One of our companions on the trip to the Picos was an extremely fit and eagle-eyed man in his 80s who earned the nickname ‘the springer spaniel’ because he was always diving off the path and pushing his way through the undergrowth to flush out something interesting. His prize find was undoubtedly this Lilium pyrrenaica that he found growing in a bramble thicket at the top of a bank behind a car park. Plants don’t need pretty surroundings, just the right conditions.
Pretty as a picture
Of all the alpine plants that really must be seen in their natural habitat, the gentian is the one that most needs its mountain setting to reveal its peerless beauty. There’s something about the intensity of the blue flowers studding the high alpine meadow against a backdrop of the nearly-as-blue sky that sets my heart racing – it’s my ultimate Heidi moment.
Many carnivorous plants look quite sinister, but this certainly isn’t true of the large-flowered Pinguicula, commonly known as the butterwort. This group I saw in the Picos was the best I’ve ever seen. Folklore has it that sycamore bowls rubbed with the leaf would help milk separate more quickly for butter making – or so our guide Lee told us.
I don’t know whether it’s because I’m high on the altitude, invigorated by the exercise, or because I love to spend time in a landscape where Nature is in charge, but for me summer mountains beat a beach any day. As a gardener, the opportunity to see flowers in their natural habitat is invaluable. I can see where plants choose to grow and increasingly take the view that unless I can give them something very similar, I’ll just enjoy looking at them, rather than trying to grow them in my own garden. Given that I have what the local estate agents call ‘a sea glimpse’ from my desk, most mountain plants are non-starters. But, to contradict what I’ve just said, there is now one plant in the garden, Arenaria montana, that I first saw growing on a shady bank in the Picos. I spotted pots of the self same plant while slurping through the mud at the (wet and windy but otherwise delightful) Cottesbrooke Plant Fair and now have two potted up on my doorstep. When they finish flowering I will give them a hair cut and stand them somewhere cool and shady until next spring.
It always amazes me the way the goldlace primula plants transform from scruffy winter survivors to flowery perfection in a few weeks. Each year I think they won’t manage to resurrect themselves and they always do.
If you like this then you’ll also like the pelargonium below.