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Kent Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 06 July 2015 by Tim Ingram

...Day 1 continued

The most enjoyable part of the visit was being shown 'around the back' in the private growing area and nursery for the garden. Walking down past the accommodation area the first thing we saw was a small area of rock work, planted largely with saxifrages, which could be easily imagined transposed into any garden, and especially effective in a driveway like this.

Rock work

And viewed from below...

Rock work

The clean and moist mountain air of the region results in a proliferation of those greatest rock plants of all, lichens, and many of the trees - notably in the steep valleys - were also festooned with these.

Most exciting of all was to see the propagation frames full of pots sown with seed and young seedlings of a very diverse range of plants. Seed is sourced from many places including the Alpine Societies exchanges and professional collectors such as Alplains in the USA and the Czech growers - as well as from the garden itself - and of course accurate knowledge of its place of origin and nomenclature is important (as well as the genetic diversity and environmental adaptability that arises from growing plants from seed). As any alpine nurseryman knows (because you soon get told if you have an incorrect name!) maintaining accurate records of plants is a significant part of horticulture and a Garden like this provides a living datum of huge value to the grower. Here is Philippe discussing the conditions for sowing seed in the garden here - and there can be no greater thrill than raising new plants in this way, and observing the vageries and success with different species.

Propagation area

Amongst these are those extra special plants which take more care than most and which are especially valuable when they do set good seed and allow more experiment with growing conditions - here the exquisite Primula reidii, and of great surprise in a garden with such high rainfall (and an indication of how modifying growing conditions, as Peter Korn does for example with sand and alpine gardeners do in general, can allow such a remarkable range of plants to be grown in the same garden), the N. American Eriogonum ovalifolium.

Primula reidii Eriogonum ovalifolium

Finally a scene in the main part of the garden showing a bank of Gentiana lutea - a lot more of interest to flower over the next month or two.

(With grateful thanks to Philippe Chauvet and staff at the garden).

Gentiana lutea

(Philippe has asked me to say that his position is not accurately described as 'curator' at the Haut Chitelet Garden, but as a simple gardener. None the less his input and propagation of the plants is essential in the way the garden develops, so the term with a small 'c' still seems entirely appropriate).

Day 1 - Staudengärtnerei Gräfin von Zeppelin

From Gerardmer the border between France and Germany - the Rhine - is relatively close and so we also took the opportunity to visit this well known perennial nursery south of Freiburg and only a few miles into Germany. The Zeppelin nursery is renowned for growing a very wide range of herbaceous perennials - notably peonies and Oriental poppies and many plants suitable for a more continental climate with warm summers and cold winters. For the alpine gardener there were less plants of interest, though more were obviously grown in the past, which was disappointing but probably indicative of the specialist appeal alpines have to gardeners and the much stronger promotion in recent decades of perennials and 'prairie-type' plantings  (much of which has originated in Germany).

The nursery is beautifully located close to the nearby small town, but set in the rural landscape and overlooked by a fine church.

In high summer, and for those with an interest in herbaceous perennials, there was no shortage of plants to explore. 

Plants are now grown in such quantity and distributed so widely that many of the plants available were very familiar but the nursery was fascinating to visit to see its layout and tradition, and must have a strong influence on gardening throughout the region - and beyond - very much in the same way as Beth Chatto's nursery near to Colchester. The sense of a specialist nursery producing many of its own plants is there, even though for the really knowledgeable gardener there were less really 'special' and more unique plants.

We stopped on route back to the Haut Chitelet garden in the afternoon for an alfresco lunch provided by the hotel, travelling back through Munster where cranes nest on the building close to the church. Quite a long journey across the Vosges and into Germany but a good eye-opener to these regions on either side of the Rhine.

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