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Kent Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 03 May 2016 by Tim Ingram

...continued, from Dorchester to Colombia.

(A good model for the new potting shed we need to build in our garden!).

One of the pleasures of giving talks is meeting new people and discovering new places. Dorchester-on-Thames, to the south of Oxford, is a rather remarkable and historic 'village' and here the Culham Gardening Club meet in the medieval 'Guest House' next to the Abbey.

We were most grateful for the hospitality of Margaret and Simon Broadbent, whose garden has hosted events for the Oxford AGS Group and is beautifully - and dramatically - situated alongside the River Thame and right next to the Abbey. Their potting shed is what gives the inspiration above!

Dorchester is unique in my experience for the variety of architectural styles in such a small place, a sign of its long history and no doubt its proximity to Oxford. Perhaps most dramatic of all for the lover of plants is this wisteria trained for hundreds of feet in both directions from 'The Old College'!

There is beautiful detail in the town, and especially in the Abbey, including this chimera of a rose turning into a lily...

There is something extremely lovely about the way these wall paintings surround the illuminated window, as a frame. And for the alpine gardener... what about these sempervivums growing in a wall?


A little later we were invited to give a talk to the Whitstable & District Horticultural Society on 'Gardening on the Rocks'. This Society, as you can see from their logo, is around the same age as the AGS, and has been revitalised by Kevin Tooher, an horticultural lecturer who ran courses at Hadlow College - it was an enjoyable evening speaking to a really enthusiastic audience, though I'm not to sure how many may have been converted to growing alpines? The logo is interesting - the plant is Peucedanum officinale, or Hog's Fennel, one of the rarest of UK umbels that grows here on the coast at Tankerton and along the creek at Faversham, as well as on the coast of Essex - and it works rather well!



The end of March sees, as well as the Kent AGS Show - which I will mention later - an indoor Plant Sale and Talk at Lenham, hosted by the Kent Group of the Hardy Plant Society (and there is a very strong overlap in membership of these two societies). This year the guests were Bleddyn & Sue Wynn-Jones from Crûg Farm, who bought an eclectic range of plants along, many grown from seed collected on their various plant hunting expeditions. Slightly outside the range of our pocket and garden conditions were these two fascinating species, exciting to see none-the-less. They are both botanically intriguing - the Rhodoleia because of its relationship to the much more familiar Hamamelis, and Illicium to magnolias.


They also had fine plants of many woodland species, including Pteridophyllum racemosum, that curious and unique member of the Papaveraceae, and a highly scented spring-flowering relative of winter box (Sarcococca), Pachysandra axillaris from China. Dan Hinckley makes a good case for this plant in this short video:, and Bleddyn said it has been excellent in dry shade at Crûg Farm. This is a poor photo but the scent is superb!

Bleddyn's talk, on botanising in Colombia, was especially interesting after hearing earlier about Oaxaca from Ruth Calder (see my earlier Diary entry). Colombia, warmer and closer to the equator than Mexico, has an even richer flora - some 45 000 species, but possibly double this number,  including amongst them many Araliaceae such as Oreopanax incisus, a genus along with Schefflera and others renowned for its foliage.

Thirty to forty species of Oreopanax were grown in the Victorian era of plant introductions but mostly need frost protection so are rarely seen now. Crûg Farm have introduced around twenty of these, some from relatively high altitudes where temperatures can show wide diurnal fluctuations. The flora of Colombia is both unfamiliar and captivating and the high volcanic peaks do host plants of interest to alpine gardeners such as Eryngium humile, Lachemilla orbiculata (an Alchemilla by another name), Gentiana sedifolia, and Geranium sibbaldioides - which grows high in the páramo at 4000m. Higher still, reaching 4600m, the silver Senecio canescens and S. niveo-aureus are rivals for any of the new Zealand Celmisia. These are not plants that many gardeners are ever likely to grow, but to know about them is to broaden the mind, and to see pictures of them growing naturally as in Bleddyn's talk is edifying. The list of plants that he handed out to the audience was really helpful(!) and makes great enjoyment spending an hour or two surfing the web looking at them in more detail. Several Apiaceae were particularly valuable to see as examples of this family (which is of special interest to me), notably Eryngium humboldtii and Myrrhidendron glaucescens. A very enjoyable meeting, not only for plant geeks!

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