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Wisley's Alpine Diary

This entry: 02 August 2007 by Paul Cumbleton

Log 1

Welcome to the first of a new log from the Alpine Section at Wisley Garden. I am Paul Cumbleton, the Senior Supervisor for the section and in this log I plan to share with you something of the work of the department - what we are up to, how we do it, what we have in flower at various times, plant portraits and?.well whatever else my imagination can come up with that I think may be of interest to you. It is intended that the log will be fortnightly. If you have any feedback, comments or questions regarding the log entries, they would be very welcome in the forum section of the website. A new thread entitled ?Wisley?s Alpine Log ? Feedback Forum? or something similar will be set up for this. Please allow for the possibility of some delay in my responses ? I will probably sit down once a week to do these. I have to fit this into my overall work schedule and spend what I hope my managers would see as a ?sensible? amount of time on it!

So first let me introduce the Alpine team to you:

On the back row, from left to right are first myself, then Meg Morgan, Lucie Rudnicka and Kathryn Hart. On the front row are Chris Allan on the left and our Superintendent, Colin Crosbie, on the right.  On holiday at the moment so not in the picture is Peter Herman who works part time and who is invaluable in doing much of our hard landscaping and many other tasks around the department. I?ll tell you more about our team as the logs develop, but finally I mustn?t forget our smallest staff member, Sunny, favourite with the public:

Sadly her brother Tommy was knocked down and killed a few months ago. He is buried at the top of the Rock Garden looking out over his old territory and we have planted a Daphne there too in his memory. He is missed by staff and public alike.

Undoubtedly the biggest news in the department just now is the imminent construction of a new public Alpine Display House. Any of you who have visited Wisley will be familiar with the old wooden house that has served for over 20 years:

Over the past month this old house has been taken down. First the plants were removed and returned to their growing houses behind the scenes.

Then the wooden frame of the old house was dismantled.

The dismantling was done carefully so that the old house can be recycled ? we plan to re-erect it behind the scenes in the frame yard, where it will house our orchid collections (mainly Pleione, with some Ponerorchis and Cypripedium).  The new house is being generously sponsored by Alitex and will be in aluminium. It will sit on the same brick base that the old one occupied, but with a slight extension to one side in the middle to give it an overall ?T? shape. Here is Peter Herman ? missing from the staff picture above ? building the addition to the base that this extension will rest on:

All being well, construction will start within the next week and be finished less than a week later. We then have to prepare the insides and put out a new display of plants. We hope to open the new house early in September. I?ll update you on progress in future logs.

Meanwhile there is one plant very much attracting my attention at the moment. This is an Aptosimum species, grown from seed obtained from Silverhill Seeds in South Africa, sown in April and flowering already in its first year:

Aptosimums have the common name of ?Karoo violets? or ?kankerbos?, though they are not closely related to true violets. They inhabit semi-arid areas of Southern Africa, particularly the Karoo, growing in dry soil on rocky terrain in full sun and blooming in summer or after rainfall. They are often regarded as difficult to germinate so I tried using smoke treatment on them. Many plants that grow in areas affected by wild fires are triggered to germinate after such a fire. Sometimes it is simply the heat that expands and cracks open hard seed coats, sometimes it is a chemical in the smoke that does the trick. What is interesting is that research has shown that this same chemical will also improve germination in a wide range of plants that do not usually experience fires in nature. Aptosimum is one such genus and using the smoke treatment I did get good germination in two out of four species I tried. It has to be said that I didn?t do any without the treatment, so this wasn?t a proper trial. You can get the smoke treatments also from Silverhill Seeds ? they come as filter papers impregnated with smoke and you simply put them in water and soak the seed in this before sowing.

I think if you have any seeds that are proving difficult to germinate, it would be worth a go with the smoke treatment, you may just be lucky.

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