Display Gardens: Terrible Missed Opportunity
Started by: Shelagh Smethurst
Daily Telegraph article 30.4.2011Go to latest contribution by Margaret Young, 02 May 2011, 16:21. Go to bottom of this page.
On reaching home yesterday from the East Cheshire Show I had a chance to look at the Telegraph's Gardening section. There was a lovely article about Zdenek Zvolanek building a new crevice garden for Kew. It showed a good picture taken early on of the crevice garden at Pershore but it never mentioned that the Pershore garden was at the home of the AGS. In fact the AGS never got a mention at all. How very disappointing.
About a month ago I sent an article on alpine gardening to the Telegraph (though not about crevice gardening - a much more general arguement for the value of the AGS and alpine and woodland plants). My letter was as follows:
As the Telegraph has always been the leading paper publishing articles on gardening I enclose the attached item for your consideration. It is essentially an arguement for gardeners to reconsider growing some of the most beautiful and fascinating plants in the world - and I suppose how these plants of the mountains actually draw us out into the world and literally expand our gardening horizens. So far I have had no success convincing other gardening publications of this - maybe the Telegraph will be different?
With many thanks, yours sincerely Dr. Tim Ingram
Well now we have a piece on crevice gardening as though in a way the AGS doesn't exist - fascinating and rather lacking in depth but perhaps actually valuable for us if we can catch the flow! I think it confirms my arguement (if you believe they actually took any notice of my contact and article) that writing and sending essays to the media (of all sorts) can have a beneficial impact, even if not for the writer! One never knows what long term interest may be created. The article in The Telegraph will probably be of only cursory interest to relatively few readers in a way, i.e.: in terms of actually encouraging gardeners to make crevice gardens! But The Telegraph does have a lot of readers and other papers are likely to watch out what they are covering. So a good thing for the AGS even if we are frustrated that the Society is not mentioned and that many of us could have written something much better!
Here is my effort by the way which I think is more balanced than that in The Telegraph. But perhaps gardeners are more intelligent than the papers give them credit for! Certainly most of us learn through our lives, and by our own experience.
?Alpines, I?ve tried those and they all died!?. This is a common lament and to be honest there is quite a lot of truth in it. So why should I try to convince you to think about these plants again for your garden? Quite simply because they are the most beautiful and fascinating flowers in the world! And in the words of the indefatigable plant hunter, Frank Kingdom-Ward, ?Rock Gardening is Fun!?. While some will never be easy to grow, others, given care and thought (attributes of all good gardeners), can bring the extraordinary magic of the mountains down into our gardens. Competition with each other is the lot of most plants but alpines are constrained simply by the harsh climate and geography of their home. The consequence is a jewel-like beauty, a typically compact and free-flowering habit and often a strongly perennial life.
That they can be grown at all in our gardens is quite a surprise, considering their natural home. However, there are alpines and alpines and many that come from lower altitudes and mountain meadows are much more adaptable. Not only that, but mountains vary hugely in altitude, climate and geology around the world. There are plants suited more traditionally to the cooler north of Britain such as primulas and meconopsis, whilst others from dry mountain ranges grow well in the south, for example campanulas, dianthus and pulsatillas (the Pasque Flower).
Anyone who has walked in the mountains will have experienced the savage beauty and mystery of these places; the hugely fickle climate; the vast open skies; and most of all an unending sense of discovery. They draw you back again and again. This more than anything else is distilled in the alpine plants we grow in our gardens. They take us to places we may never be able to go. Or places we have been and may never be able to return. They inspire us to try and find ways of growing them as well as we can. And they reward us, if we are lucky, with flowers of a refined and exquisite form. Those who have seen the Spring Gentian, Gentiana verna, studding the turf of the Alps cannot have helped feeling a quickening of the heart. And this plant, even if not long-lived, can be grown successfully in the garden, even if never as breathtaking as in its native home.
Why is it,then, with our sophisticated and abiding passion for gardening that so many gardeners turn their backs on these pretty little plants? Is it a sign that gardeners are no longer
drawn to a challenge? Or that the modern craze for instant effect takes away from a deeper understanding and care for plants? Or is it, as many would say, simply fashion? Whichever, or all of these, our gardens are the eventual losers.
Perhaps I can let you in on a little secret; many alpines, once you have learned how, are not difficult to grow at all. But don?t give them the crude rockery so perfectly described by Reginald Farrer as a ?Dog?s Grave? or ?Devil?s Lapful?! On the other hand neither are expensive or elaborate preparations required. The key to all is drainage and even six to nine inches of fine to coarse grit and stones over the normal garden soil will enable a wide range of plants to be grown successfully. In my dry south-east garden I have had great success simply by excavating a spade?s depth of soil and filling in with fine gritty sand. In an area of around 100 square feet over 200 different plants grow, giving an extraordinary amount of pleasure. The nicest way to grow many alpines is in troughs and raised beds around the house, where the chance to watch and tend for them closely is a great learning experience.
Nothing worthwhile is achieved without effort and this is so true of a garden which occupies you in many different ways. Where the mixed border is an overall feast for the eyes, the alpine bed is more a kaleidoscope of individual plants, all with their particular origins. And it is this personal history of the plants that is so entrancing. Where do they come from? What climate do they experience in their natural homes? How are they best propagated? Which of your friends would like a plant? We stand back from the garden border and admire it, but with alpines a deeper and more intimate conversation ensues.
There is room for both of course and few of us who love alpines don?t also grow many other plants too. And this gives the lie to the criticism that they are only for the specialist. They can add to any garden and are so varied that they can suit all tastes. Some gardeners may travel to their mountain homes where they look their best, and be keen to relive these memories back in their own gardens. Some may relish the challenge of growing them as well as possible by tuning in to their needs. Others may enjoy the excitement of sowing seed and taking cuttings and sharing plants with their friends. Or still more of collecting particular genera or species from certain regions. The scope is wide and never ending and gives the alpine garden arguably the greatest stimulation of any branch of gardening.
So here is why you should think of growing alpines in your garden. You will learn a lot along the way and find that the world opens up in front of your eyes. Much more you will meet others who delight in those high places too, and be able to share in a whole new experience of gardening. Try it and see.
Shelagh, I wouldn't fret, the article had other shortcomings too... for instance, the largest man made crevice garden is not in Montreal but in Denmark at the Bangsbo Botanic Garden, also made under the supervision of ZZ. I suspect the author would have done better to have paid more attention to Paul Cumbleton's notes!