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Kent Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 26 April 2015 by Tim Ingram

'A friendly eye would never see such faults'

'A friendly eye would never see such faults' (Shakespeare)

Could it be that we are a little precious about alpine plants at times? There is a nice story related by F. H. Fisher in 'Clarence Elliott, V.M.H. Tribute to an Alpine Plantsman' (Quarterly Bulletin of the Alpine Garden Society Vol. 37, p. 159, 1969).

Clarence Elliott was a friend and contemporary of Reginald Farrer - they both loved alpine plants, made rock gardens and grew them very well. Both inspired plenty of other gardeners too. Friendships between capable and idiosyncratic characters like these always have a competitive edge - after all to do something well is to be self-critical and to be self-critical is to see the errors of other's ways as well as your own. There is nothing like learning from the criticism of others if you can see what they are getting at, but it still doesn't come easy. Fisher's story tells of how Clarence Elliott had the highest regard for Reginald Farrer and for his writing about rock gardening ('He wrote vividly, often at the top of his voice, as it were, and could weave romance about a plant, treating it as a clever novelist might treat his most provocative character') but maybe not so much for the practical results at Ingleborough. But: 'If Farrer himself were there, it was different. One had no time to be critical. There were plants to examine and discuss, and perhaps a certain amount of "fencing" to attend to!'

He carries on: 'I remember once pulling a vigorous plant of Land Cress ('Iggse's Weed) from his  "Great Moraine" and looking for somewhere to throw it. "Take it" he said-- "Take it back to Stevenage to clothe your barren territories!"'

This article is illustrated by Duncan Lowe who himself grew alpines so well and captured this in his inimitable pen and ink drawings. (His book 'Growing Alpines in Raised Beds, Troughs and Tufa' is full of practical and sensible advice). The trouble is that rock gardeners are often contrary and like to make their own mistakes. When you see the end result in the hands of gardeners such as Harry Jans and Alan Furness then it can be like viewing plants at the Alpine Shows - an impossible dream, with such skills granted to just a few. But then notice that vigorous plant of Land Cress and all is well!

These are a few wonderful plants flowering in our garden now. The selective lens of the camera leaves out any of the surrounding weeds but they are there, and a good part of gardening is to do with them rather than these treasures. Gardens though are such personal places that sometimes the weeds can be the very things that give the chance to attend to the beauty.

Tulipa aucheriana Bellevalia dubia Iris songarica

Respectively: Tulipa aucheriana, Bellevalia dubia, Pulsatilla grandis, Pulsatilla rubra 'Eva Constance', Daphne modesta (in the sand bed) and Iris songarica.

And, because it is such a glorious plant and so exciting when it first emerges with those dark buds, Adonis vernalis

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