Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Rottering around the pockery

I was pottering around the rockery yesterday afternoon; by and large what I saw was predictable. Several plants of the very popular Saxifraga x arendsii were in flower and pleased me greatly as these are all self-sown seedlings: we all like freebies!
Saxifraga x arendsii self seeds in our garden. Stefen Hill, Daventry.
28 March, 2017
The bells of the Snake's Head Fritillary. Fritillaria meleagris, had opened, with the dramatic plum-purple tepals (there are no true petals) displaying their characteristic chequering.  Although its natural habitat is generally in meadows it is very accommodating and with luck will steadily spread over the years. Clapham, Tutin and Warburg's famous 'Flora of the British Isles' (2nd edition, 1958) unequivocally describes the species as 'native' and yet in Britain no mention of it is made growing prior to about 1690. Perhaps, like snowdrops and mezereon, it may have been brought here from the continent by peregrinating monks thousand or so years ago.
The Snake's Head Fritillary has something almost sinister about the
flowers. Our Garden at Stefen Hill, 28 March, 2017

The name 'Snake's Head' only dates back to the 1850's but by 1926 Vita Sackville-West was referring to the plant's ophidian nature, writing:
                                                And then I came to a field where the springing grass
                                                Was dulled by the hanging cups of fritillaries,
                                                Sullen and foreign-looking, the snaky flower,
                                                Scarfed in dull purple, like Egyptian girls...
Every year I look forward to seeing them. But there was a surprise awaiting me: almost unnoticed among the too-abundant plants of Spring Starflower, Tristagma uniflorum, was a stranger.
Hiding among the Spring Starflowers was Androsace septentrionalis.
28 March, 2017
There was something vaguely familiar about the flower. Could it be... I delved through my books and then confirmed my suspicions with help of Google: it was Androsace septentrionalis. But I certainly hadn't bought it so how had it got there?
In close-up its relationship to a primrose is clear. Stefen Hill, Daventry.
28 March, 2017
The androsaces (pronounced to rhyme with anemones) are relatives of primroses and are found in the mountain regions of south and central Europe and through into the Himalayas. Some are very desirable but this wee thing, with flowers only five millimetres across, is easily overlooked; its name of  'Pygmy-flowered Rock Jasmine' says it all. I can only assume that this annual (rather unusual in the primrose family) arrived as an overlooked seedling in a pot of something else. But I like surprises - even tiny ones - and this is a species which readily self-seeds so it may be round next year - and next year.


Two days later and the flowers of Androsace microphylla had opened in one of our alpine beds. The similarity is obvious.
Androsace microphylla, Our garden at Stefen Hill, Daventry.
30 March, 2017

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