Not if you’re a gardener it isn’t! My creaking knees, albeit artificial, tell of many hours trudging around the garden attending to all manner of tasks, notably weeding and cutting back (I thought I had finished with that for this year in March!), pricking out seedlings, potting on, taking cuttings, finding and gleefully squeezing lily beetles, planting up containers for the summer display around the house and sawing up branches removed during last winter for next winter’s firewood. And all of these tasks taking a good deal longer than they used to do, which probably partly explains why time passes ever faster as we grow older.
But that’s enough of moaning, what has the garden been like in June? Not bad considering the mostly cold, windy weather, is the answer. Of course, nothing is ever quite as we like it and plants inevitably age or die and need replacement but that has its positive side as, provided we remain adventurous gardeners, there is always something new to try.
Seedlings or rooted cuttings recently planted or awaiting putting out until they are a bit larger, and which I have not grown before, include an unnamed white Incarvillea, several alpine penstemon species, Paeonia emodi and P. mairei (you’ll have to wait a year or two to hopefully see photographs of those in flower), Allium insubricum (one of the best ornamental onions) and Daphne gemmata x calcicola and the delectable Chinese form of Anemone rupicola (kind gifts from William Purvis), also the strange little Daphne domini, with flowers that never open but nevertheless set seed (cleistogamous).
I have grown quite a few hypericums over the past 40 years but have still not really made an impression on the sub-shrubby and herbaceous members of this vast genus comprising in excess of 400 species of trees, shrubs, perennials and biennials from the temperate regions of both hemispheres and tropical mountains. This is partly, I think, because almost all have similar yellow flowers, not generally one of my favourite colours; the term ‘much of a muchness’ comes to mind. Compare, for example with the similarly sized (as fars as perennials are concerned) genus Geranium with blooms in a kaleidoscopic range of colours though not, as far as I know, yellow. Of those St John’s worts I grow now I have chosen three, all of which bloom throughout the summer (a definite plus) and increase themselves from seed but in a reasonably restrained manner.
Hypericum buckleyi is a deciduous sub-shrub from the Southern Appalchian mountains of North Carolina and Georgia where it grows on damp and rocky hillsides, sometimes being found on roadside embankments. It is easy in the rock garden. I have it in a well-drained sunny scree where it flowers very freely provided it is trimmed back after flowering, otherwise, like so many dwarf shrubs, it will become woody and soon need replacing.
Hypericum sp. (aff. H. edisonianum) came to me from Aberconwy Nursery labelled H. ‘Archbold’, referring I believe to the source, the Archbold Biological Research Station in Florida, rather than to a cultivar name. It looks most like H. edisonianum, a rare Florida endemic threatened with extinction in the wild, although it could be something different. Anyway, this is a very good garden plant which seeds gently around and has flowers for most of the summer. The shiny, dark green lanceolate foliage provides a good foil for the blossoms.
The third species is also doubtfully named as H. delphicum, which comes from hillsides in N.E. Greece. This seeds more freely here and can become a bit of a nuisance but I welcome it nevertheless for it flowers abundantly and continually for much of the summer. The foliage is noticeably downy, especially below.
This is one of my favourite alpines because it is compact, floriferous over a long period and shows a beautiful contrast between the intricately veined petals and the silvery foliage (hence, of course, the specific name). The first photograph is of a good selection of the wild species, the second is the best known and most widely grown cultivar, ‘Ballerina’. I saw G. argenteum in the mountains above Bovec in Slovenia some 25 years ago, growing among rocks on limestone scree where it made a lovely sight, its silvery cushion shining brightly in the intense sunlight of an August afternoon.
This is another plant that I have seen in the wild, albeit much more recently both in the Pyrenees and the Picos. The first photo is of a plant just beginning to flower at the end of June on a sunny slope near Sotres. The second is a plant in a crevice bed in our garden where, as you can see, it looks quite at home.
I have lost count of the number of times I have seen Campanula cochlearifolia in the wild, often growing in roadside gravel which, as far as scree plants are concerned, is often as hospitable as the best that nature has to offer. It is such a good garden plant in its various colour forms, varying from dark blue through paler forms (‘Cambridge Blue’ in the photo below) to white.
It runs about freely but is easily uprooted (= propagated) and does not die out in the middle in the way that some of its running kin do. Just because it is common and easy does not mean that it is not among the cream of alpines. Less benign are C. kemmulariae and C. punctata ‘Nana’, both of which are more vigorous spreaders that are more difficult to remove, but two fine plants nevertheless. As always, finding the key spot among neighbours that will not easily be intimidated is the key, thereafter keeping a careful eye for unacceptable expansion.
There are various ‘improved’ forms of this fabulous Phlox in cultivation, notably the large-flowered P. nana var. ensifolia, which often wins prizes on the show bench, none of which I have found particularly easy in this damp Welsh garden. Not surprising really given its native distribution in canyons, mesas and rocky desert slopes from W. Texas to S.E. Arizona and N. Mexico! But I now have a plant of the ‘wild’ form that has settled down nicely in a sunny chink in a sharply drained raised bed. You never know until you try…
My last species peony to flower this year is a form of P. anomala raised from 2013 AGS seed labelled P. veitchii var. altaica that has flowered for the first time. The taxonomy within this group of ‘tree’ peonies is complex and recent studies in the field in China and Russia, and of >350 herbarium sheets from major botanical institutions and museums, has brought much sense out of near chaos (Hong De-Yuan and Pan Kai-Yu, 2004, A taxonomic revision of the Paeonia anomala complex [Paeoniaceae], Annals of Missouri Botanic Garden, vol. 91: 87-98). This is well worth reading if you are interested in this group, but be prepared for a lot of head scratching and tentative re-labelling if you want to try and sort your ‘species’, ‘subspecies’ and ‘varieties’ out! Anyway, the plants are of course blissfully unaware of these taxonomic shenanigans and they are all beautiful, and being late flowerers they extend the peony season in the garden.
Finally, a touch of the blues to finish. All the blue Corydalis are fabulous to my eyes, not least because they have such a long flowering season, provided they never dry out, and this is proving a good doer in a partially shaded and moist raised crevice bed here.
John Good is a retired research forest ecologist with a lifelong interest in all aspects of the observation and cultivation of plants, alpines and woodlanders being of particular appeal. He has lived in North Wales for more than 40 years and he and his wife, Pam, have lived in their current hillside home and garden overlooking the sea for 27. He is an Emeritus Professor of Environmental Forestry at Bangor University and maintains a strong interest in all matters related to land use in general and the balance between agriculture and forestry in particular.
He has been a member of the AGS for more than 50 years and a judge at our shows for half of these, as well as being a member (now friend) of the RHS’ Joint Rock Garden Plant Committee. He has travelled and lectured widely on alpines and written many articles and several books on the subject, the latter leading to his having served as AGS Director of Publications and Assistant Editor of our journal. He has also always been heavily involved in his local North Wales Group.