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April 2019

April 26, 2019
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Read previous diary entries here.

See what’s in flower in our Northumberland diarist’s garden this month.

The Primula  ‘Waverley’ grex

Decades ago, the great Irish gardener Harold McBride gave me a bit of a really excellent large-flowered pubescens-type Primula with dark blue flowers which he called ‘Waverley’ after the road in which he lives. I lost this years ago, having made the mistake of growing it under glass in a pot. However, it proved an excellent parent and I raised many seedlings of varying merit. A good early one was called ‘Flying Scotsman’ (railway pun, ‘out of Waverley’) but this proved short-lived. However, it also yielded many seedlings, including the long-lived ‘Ivanhoe’. Later, crosses mostly result from this after pollination with a good Primula pedemontana I grow. These are now round the garden in troughs, fiushboxes, partially shaded raised beds and so on. Many are rather alike and have tended to regress back towards ‘Waverley’ which is by no means a bad thing. I think there has been some selection for longevity and toughness, and some of these now look as if they will make good garden plants. I have named none of them recently but am now showing a selection of those established in the garden. But first, here is ‘Ivanhoe’ which won at the Edinburgh SRGC Show last week.

Here follow some later unnamed seedlings from ‘Flying Scotsman’ or ‘Waverley’.

Some other European primulas

A number of other rather unusual European Primula species are flowering at present. I now grow three of the four ‘Arthritica’ subgroup, have lost P. glaucescens some time ago. P. wulfeniana has finished flowering, but P. spectabilis is producing a few flowers and here on a steep north slope is P. clusiana from the Viennese Alps.

On limestone at low altitude just to the east of Lake Como grows a very unusual dwarf form of Primula hirsuta which has been called ‘P. grignensis‘. It is probably not distinct enough for full specific rank but deserves some appellation, perhaps as a subspecies, recognising its very untypical habitat (P. hirsuta is otherwise found on acidic rocks). It seems to have settled down in a tufa-rich fishbox here.

Two summers ago, I reported here our discovery of the very rare hybrid between Primula hirsuta and the much more local P. daonensisP. x seriana. This has only been found once before, more than a century ago, as probably the only place that it occurs with both parents is the little-known Vivione Pass. We brought back a very small cutting which was carefully nurtured and is now in flower for the first time.

A final example of the Auriculastrum primulas, the type species, P. auricula, of which I grow an excellent specimen which has turned into a good show plant. It lives under glass all year, plunged in a crock pot.

Several Asiatic primulas here are on the fringe of reaching flowering but the star plant for two weeks now has been a pan of Primula reidii raised from my own seed and sown 16 months ago. The young seedlings, pricked out into individual pots, pushed on and then overwintered in the alpine house all came back into growth and some are now in a trough. They should not be allowed to dry out in winter and as soon as there is any sign of growth, water judiciously. They are very lovely but several are semi-double with petalar outgrowths probably dervived from stamens, which I dislike.


There arre several species tulips flowering in the garden at present. I am delighted to flower Tulipa saxatilis as I know it so well in Crete. I suspect last summer’s heatwave suited it well (but not everything, the rhodos are poor this year and several have tken the whole year off).

Much more reliable is T. urumiensis which has spread to form quite large patches on the north side of a raised bed and flowers abundantly.

One of the rather unexpected merits of this cool humid garden is the ease with which many hybrid tulips naturalise. We tend to buy about four or five new varieties each year and push last year’s (having stored them dry) out into the garden. (The exceptions are the reliable dwarf T. kaufmanniana and T. greigii which are repotted every season.) Many so consigned then flower year after year and even spread and naturalise if left undisturbed. Here are naturalised ‘Golden Apeldoorn’ and ‘Apeldoorn’ (red). ‘White Triumphator’ is another one which naturalises well.

In this case, a variegated Photinia harmonises with Tulipa praestans ‘Fusilier’ (scarlet, nearly over) and a very reliable purple tulip of which I have lost the name.

One of the best of this year’s crop has been Tulipa ‘Jazz’. Sheila thoughfully underplanted the pink flowers with blue pansies

All this brings me to a few other bulbs. Last year, I planted a tub with ‘hardy’ Juno Irises, covered with a pane of glass in winter. Strong and healthy-looking I. bucharica and I. aucheri have not flowered, but Iris ‘Russian Kavadiscgoro’ has been a great success.

The Trillium grandiflorum ‘Roseum’ is increasing steadily and now has three strong shoots. It is rather earlier here than the white form.

Dwarf mecs

Some of the inhabitants of a fishbox devoted to dwarf Meconopsis grown from seed are starting to flower. This trough is cloched in winter and in dappled shade. M. integrifolia is in flower, and M. delavayi and M. sinomaculata in late bud.

Nearby are two troughs full of varieties of Corydalis flexuosa which self-sow.

Equally stunning are fishboxes full of Gentiana angustifolia which is flowering very freely this year.

To finish with, two wonderful daphnes, first D. ‘Beauworth’, a cross between the two most desirable alpine daphnes, D. petraea and D. jasminea, raised by Robin White, from whom it was purchased many years ago. I hve two smaller grafts in the garden too.

And the Chinese D. calcicola, just coming to its best.

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).