Ribera del Duero – Pagos del Rey 2011

Autumn Wine Choice 2016 – one to savour!

idshot_540x540With a new contact and friend, resident in Catalonia I am being educated in the fine wines of Spain without being drawn exclusively to the celebrated wines of the Rioja. Availability of some of my favourite wines in this category amongst my regular suppliers in E. Scotland remains a challenge. This said I am not one to be beaten and find that my local supermarket and the ever-reliable Majestic has a fine Ribera!
Ribera del Duero was rewarded the accolade of Wine Region of the Year in 2012 by Wine Enthusiast magazine. The vineyards are located in Spain’s northern plateau on the course of the Duero river. Wine has been produced here for over 200 years, however the Denominacion de Origen (D.O.) of Ribera del Duero was first awarded in 1982. I must say that I find it particularly encouraging to see that fine wines from these less well-known localities are being imported to the UK so that wine lovers over here can enjoy them.

Wines produced in this region are almost exclusively made from red grapes and they are almost entirely made from the Tempranillo (locally known as Tinto Fino) grape. When choosing Ribera del Duero wines it may be helpful to understand the ageing requirements set out by statute:

Wines labelled Crianza must age two years with 12 months in oak. Reserva wines must be aged at least three years with at least 12 months in oak. The Gran Reserva wines labelled wines must spend five years aging of which 2 years being in oak. My own recommendation is a Reserva from the producer Pagos del Rey and the wine maker is Alberto Viyuela. It is a full-bodied rich wine just as well suited to be drunk on its own or with a meal of perhaps roast lamb or delightful Spanish cured hams. Initial aromas of ripe plum and spice are accompanied by a palate of fruit and light vanilla.

Kniphofia triangularis

Plant of the Season – Autumn 2016

Kniphofia triangularis

dsc00611For many years, whilst running Edrom Nurseries, I grew a neat little plant called Kniphofia galpinii which I had obtained from Jack Drake’s legendary nursery in Aviemore. Clearly a hardy member of Asphodelaceae, native to the mountains of South Africa. Having moved on from my base in Berwickshire I re-obtained the species from a new source and have since enjoyed growing a slight variation of the foregoing species, taller growing and a little more robust. I have determined that my later acquisition was Kniphofia triangularis which can attain to 60 cm in an open, sun-drenched site.

This is a most valuable plant as it produces its first spikes of flower as late as October running on to late November. I have it positioned to the front of a mature Daphne retusa – I suspect that this position was unplanned, however it works admirably having a strong evergreen background for the grassy foliage and slender spikes of vibrant orange in the autumn. This species was first introduced to the UK by celebrated plantsman and ornithologist Collingwood Ingram, 1880-1981 in 1927 (famed for the marvellous Omphalodes ‘Cherry Ingram’).

Kniphofias have rightly become more popular in recent years with some delightful new Cultivar Groups entering the trade and with some relief, accompanying a new publication, “Kniphofia: The Complete Guide, published by the RHS. This volume, written by Christopher Whitehouse will go a long way to sort out the taxonomy of this popular genus and increase the popularity of these “Red Hot Pokers”.

I have found that the species establishes itself quickly, assuming a decent sized clump (up to 45cm spread) which can be lifted and carefully divided during the growing season. I favour a less radical approach to division just before flowering but would always give the clump a complete soaking a day before action starts. I would suggest taking a smaller garden fork and going around the perimeter of the plant carefully easing away the sturdy growth. You will easily assume a dozen or so divisions without disturbing the whole mother plant. Having eased away plenty of material with slightly damaged roots, these should now have the top 50% of vegetative foliage cut back to reduce transpiration (water-loss). The plantlets can now be potted up in deep 9cm pots to become established propagules. During the first few winters until established, I would give the over-wintering crowns a generous mulch of leaf mould.

I can strongly recommend this species for a sunny well-drained position and how wonderful it looks when associated with a few autumn-flowering Gentians, such as GG. ‘The Caley’, ‘Alex Duguid’ as well as late-flowering Sedum ‘Vera Jameson’ or S. cauticolum.

Look out for either Kniphofia triangularis or K. galpinii at the following nurseries:

BlueBell Nursery, www.bluebellnursery.com

Kevock Garden Plants, www.kevockgarden.co.uk

Pine Cottage Plants, www.pcplants.co.uk

Avondale Nursery, www.avondalenursery.co.uk


Gentiana depressa

One to look out for, Autumn 2016

Gentiana depressa

gentiana-depressaOf all the truly choice, high-alpine Himalayan Gentian species that are available in the horticultural trade, Gentiana depressa fits the bill. This species, despite its availability is still quite demanding of culture and I have not found it to be long-lived in the open garden. On occasion I have admired in awe, large pans of this species in a friend’s alpine house or taking pride of place on the Show bench! Part of me (still wearing my nurseryman’s cap) thinks it is time that such a plant should be knocked out of its pan after flowering and when starting into growth and divided up into a multitude of little plants ready for the nursery frame.

Understanding the plants habitat in nature will determine the best spot and conditions for growing it. Gentiana depressa can be found in the Himalaya from Central Nepal to S.E. Tibet ascending to true alpine limits between 3350 – 4250m. In the Langtang and Gosainkund region in C. Nepal it may be seen growing in large colonies growing on acutely drained grassy banks and hummocks where it forms tufted rosettes with spreading stems that pop up at least 15cm from the basal roots. In nature it flowers in October (a little earlier in the UK) with delightful upturning pale blue or greenish-blue, broadly bell-shaped flowers sitting neatly in the rosettes of foliage. Occasional white flower forms may be seen in the wild as well as hybrids with the equally beautiful G. ornata.

Recognising that this high altitude species enjoys fine drainage and clear air movement will determine an open position in the garden. Winter snow cover demands that we offer some winter protection from the vagaries of our winters and give it a cloche cover. I would plant it between stones in a well-drained mixture containing plenty of leaf mould. Propagation can be carried out from saving seed as well as taking cuttings from non-flowering shoots or division of established clumps.


Aberconwy Nursery, 01492 580875

Discovering Classical Piano Concertos

Jan Ladislav Dussek – Piano Concerto in G major, Op 1 No 3 with Howard Shelley and the Ulster Orchestra

I am sure that I am not alone in steering myself towards favourite Piano Concertos for comfortable listening sometimes overlooking unfamiliar pieces! Such classics among Piano Concertos including compositions by Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Grieg, Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky seem to be oft played. I am really enjoying a tour of discovery thanks to Hyperion, amongst which is my current recommendation from the Czech composer Dussek, 1760-1812.

Listening to this composer and notably the three concertos from my recommended Hyperion CD with Howard Shelley at the piano the listener might be forgiven for thinking that this music resembles that of other notable composers. True, however these composers are later than Dussek so, fascinating to note that his music is really well ahead of its time! Born in Bohemia a decade after the death of J S Bach, he travelled, playing concerts and taught across Europe at the same time as composing.

Dussek’s Piano Concerto in G major is an early work composed at a similar time to Mozart’s early Piano Concertos. Unlike all of his subsequent efforts in this genre, this concerto is cast in just two movements. The middle slow movement is omitted. Mozart was a true champion of the cadenza and Dussek felt no need for it and dispensed with it, perhaps influencing other composers to follow suit.
My recommended performance is the utterly reliable recording by Hyperion with Howard Shelley playing and conducting the Ulster Orchestra.



Enjoy a taster with YouTube:

Jan Ladislav Dussek-Piano Concertos-Howard Shelley (piano), Ulster Orchestra

Classical Music for Winter

Haydn Symphonies Nos 100 “Military” and 104 “London”

Although Joseph Haydn is rightly thought of as a Viennese composer, he spent several lengthy spells in London at the invitation of violinist, Salomon. It was on these occasions that he wrote his last twelve symphonies (Nos 93-104) between 1791 and 1795. I feel that any one of these latter symphonies will appeal to the inexperienced listener wishing to become familiar with this genre of “classical music”. I can well remember introducing my children to a number of Haydn’s latter symphonies and none of the pieces elicited the oft heard “oh no, not more classical music”! Interestingly the listening public in Vienna were used to quite a different manner or theme in music to that which Haydn came across in London. Far from the Viennese court audiences, London suited the bourgeois public. We often refer to the Haydnesque “humour”, however there is more to these symphonies than perhaps can be presumed at first listening.

The Symphony No.100 in G is nicknamed the “Military” Symphony. Here, in the second movement Haydn uses the then popular Turkish music with emphasis on the base drum, cymbals and triangle. The first movement, whose secondary theme, seems to take on the popular theme of the Radetsky March. A thoroughly jolly piece of music!

Symphony No 104 in D was Haydn’s last symphony, written in 1795 when he was 63. This is a work highly reminiscent of Mozart and I find this observation most significant (ref. Konold) that this piece points the way to the orchestral works of Beethoven. Each time I listen to this work I note this observation with interest and agree wholeheartedly. The slow movement is quite beautiful and has been described as “capturing the entire scope and depth of Haydn’s music”. The finale is based on a Croatian folk-song and truly demonstrates the composer’s technical competence.

I have always enjoyed Sir Colin Davis’ interpretation of these famous symphonies and here I am recommending this fine pairing with Sir Colin and the Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam.

A must have Jewel for the Summer


DSC01615This species is now well established in cultivation and can be purchased as young plants or raised from fresh seed (for members of the Meconopsis Group). It was first discovered in north-eastern Tibet (now Qinghai province) in 1884 by the Russian Przewalski and soon thereafter herbarium material collected by Potanin. It was eventually introduced into cultivation by E. H. Wilson in 1903 from a seed collection in N.W. Sichuan and later more successfully by Joseph Rock in Gansu. It never really took a proper hold in cultivation until it was re-introduced in 1986 by Cox and Hutchinson. I can well recall a visit to the RHS Horticultural Halls from Roy Lancaster who unfolded a pocket handkerchief and passed on a pinch of good seed he had collected in SW China. That was me (Edrom Nurseries) starting out with this lovely plant in the mid 1980s.

In nature Meconopsis punicea grows in mixed scrub on open hillsides and in woodland margins at an altitude of 2800 – 4600m. It grows in close proximity to other species of Meconopsis including, MM. integrifolia, sinomaculata, psilonomma and quintuplinervia with which it hybridises to produce M. x cookei.


In cultivation, it would be churlish to suggest that this species can be grown easily, however in ideal conditions, well suited to Meconopsis in general, it is not challenging at all. In Grey-Wilson’s most recent Monograph of the genus, he states that the species is a “tufted perennial, sometimes monocarpic”. In my experience I would describe it as a monocarpic species (taking a year to flower and from a single rootstock will die), sometimes perennial. A few observers have suggested that the plants can be perennial and, on closer observation the plants have been “bunch pricked out” meaning that the plants are made up of a number of plantlets, fooling one to think that it is perennial. In fact the strongest plantlet will flower and die allowing subsequent plantlets to strengthen up and flower.

DSC01618Some of the finest plants I have seen offered are stocks raised by the very experienced Dr James Cobb and I would say that when you get started with good quality plants such as these and get them in position in early spring they will flower well and produce good seed. I do not recommend planting out in late summer or autumn as the young plants may be encouraged to flower early and very poorly. In the garden I would choose a partly shaded area providing a good deep soil with added humus made up of very well-rotted horse manure or leaf-mould. This may sound as if I am still in business but I would recommend at least 7 plants and they should be given some 9 to 12 inches apart. In a good year, such as this, the species will commence flowering in E. Scotland towards the end of May. A succession of flowers on strong plants will persist until the end of June.


During this time the individual flowers will go over and the maturing capsules will turn upwards from their nodding position. At this stage the capsules need to be watched as they will begin to dehisce (open up). They need to be removed and placed in a clean and dry, empty yoghurt pot. When the capsules are all dried out and open, the seed can be removed and placed on a clean white card. The seed must be graded and only the grains that are the size of Demerara sugar can be retained and sown right away in an acid seed compost. I always cover the seed with a thin layer of coarse sand, label well and water from the base. The seed may well germinate in the autumn and I would leave them well alone and not prick out until the spring. As I have already said I would not prick out singly but endeavour to prick them out in twos or threes.

There can be no doubt that, as the late Sir George Taylor commented in his Monograph of 1934, “No species has drawn such superlative and almost extravagant epithets as M. punicea”, he was correct. Planted amongst a few choice leafy plants such as Podophyllum or Epimediums and some of the perennial blue-flowering Meconopsis, M. punicea can be shown off to its very best.

Meconopsis-x-cookei-'Old-Rose'-(2)I can fully recommend the lovely cultivar M.’Sichuan Silk’ raised by Ian Christie from wild-collected seed. This is a fertile clone that may well have some M. quintuplinervia blood in it as it produces slender offsets making it a fine garden plant. If raised from seed it should correctly be named M. Sichuan Silk Group. The flowers are a subtle shade of strawberry red.

The hybrid Meconopsis x cookei ‘Old Rose’ is a strong growing perennial with pinkish-mauve coloured flowers and easily grown in dappled shade.

Where to buy





Mozart – A summer Performance

Mozart: Piano Concerto No 15 in B Flat Major

wolfgang-amadeus-mozart-hintergr-nde-74757This will surely rank as one of the most pleasing of all Mozart’s many and varied works, quite sublime and wholly appropriate for a summers evening of relaxation!

Oft quoted from Mozart the composer to his father, “both (Nos 15 and 16) are bound to make the performer sweat; but the B flat one beats the one in D for difficulty”. Many pianists and commentators have noted that No 15 is one of the more difficult of his Piano Concertos. The work is orchestrated for solo piano, flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns and strings.

  1. Allegro
  2. Andante in E-flat major
  3. Allegro

Mozart reached his peak as a virtuoso pianist between 1784 and 1786, a period that saw him composing some 12 Piano Concertos (Nos 14-25). Numbers 15 and 16, which are generally coupled together on CD were penned within one week in March 1784. As a lay-listener I am astounded at this and full of admiration for this gifted and prolific composer.

I cannot over enthuse about the performances of Murray Perahia and the English Chamber Orchestra, indeed is there really any better exponent of Mozart’s Piano Concertos? One review of this Concerto stated “Perahia’s interpretation of the hunting horn third movement is the closest thing to perfect Mozart on the piano I have ever heard”.

Recommended CDs:

  • Mozart Piano Concertos Nos 15 and 16 with Murray Perahia and the English Chamber Orchestra
  • Mozart Piano Concertos Nos 15 and 16 with Mitsuko Uchida and the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Jeffrey Tate.

Available at: www.amazon.co.uk

A Summer Wine to Celebrate

Bottega Vinai Trentino – Gewurztraminer DOC

gew0711This is a guaranteed favourite for all those lovers of this exquisite grape more commonly offered from the Alsace or the New World. Having studied in Northern Italy on the shores of Lake Garda, I was able to explore the localities around this part of N. Italy. I had the opportunity to take part in a Wine Festival in Tramin (Termino-Italian) on two occasions, a lot of fun and highly recommended if a taxi is available! It is believed that this famous grape owes its origin to this part of Trentino – Alto Adige and it is a splendid area to explore, within breathing distance of the Dolomites. As you travel by car from the Brenner Pass on an elevated section of the Autostrada you can look down on the intensive cultivation of fruit and vegetables and admire the steep South-facing hillsides of vineyards.

I am particularly attracted to the dry expression of the wines made with this grape in these parts. My supplier in Scotland is Valvona and Crolla and their tasting notes cannot be improved upon, “intense and persistent on the nose, bright straw-yellow with golden hints. On the palate it is elegant and structured with hints of honey, lychee and exotic fruit”. If a little time can be spared to take in the tasting notes as one enjoys this wine I would challenge the reader to try and identify these fruits, a most rewarding experience. I can savour this wine when accompanying it with a well-chosen Bergkase (a firm mountain cheese) local to the Dolomites. A favourite of mine is the outstanding cheese from Sexten (Sesto), a wonderful cheese monger with a fine range of cheeses made from milk produced from the richest of alpine meadows!! What could be finer?

Supplier: www.valvonacrolla.co.uk

One to look out for – Summer Alpines of Distinction

Geranium argenteum

A few alpines give me a real thrill, with or without flowers. The silvery foliage of this species, formed over lax clumps is visible throughout the growing season and is amply enhanced at flowering with its soft shell-pink flowers with lovely veining.

Geranium-argenteum This is an easy alpine plant in terms of its cultivation and all it asks is an open, sunny exposure and a freely drained soil. The species can be found on limestone in nature and whilst it in no way needs this alkalinity in the garden, I will always try and wedge plants between pieces of Dolomite rock in a raised bed or rock garden. I have found this lovely geranium growing on the alpine grassy lawns on the summits of Monte Baldo high above the eastern shores of Lake Garda, N. Italy. On closer inspection the deep and tangled tap roots are delving into the alpine turf amongst rocks, always ensuring the necks of the plants are well-drained. It is a precious sight indeed, flowering with alpine Forget Me Not (Myosotis) and Daphne cneorum.

Geranium-argenteum-3---CopyIn the garden I would recommend avoiding any overhanging plants to compete with the clumps, thus avoiding needless die-back. In order to maintain purity of form from seed-raised material it is important not to plant either Geranium cinereum or G. subcaulescens nearby, as the resulting seedlings may vary due to hybridisation. If you are growing an especially fine form, this may be propagated by taking short cuttings after flowering and utilising a sandy mix with some added Perlite. Care must be taken to look out eagerly for seed and to catch it before it pops – “practice makes perfect”! I like to have some small paper bags at the ready and as the seed ripens it can be collected and the process repeated over the weeks, as ripening seed can take a while!

Geranium argenteum occurs sporadically in the Eastern Alps with an impressive outpost in the Julian Alps, Slovenia and in the southern Dolomites. It is rarely seen in nursery catalogues, but should certainly be sought out.



Winter Wine Choice 2015

Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso, Torre del Falasco 2012 – DOC

Grapes-growing-in-Valpolicella-regionFollowing an unforgettable period of work experience on the shores of Lake Garda, Italy I became naturally familiar with the local customs, cuisine and wine. Of the latter, I guess the customary choice would be a Bardolino house wine, while a Valpolicella seemed to be a stage higher! The recommended wine belongs to a viticultural zone in the provence of Verona, east of Lake Garda. The hilly agricultural terrain is also home to a famous marble-quarrying industry but is most famous for wine growing. Valpolicella ranks just behind Chianti in total DOC (Demominazione di Origine Controllata) wine production. If I remember correctly, a Ripasso wine was chosen to accompany a rich Pasta dish or sometimes a sweet course and as I taste this wine whilst writing I can see why this choice was made. Quite splendid accompanying my wife Alison’s Genoa Cake!

In the late 20th Century a new style of wine known as Ripasso emerged in this region. It was created by taking the left-over grape skins and seeds from fermented Amarone for the second fermentation. In short, 90% Corvina and 10% Rondinella grapes are harvested from the steeply terraced hillsides and brought to the winery. They are de-stemmed, crushed and fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks where maceration will last for 10 days. A second fermentation takes place on the skins (or “pomace”) of Amarone and the wine will remain in large oak barrels until bottling. What is all this about? The Ripasso process of second fermentation creates a richness that is lifted beyond a traditional Valpolicella Superiore relising a taste of dried cherry and rich plums followed by hints of mocha and dark chocolate. This is a no-nonsense 14% with a full-bodied palate. There is no doubt that the Ripasso method creates an extra raisin and candied peel long finish.

My recommended wine received a Gold Medal from the International Wine Challenge of 2014 (UK)