Hopefully this super Autumn Gentian (apologies for frustrating overseas readers if unavailable!) will reach a wider audience as it is propagated further afield. It really is an exciting development as the true "sky blue" of G farreri has been harnessed with a neat and easy going habit courtesy of G. "Shot Silk". Raised by Keith Lever of Aberconwy Nursery in Wales,it really does put some of the older hybrids in the shade! I'm lucky here as the soil is neutral to slightly acidic conditions which are ideal for Autumn Gentians. Fear not, if you have limy soil, they will still "do" well in a pot or other container, provided you don't ever allow it dry out but pay attention to good drainage. The flowers are borne from September through October and even into November after which it retreats into winter dormant tufted crown. Propagation is simplicity itself with division of the thongs in Spring and who knows what you might raise if you're lucky enough to get seed - another winner!?
This is worth any effort to cultivate and will certainly require some effort to keep it pest free and in character! I much prefer to raise my own plants from seed and once you have raised plants to flowering size, you should always have a supply of seeds! Failing this, many of the European collectors list this gem, so… get your seed and sow Dec/Jan which should ensure that germination occurs in the warmth of spring. I use a lime free compost with equal parts of vermiculite (optional??) and coarse grit into which seedlings are raised and then transplanted. Thereafter, there are three essentials:
The western Pyrenees is home for Androsace cylindrica, in cultivation it is often found hybridised with A hirtella, a very fine plant but it pays to seek out the real thing! Much more obliging than A. alpina, it still pays to pay attention to watering as the plant gets past a 10cm pot! The rosettes are large, to 2cm across, deep green with outcurving leaves, they knit together forming an upright dome. At flowering time each rosette bears up to 10 flower buds, heralding the floral spectacle about to be revealed. As the stems elongate, the cushion slowly but surely disappears under the wealth of bloom, the flower stems are very long, to 2cm each bearing a single large white flower to 1cm across. Hybrids tend to have smaller rosettes and shorter flower stems but are otherwise similar. Growing in calcareous rocks in nature, a gritty John Innes mix is used for potting specimens with a few rocks or pieces of slate wedged beneath the cushion to insulate the cushion, susceptible to moist soil below in winter. Provided you neither over water or allow to get too dry in winter, the only other perils are the usual array of pests and fungal ailments. Keeping fingers when repotting a large specimen also pays dividends - if you can manage a specimen to a 20cm pot or larger, you will have a plant to be proud of!
I'm hooked on Anemonellas and am now actively trying to add variants old and new to my collection. Pride of place however still remains with my first acquisition, "Schoafs double" a plant I would not be without! Apparently originating in a small graveyard in Minnesota (ref "Cuttings from a Rock garden" - Foster) we have a lot to thank the keen eyed Oscar Schoaf for. I grow most of my collection in plastic pots with careful consideration for the compost. The elusive requirement of moisture retentive yet free draining habit is achieved with a mix (in equal proportions) of JI No 2 loam based compost, leaf mould, perlite and grit. The flowers as seen in the photograph are fully double and last for ages, I've exhibited plants with three weeks in between, at least six weeks of tip top floral beauty is assured. If you want your plant to remain in character, then good light(even for woodlanders!) but not hot sun is essential. Gloomy conditions will lead to the flower stems becoming drawn and then the weight of the flowers will cause the stems to flop. Having obtained your plant (which is not easy) make its existence with you assured by regularly repotting and propagating. I repot every year late January / early February just as the roots are waking up. At this time the congested clumps of miniature tubers are easily separated, the largest remain together for the showbench, the smaller ones potted separately as insurance or occasionally the surplus list. This activity can also be carried out in the autumn when dormant with portions detached plus growing points (a bad experience nearly losing the lot has lead me to stick with spring disturbance!)
Every year I sow at least a hundred or so new pots of bulb seeds. They don't all make it to flowering size and some surprises are in store when they do and seed exchanges are involved! Seed of this species was gratefully received from Gothenberg Botanic Garden some years ago. It is choice and rarely found so I was absolutely delighted with repeat flowering again this year of true material. Northern Turkey, alpine meadows 2000-2800m is it's home in nature and imposters abound in cultivation - mostly C. biflorus pulchricolor. The sky blue flower are veined darker with yellow throat and anthers, certainly distinct but it is the bulb tunic which is of help in confirming identity. Examination of the corm during domancy reveals lengthways splitting rather than rings at the base and I've sent a picture to "The Crocus Page". Growing alpine plants is fun and a little bit of "detective work" adds to the interest of learning more - with Crocus, some times you have to look whats going on down below! .....
This member of the Crocus biflorus complex is found in Yugoslavia and adjacent Bulgaria. One of the main features is the deep violet blue staining of the flower exterior. Internally, the flowers are white and unlike other closely related ssp there is no yellow throat. The bright orange stigma and yellow anthers complete a very pretty picture! Quite hardy but the early flowering period makes this a must in a pot for me. Shallow plastic pots and a gritty loam compost are used - these are placed outside (weather permitting) to keep the flowers from becoming drawn. They can be admired on cold sunless days by simply bringing them into the warmth of the house - as seen here.
The Crocus biflorus complex features a wealth of subspecies and varieties. This ssp is found in W Turkey (rocky place 600 - 2000m) this has lilac blue flowers with an yellow throat, striped and feathered externally with purple. The main attraction for me is the anthers which are black and provide stark contrast to the yellow style. I would not risk this outside and it is so much easier to admire the plant in a pot (7cm plastic with a gritty JI mix). There are just two or three seed raised bulbs here for now but I've been busy with a fine brush hoping to encourage seed set, a pan of these would be a stunning sight.....
Crocus candidus is native to NW Turkey and is an early Spring delight raised from seed here. The flowers are small, white with a yellow throat when fully open and flecked with bluish specks on the exterior giving a lovely contrast when the flowers first form and are partly open. Curiously, only a single leaf usually develops, these are attractive, broader than many spp. and with a prominant white stripe down the middle. It is a small species and best suited to pot culture where it can be admired at close quarters. Crocus seed needs a cold period for germination and when sown, pots are left outide open to the elements. I tend to leave young Crocus in their seed pots, giving an occasional feed, and only start repotting after three years or so. I was rewarded with the flowers seen here, just three years after germination. They may not be the largest or "loudest" in the genus but whisper it quietly this is a sweet little charmer! .....
I grow virtually all of the species of Cyclamen here. All are valuable additions to the garden or alpine house and it would be a hard run thing to pick a true favourite! Nevertheless when it comes to sheer ease and adaptability, plus the fact I have more leaf forms of C coum than any other species - it has quite a lot going for it! Flowers are borne form December through to March and the peak display is throughout February.
The white form seen here is joined by just about every shade of pink through cerise to magenta purple. Leaf forms are too numerous to mention, my initial enthusiasm for the "Pewter" forms now being replaced by the brilliant Silvers (the best "CSE" forms for me have a narrow deep green "Christmas tree" at their centre).
Outside in the garden, it could be deemed a "weed", the whole garden is dotted with colonies here and there. The alpine house plunge and even cracks between paving slabs on the floor here also provide a home! The garden soil is neutral, fairly well drained and obviously to it's liking. Plants in pots now reside in a compost of equal parts JI No 3, leafmould and perlite with a few slow release nutrient granules added. The tubers are planted near the top of the pot, covered with 1-2cm of neat grit top dressing. Plants are repotted when they need it, usually every other year. Water is withheld somewhat during the summer dormant period and care is taken not to soak the top dressing during the autumn - overwet conditions then, may contribute towards rotting of the new buds in unventilated conditions. Plants outside of course, couldn't care less, they just grow and multiply.....
If you want a Corydalis; easy to propagate, stunning as a pot grown specimen or just easy to establish and grow outside then this is the one! In nature it is found in Woods among the upper valleys of the Caucasus, it readily accepts life in our gardens. The flowers as seen are greenish in bud but open pure white with particularly broad lips. The stems are short, 10-15cm with racemes densely flowered and long lasting (sounds perfect and it is!) A welcome bonus is the tendency of this beauty to self propagate and distribute seed literally everywhere - if you have this in an alpine house plunge, it will not be long before you are prising out youngsters for potting up. Remember, if collecting seed for sowing, it must be sown fresh - do not store dry! As if this propensity for increase were not enough, the tubers "double up" each year, it does not take long to develop a stunning exhibit. My usual bulb potting regime (clay pots, gritty JI down below, thin layer of sharp sand midway) on which the tubers are placed, with deep grit top dressing certainly suits this and of course apart from a bit of a summer rest, watering is not a precise chore! Before long you will want to try this outside and be impressed with it's appreciation of a well drained site - even weeding it out if you're lucky!
One of the most striking in the genus, found in Kazakhstan in the Kara -Tau mountains. Forms very large tubers which, in time, split and separate fairly easily during repotting. The flowers are large and distinct, predominantly yellow with white spurs,the inner petals tipped chocolate purple. The growing year starts in October here when repotting takes place. A gritty JI No3 mix is used in the lower half of a clay pot, above which is a 1cm layer of sharp sand in which the tuber(s)is bedded. Neat grit is used to fill the rest of the pot, the fast drainage helping to avoid stem rotting. Plunged in sand, very little moisture is given until growth is apparent at the surface during Jan/Feb. As with all Corydalis, good light is mandatory to avoid the stems straggling over the edge of the pots and at this stage I usually move pots into an "open" sand plunge to keep the foliage compact. Plants are certainly water tolerant and hardy here and during March / April the flowering display lasts for at least a month. It is important to keep the plants in growth as long as possible after the flowers go over so they are then moved to a more shaded situation. Incidently, if you want seed, a second clone is needed and a little persuasion with a soft brush. As soon as the foliage disappears in late May, pots are moved under the staging and kept fairly dry (but NOT baked) until repotting time, when the cycle is repeated.
I'd be hard pushed to nominate a "favourite" snowdrop but this has to appear in the short list. I've been growing this for some ten years now and it is so easy to please, multiplying in pots, raised beds or the open garden!
What makes it special? Well, the late flowering period means it extends the season and even makes the showbench in March when most other snowdrops have long gone over. Also, when happy two flowering scapes are produced from each bulb, what more could one ask!
The origins lie in Ireland, "Straffan", Co Kildare to be precise and believed to be derived from G. plicatus. The 6" pot you see illustrated has slowly bulked up the contents and in late February 2001 had approximately 80 flowers each nudging its neighbours and creating quite a spectacle. Apart from regular liquid high potash feed after flowering the bulbs have not been disturbed for several years! If you're looking for a snowdrop to extend the season, this is the one - no contest!
Galanthus John Gray heralds the start of the main Snowdrop season here and is usually at it’s best during mid to late January. Widely recognised as one of the most appealing of cultivars, it is easily grown in an ordinary well drained garden soil (and of course pots here!). Choice of site is however important - good light and sunshine are needed to keep this very compact Snowdrop in character, it will resent being in shade and flop somewhat. The flowers are large, perfectly formed and of good substance, the inner segments are strongly marked green which becomes diffuse towards the ovary. They are carried on a long arching pedicel, enhancing the display. The garden clump is guaranteed to evoke comment amongst visitors and invariably does - a snowdrop with impact!
Many ‘galanthophiles’ lust after the bizarre and unusual where snowdrops are concerned. For me, the delicacy and beauty of the species are of prime consideration and if you like your snowdrops short and sweet, then G. transcaucasicus may be the one for you! I grow this species in pots, primarily due to the rarity, low growing habit and early flowering habit here (usually mid January). A raised bed may offer suitable accommodation and with suitable stocks, well worth a try. The flowers on emergence, particularly with the clone I grow, are held on very short scapes, typically 5cm tall and the leaves, broad matt green and somewhat undeveloped at flowering time. Both stems and leaves develop further after flowering but remain tidy. The mountain origins of Azerbaijan plus cold temperatures in nature must not be neglected in cultivation (otherwise flowers may try to open below ground level!) I try and avoid this problem by avoiding ‘hot spots’ under glass and even moving outdoors during mild spells. Clay pots are used together with a grit enhanced, loam based compost and when I remember, an occasional high potash feed. A dryish summer rest under the staging completes the growth cycle before repotting in late summer. It would certainly be lost amongst it’s loftier cousins and garden ground cover - the Cyclamen parviflorum of the snowdrop world!
Whenever I give talks on raising plants from seed, I always implore people to sow seed from bulbous plants (and try something unknown) every year. I have good reason as this particular beauty was spotted in Josef Halda's 1994 Lesotho collections. Three years on I had my first flowers, two years later these set seed and now plants can be experimented with in the garden. Dubbed the "Suicide Lily" from it's cliff face haunts in the high Drakensberg, I can see why would be photographers or collectors were tempted to their doom, such is it's beauty. Whether in pot or garden, it is thoroughly hardy here (to -10'C and below) and is tolerant of wet summer or winter. It remains dormant throughout the winter months and pots are placed under the greenhouse staging during this period (just in case). Water must be given from late winter onwards (when it is safe to repot) and the leaves appear during late spring. As the flower spike develops, these "plump up" and eventually arching sprays of bright red flowers with white flashes on the lower tepals are held on fairly short stems 20-30cm. Each flower spike can have up to seven flowers in succession, they are large (5-6cm across) for a plant of such short stature. Seed set is encouraged by gentle use of a paint brush and this together with offset production, provides a dual mode of increase. I'm sure there are many other South African Gladiolus treasures to "discover" here, I'm still sowing "new ones" each year!
I just adore the juno Irises and this will no doubt be the first of many to feature here. It is by no means one the smaller species as the photo here will testify and for this reason can cause great problems when grown under glass - the stems elongate and flop! It will tolerate overhead water with ease so... out of the alpine house it must come! Three bulbs purchased from Potterton and Martin in the early 1990's bulked up to approx a dozen in 1998 and rewarded me with my first Farrer medal, yippee. I wondered what all the fuss was about as it seemed so easy to grow but I was forgetting the lessons learned during the early years (when I wouldn't have dared take it near a show bench!)
The lessons learned were:
As with all my juno Iris in pots the roots are given a gritty John Innes mix and the top portion of the pot is filled with coarse grit only. No doubt this method will need tweaking to suit the climate of other growers but the rewards of a well grown potful are immense. Apart from the show bench, it makes a particularly stunning patio plant!
Iris narbutii is a compact Central Asian juno species. The channelled foliage has emerged at flowering time giving the plant a short stocky appearance, usually no more than 10cm tall when in flower. The flowers come in hues of greenish yellow to pale violet with, the falls bearing a raised white crest surrounded by yellow zone and can be further enhanced by a darker violet blotch at the tip. The deflexed standards are a key feature of this species, being extraordinarily large and in better forms suffused with violet. Clay pots and standard ‘juno treatment’ are the key to success (see the notes in the cultivation of bulbs section) Very variable in flower colour and season, it is a must to raise from seed to appreciate the different coloured forms which will often extend the flowering season. Stocks raised here flower at any time between January and February and with regular sowings you never quite know what to expect at each first flowering!
Within the "Iris rosenbachiana complex" are to my mind some of the most beautiful of alpine plants. Of course as a Juno devotee, I must admit to being somewhat biased! Iris nicolai occurs in the wild through Russian Central Asia and NE Afghanistan from 1000 to 2000m on clayey slopes. It is one of the earlier Junos to flower, usually in February here and at flowering time the leaves are usually completely absent. The flowers are a creamy pale yellowish white with deep violet tips to the falls, the orange crest is striped similarly to each side. The standards are unmarked but the style arms are suffused with purple. Cultivation is in a gritty loam based mix with absolutely nothing but coarse grit above the bulbs. This allows for particularly sharp drainage, a prerequisite for may of the early flowering, smaller Junos. At repotting time (Sep/Oct) the bulbs are cleaned up and this is the right time for increase by vegetative propagation. The fleshy roots are particularly squat and swollen: these are broken off with a portion of the basal plate, dried, dusted with sulphur and replanted later. Clay pots in the alpine house sand plunge are used and these are kept just moist until flowering time when more moisture is tolerated and given. An occasional liquid feed is assists with increase as the leaves progress through Spring until finally, these wither away. No water is given during the summer, I just store the pots dry under the staging until the late Autumn. Seed is occasionally available and a new generation of youngsters are on the move here in case of disaster strikes with the parents. I could not bear to be without this....... .....
Never mind the name, this delicate little bulbous plant blooms profusely and reliably every August here. Clumps are now establishing and seed if freely set so increase is not a problem and despite the wild origins (Southern Europe and North Africa) it is reliably hardy here in a well drained rasied bed. I started with two distinct clones, one with green stems / smaller flowers plus another taller clone with red stained stems and noticeable pink suffusion at the base of the larger flowers. Despite the horticultural difference, these are both L.autumnale var oporanthum as both inner and outer tepals have three teeth at the apex and the leaves are absent at flowering time. Considering I grow many of my bulbs in pots, I'm glad I let this loose in the garden from day one - it's never looked back and despite the heat of mid summer flowers continuously through the month of August and into September!
The sun baked desert origins provide the important factor in growing this, the most delightful of the deciduous species. Equally at home in plastic or clay pots provided you are not over zealous with the watering can! The plant forms a stocky carrot like rootstock which is best repotted in late summer into a 50:50 grit/John Innes No 2 mix. The plant will announce a minimal watering regime when a tuft of the narrow fleshy leaves appears above ground in autumn. Slowly but surely the foliage gains in stature and throughout spring water may be given more freely. In late spring, large green buds appear which defy the small stature of the plant as they open in sunshine some 3 inches across. The flowers may be pink, white or banded variations on both and persist in succession for a week or two. Now for the easy bit, simply stop watering and keep the roots bone dry as the foliage withers and the plant becomes dormant. A frame or greenhouse obviously helps but take it from me this is a plant for the lazy gardener! Best results have come from the use of 4” clay pots plunged in a sand bed under cover. The roots never need much space and even specimens of ten years plus will be happy in a 6” clay pot!
This exciting species occurs in nature on mountain slopes where considerable heat and drought are encountered with snow cover in winter. A careful watering regime is called for again with plants responding best in clay pots to avoid problems with overwatering. A slightly richer compost will be needed as when growing, this is a hungry feeder This species should never be dried out in summer but plants are unlikely to tolerate too much overhead moisture. Plants are evergreen but dormant during this period, the leaves having a rather limp appearance. Water is best applied via a sand plunge with the top of the pot raised well above. The roots will then take up sufficient water leaving the crown fairly dry. During mid to late winter the foliage “perks up” and new growth in the form of leaves/buds emerges. This is the sign to step up watering and failure to do so may cause flower buds to abort. Maximum light is necessary to prevent flower stems becoming leggy and flopping everywhere! If you’ve got everything right a floral spectacle probably unrivalled will ensue. The flowers are large 2-3” across and each stem bears several in succession. Flower colour varies from whites through apricots to yellows and even deep pink.
With "show" Primulas, I guess it's no secret that no matter how good your cultivation skills are, a "good" plant certainly helps! So, what is a good plant? It should obviously be free flowering, long flowering helps, neat habit convinces judges it is "in character" and of course pale flowers "age" much better than dark ones. These criteria are for starters and Primula x "Aire Mist" fits the bill nicely in all respects, the rest is up to the grower. Raised by Peter Lister from a cross of Primula allionii alba x P. x "Blairside yellow" this plant is slightly later in flowering than the sister seedling "Aire Waves". It is certianly much more tolerant of winter wet than P. allionii and young plants regularly overwinter unprotected here. I use a gritty JI mix with an occasional high potash liquid feed and regularly repot (twice a year is not unusual. The leaves are a nice deep green shade and rosettes build up into quite a hard dense cushion. The exciting period is early to mid spring when the flowers develop and open up at first creamy white, As they age, they become pure white and enlarge, each flowering umbel jostling for space on very short scapes. The effect is to totally obliterate the foliage from sight and with careful positioning out of direct sunlight, the display holds good for at least two weeks (i.e. two shows hopefully!)Propagation is by division or from stem cuttings both very generous in their percentage "take". Unlike some of the other specialist's Primulas it is also freely available - give it a try, you won't be disappointed.
How's this for a "cutie". South West Sichuan, Chungtien, Yunnan and east Tibet are its wild locality and we have the collection number CLD 345 to thank for reintroducing it to cultivation. The growth habit is slow but steady mat forming, the root system is quite shallow so care must be taken in hot weather to avoid desiccation! During the winter dormancy when you are quite convinced you've lost it, a drier regime is necessary but beware drying out completely or you have lostit! I always use shallow plastic pans for this one and avoid hot sun at all times. Propagation is simplicity itself, as new growth becomes apparent in early spring, tear the clumps apart potting each new division into fresh compost. I use a lime free mix, with added perlite and finely shredded bark chips to really open it out. The flowers are long lasting (remember to avoid full sun!), if showing, beware of directional light as the short stems exhibit phototropism and and the flowers will soon crane their heads in one direction. The flowers are alpine beauty personified, almost unreal as if sculptured from sugar paste. If you haven't tried this - you must!
One of the most attractive North American species (sect Parryi) and with unconventional treatment, has been a star attraction near the garden pond. Raised from an Alan Bradshaw collection (Licoln Co, New Mexico, 11,490'), I was determined to flower this well having failed miserably in pots previously. Armed with several spares, I handed one to Celia with the instruction, "find a well drained, part shaded spot". It ended up in one of the hottest places in the garden in our fairly stony unmodified soil. The following spring, fifteen or so stems erupted from the foliage each bearing clusters of rose-violet, yellow eyed flowers. The flowers are borne right through the month of May here and in late summer the foliage dies back to resting buds. This is the point at which I previously restricted water in pots (how silly of me), plants outside have flourished in the unregulated winter soggy soil with temperatures down to -8C. A couple of other young plants are now making up a sizeable clump and I'm hoping for further establishment from seed. Of course, I'm still trying this in pots and despite the increased winter water, can't match those outside......
The sumptuous large yellow Gentian like flowers of this species drew me like a magnet but many of the specimens seen on the showbench were rather lax and leggy. Having raised a number of plants from Rachel Saunder's seedlist (Incidently some seed labelled as S. repens seems to be masquerading as S. thomasii) I was determined to try and grow this delightful plant "in character"....
In nature, Sebaea thomasii is found in moist situations (e.g. the spray zone of waterfalls, seepage areas and damp grassland at 2000-3000m in the Eastern Cape area of South Africa. There seemed little (except for frost hardiness) to suggest this fine plant could not escape from the confines of the alpine house (in the often wet and cold winters of the Midlands UK)!
Two years elapsed between sowing and initial potting for which a mix of JI no 2, perlite and grit was used. Plants were repotted from their original 3" plastic containers into 4" plastic pots during late summer of 2000 and these remained on a bench outside open to all the elements except for periods of severe frost (down to -8C during 2000/01). Even under (very cold) glass, the plants experienced completely frozen conditions for short periods. The key requirement in keeping the foliage tight is light and no matter how clean you think your glass is, natural light is better. The flower buds form very early and these are noticeable from October onwards. They begin to open the following March here and the show lasts an incredible six weeks or so (take care to avoid direct sun on the flowers). A single plant has already graced the bench at two AGS shows, picking up a "Certificate of Merit" on the way and will certainly make another one.
Plants are easily raised from seeds after a period of cold although they are painfully slow during their first growing season - be patient. They may also be raised from cuttings, an obliging use to keep the plant tight if those stems get leggy!
Once considered unobtainable and very difficult to grow, the former comment has been laid to rest and the latter only partly true. Cropping up on the Czech seed collectors lists with increasing regularity, everyone should have a go at growing this gem. A limestone crevice dweller from Greece, it is initially, obliging and quick to flower, the challenge is keeping a plant for longer periods! I habitually give Viola seed "GA treatment" as I know this guarantees good germination. However with fresh seed, I have had reports from others who have had good germination yields. Plants are grown in a mix of JI No 2 loam based compost, coarse grit and perlite. From a central tuft, arise masses of wiry stems with linear leaves, these are adorned with rose lilac flowers, 2cm across for much of April and May. I have yet to try this in the open garden but see no reason why it would not succeed in a well drained spot. Plants in pots require regular repotting and during the winter when the stems die back, careful attention is needed to remove these otherwise botrytis quickly moves in. If you have a plant, cuttings are easily struck during early summer but they need to be grown on well to survive the die back period and subsequent winter. It's a treasure, Wilhelm Schacht once declared: "the finest alpine I have ever seen" - I would be hard pushed to disagree!