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your garden: Mountain beauties; The marvellous plants which survive on high Himalayas.

Byline: Bill Chudziak

Plants from the high Himalayas are some of Mother Nature's finest accomplishments. They have adapted to an extreme climate which is a unique and demanding environment. Some are truly desirable but they are unlikely to survive in our own domestic gardens. So, short of a trek up a 'Himalaya', this is as close as you'll get. Just read on and drool.

PURPLE RAINCOATS

The summer monsoon bashes the flowers of saussurea obvollata with a torrential downpour on a daily basis. So it has evolved bracts as sort of purple raincoats to protect the real flowers on the inside from monsoon rain.

'GORETEX' PROTECTION

The Himalayan golden edelweiss or leontopodium monocephalum clings to existence at 17,000ft. It is covered with a fine pelt of tiny hairs which act like Goretex, allowing the plant to breathe, yet resist the incessant summer downpour.

THE SPREADING BEAR

This one is the 'bear plant', eriophyton, one of the nettle family. It is densely coated with hair and the foliage does have a mammalian feel. Its long stems creep under rocks, popping silver crowns up over a considerable spread.

SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL

We tend to associate delphiniums with 6ft tall blue spires that belong in the herbaceous border. But these diminutive relatives, delphinium brunonianum, are only 3in tall. Their tiny form has evolved through continual exposure to the elements. The hooded flowers and leaves are also covered in fine hair, bringing the same protection as for the edelweiss and eriophyton.

GRACEFUL BALLOONS

These mysterious 'paper lantern'-shaped flowers - which are sometimes likened to small balloons - belong to the silene (pink carnation) family and have impressive, round flower bracts which protect the real flowers on the inside. These tiny silenes measure only 4-5 in tall, yet their unfeasibly massive flowers bob gracefully in the slightest breeze.

RHEUMS WITH A VIEW

Rheum alexandrae comes from Mongolia, where it grows in sandy soil on lake shores and marshland. The foliage is vulnerable to the drying spring winds so the plant coats itself in a clear jelly. Its bigger cousin, rheum nobile, produces 3ft spikes of flower in the high glacial Himalayan valleys.

A LOVELY THIEF

The thieving pedicularis require a host plant to help their uptake of nutrients so they mingle with grass and steal its goodies. The yellow pedicularis hoffmeisteiri is tricky in cultivation. Like so many of these treasures, there's really only one way to see them in the flesh.

WEATHER IN FEBRUARY

Some snow with odd frosts are expected, though the likelihood of above average temperatures will lead to above-normal rainfall. This may lead to flooding, and over saturated ground, which should be offset in the vegetable plot by covering and warming the soil with clear polythene.

EVENTS IN FEBRUARY

Scottish Snowdrop Festival.

Until till Sunday, March 11. The first ever Scottish Snowdrop Festival gets underway, including special open days at over 60 gardens across Scotland covering Aberdeenshire to the Isle of Mull, right down to the border. For more information call visitscotland on 0845 22 55 121

Moss workshop at Edinburgh Botanics. Saturday, February 10, 10am till 4pm.

For details of ERBG's lab work on mosses and identifying common species see www.rbge.org.uk or telephone 0131 248 2937.

SRGC Early Bulb Show Saturday, February 17, 1 2 till 4. Victoria Hall, Dunblane.

This is the first of the Scottish Rock Garden Club's flower shows and it's always heaving with colour and scents so gladly received after the winter. Plant sales and talks are also available for members. Visit www.srgc.org.uk or email sandy.leven@btinternet.com or telephone 01786 824064.

THE WEEK'S WORK

Soak sweet pea seeds overnight then sow indoors or undercover outside.

Cucumbers and tomatoes can be sown for cultivation under glass.

If you grow brassicas or suffer from club root, rake lime into the veg plot.

Raspberries and other 'bare root' canes can be planted against decent supports.

This is the 'snowball plant', which lives at such high altitudes that, during its flowering period, snowfall occurs. This presents two big problems - protecting delicate flowers from cold, while attracting pollinators (bees). The solution for saussurea gossypiphora, to give the plant its posh name, is to blow warm air through the snow to melt tunnels for the bees. It does this by forming a round cocoon which surrounds the actual flower and is densely coated in a thick insulating layer of silver hairs. The protected chamber is warmer than the surrounding air and emits a slightly warm column of air from its tiny mouth. This melts the snow all the way to the surface and amazingly, the bees manage locate these holes among the vast snow plains.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Feb 4, 2007
Words:780
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