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Kent Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 15 March 2015 by Tim Ingram

'Could so lead on the Spring' (Hilaire Belloc)

Nothing is so beautiful as spring---

   When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;

   Thrush's eggs look like little low heavens, and thrush

Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring

The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;

   The glassy pear-tree leaves and blooms, they brush

   The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush

With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

..... (Gerard Manley Hopkins)

(© Robyn Ingram)

So this entry will look at earliest spring. The alpine shows at Harlow and Loughborough reveal how much is already in flower, even in the garden itself. This little flower arrangement comes from Mavis and Sam Lloyd...

Gerard Manley Hopkin's poem speaks of the vigour of spring but for many alpine gardeners it must really be the detail, which this amazing collection of Dionysia afghanica hybrids at Harlow brings out more than anything else.

And here is an eye level view of Dionysia bazoftica from Nigel Fuller.

The question is: once you've seen these how do you think of any other plant again? Well it is hard until you turn your eye to something like Galanthus 'Sophie North' or this very appealing trio - all from Don Peace.

Or Galanthus woronowii 'Elizabeth Harrison' from John R. - a fabled plant for its price on eBay but likely to prove as good a garden plant as the yellow G. plicatus 'Wendy's Gold' in time. Its price says something about its long term value, or maybe the long term value of snowdrops in gardens in general. John also showed this little trio of primulas, and speaking from an often droughty southern garden these were just lovely to see.

What is it about a plant that appeals? Often amongst alpine plants it is the foliage as much or more than the flowers - silver foliage such as Diane Clement's Tanacetum leontopodium which is really an impossibly velvety version of T. densum amani or T. haradjanii, which can be grown with care in the garden. The botanical mind immediately wants to compare and contrast and imagine the climate and place that a plant like this comes from.

At Loughborough, amongst tables bursting with colour, was this fantastic little plant of Goodyera pubescens (Neil Hubbard) and Colchicum macrophyllum (Simon Bond). The latter we have in the garden, grown from Archibald seed and it is yet to flower - but what a leaf!

If you were a heroine in a Jane Austen novel you would probably swoon on viewing a narcissus like this one from Nigel Fuller - somehow this was all the more beautiful for the fact that there weren't so many plants on display at Harlow. It was easier to view them more for themselves - too many of something similar and beauty can be lost to criticism, and beauty is simply obvious when you see it.

Why is it that Iris 'Velvet Smile' doesn't have quite the cachet of I. rosenbachiana 'Tovil Dara'? Are these choice irises rather like the Birds of Paradise that David Attenborough describes, just somewhere out on their own? They are hardly growable in the garden whereas a reticulate like 'Clairette' can be very successful with a bit of trial and error.

At Wisley, just at the top of the rock garden, is this rather wonderful planting of iris, crocus and cyclamen (more pictures to come later).

At Loughborough was the exotically named Ypsilandra thibetica from Diane. This is a martyr to vine weevil, which the gardener may not want to know, but the fun for a propagator is that you can take a section of leaf and loop it with both ends in cutting compost and both will root and produce new plantlets. We had lost this so it was good to see it for sale again.

At both Harlow and Loughborough the excitement (and maybe envy) on seeing plants displayed like this is given opportunity by finding them for sale! - as these few pictures highlight.

This exhibit on Fritillaria from Kew at the Harlow AGS Show shows that precision which relates plant and plantsman, botanist and philosopher. 

The poetry that I opened this Diary entry with comes from the garden as well and here it is in the way plants grow together or just sometimes how well suited they are to a particular situation. Saxifrages and tufa at Wisley consort to perfection, highly frustrating where the one is as rare as the other is beautiful.

Woodland plants appeal in a rather different way but again a bank like this one above the bulb meadow at Wisley is not as effortless as it looks, as I have described earlier with reference to snowdrops. In the same way as you might view a painting, first from afar and yet with a definite attraction, so as you look closely - as in the third picture in our garden - it is the way plants meld together which brings it to life.

(to be continued... )

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