a plant of the famous Jankaea heldreichii, endemic to the Greek Olimbos, in the same lump of artificial tufa in the alpine house for 15 years. Once somewhat multi-rosetted, it has slowly dwindled, while still managing to flower every year. It is liquid fed occasionally and is watered by a drip feed into the tufa. But it still survives!

I have been pleased that delightful little Androsace elegans has established itself on the north side of a lump of artificial tufa in a fishbox without any winter cloching.

The Celmisia verbascifolia, grown from wild collected seed, is now in flower (C. angustifolia is in the same photo). Both have enjoyed the raised sand bed.

While that good stand-by Celmisia ‘Eggelstone Silver’ continues to thrive in several parts of the garden, passing for an ‘easy garden plant’. Something we all want!!

The Crinodendron hookerianum has been fantastic this year, a fitting sign-off!

Image of John Richards John Richards

John Richards has lived in south Northumberland for 50 years and has been a keen grower of alpines, and visitor to the mountains, throughout the half-century. He and his wife Sheila have been in their present garden 30 years and John has been writing this diary about the garden since 2006.

John is Emeritus Professor of Botany at the University of Newcastle, where his research interests centre on the evolution and genetics of plant breeding systems. He is an authority on the genera Primula and Taraxacum (dandelions!). John is an AGS judge, exhibitor and Vice-President and previous President (2003-6).