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Kent Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 20 April 2016 by Tim Ingram

'Variety is the mother of enjoyment'

'Variety is the mother of enjoyment'

                                                 (Disraeli)

If you ask yourself why you belong to a Society such as the AGS you may come up with various answers. As I ask myself that question I realise that the reason is not the same as for many other members: for me alpine plants are just one category of plants amongst many. The Plant World itself, the physiology and chemistry of plants, their ecology (which most closely relates to gardening), as well as their natural distributions and botany, all combine in the ways that plants are viewed. And added to this is simple artistic and aesthetic appreciation, which comes out in the way plants are displayed at Alpine Shows - but this latter reason is only a part of why the plants appeal so much. For me the conclusion is that the 'garden' lies at the heart of all this, and the propagation and distribution of plants at the heart of the garden, and thus of the alpine and rock garden societies. A number of people who do not grow alpines for display, in fact are not closely involved with the AGS at all except for being members for a long time, many of whom run small specialist nurseries, say that it is the seed exchange more than anything else which they find most worthwhile. Something to ponder on as we consider the future of the Society.

Here then is a personal journey of highlights from the early months of 2016, much of which is not specifically to do with the Alpine Garden Society itself, but is to do with alpine plants amongst others, and to do with the people who garden with them, including myself.

In February snowdrops take centre stage and this picture, taken at Elizabeth Cairn's garden, Knowle Hill Farm in Kent, sums this up well. Crisp cold days; warm tea and cake; good company.

Elizabeth grows many of her snowdrops, along with Cyclamen coum and Crocus tommasinianus, in this small copse, which later on becomes a place for the chickens to roam. Elsewhere in the winter garden Ribes laurifolium makes a fine small flowering shrub.

Winter for us in N. Kent arrived relatively late and frosty scenes like these in late February have been rare.

Apple blossom this spring is coming a week or two later than last year (which was also relatively mild in winter), but Prunus x blireana flowered a week or two earlier - this is the loveliest of small cherries for the garden with good bronze-purple foliage following the flowers.

The Prunus flowers around late February, at the same time that we open the garden for snowdrops (although as you collect more and more of these their peak of interest is often several weeks earlier, when many of the snowdrop sales are held). This year we were fortunate to have a good day for this local WI Group from Orlestone. One of the great satisfactions - and reasons - of making a garden is when others enjoy it too, especially as it can be easy just to see the weeds and what still needs doing!

The mild winter has had the benefit of allowing more time to work on the garden through the coldest months and we lifted several clumps and offshoots of the Giant Lily, Cardiocrinum giganteum (which had seeded under the apples and needed more space to develop).

The Harlow AGS Show is one of the earliest in the country and always exciting for the range of plants on display, and even more for the plants available from specialist nurseries. The Show itself may have had less plants on display but I think this fine individual exhibit by Peter Taggart ably illustrates that there is plenty of plant interest early in the year to inspire visitors. If there are fewer, but greatly valued, growers exhibiting plants then this is a reason to publicise the AGS Shows in much better ways than they have been in the past to encourage more gardeners to get involved and join the Society. The Internet and social media obviously play a significant part in this rapidly evolving age of e.communication.

Here are a few plants that were available from the nurseries: Arum pictum 'Primrose Warburg' (Wildside); Saxifraga longifolia (Slack Top); and this beautiful Iris suaveolens (from Aberconwy).

Finally, for the moment, I took this poor picture in the Sales Hall at the Show which I hope captures something of the ambience of an AGS Show - simply that great interest and sharing of experience of growing plants which is what the alpine and rock garden societies are all about 😊.

(...to be continued...)

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