AGS Local Groups: AGS East Kent Group
Started by: Tim IngramGo to latest contribution by Tim Ingram, 03 December 2017, 12:39. Go to bottom of this page.
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We have had some superb talks to our Group over the years, and there can be a tendency after a while to take speakers for granted. All Groups have to work hard on making up programmes and discovering new people to speak - and most importantly telling new gardeners about their meetings. Our Group is no different and we always have the feeling that there must be many gardeners out there that we haven?t managed to contact who could find what we do exciting.
This has been prompted by a fascinating presentation from Cliff Booker on ?The Cream of Alpines.? I expect many members, especially in the North, will have marvelled at Cliff?s presentations, but this was a first time for us, and quite apart from the consummate skill in putting them together, they show how alpine plants can be presented in a much more stimulating way than the slide shows of old. In the digital and video age the opportunities to show gardeners the real magic of alpines, both in the wild and in gardens, must be greatly heightened. So far we have not really capitalised on this by showing films of plants, or shorter video clips, or by finding speakers who can present plants in this way. Cliff?s especial interest is in seeing plants in Nature and putting them into the context of their surroundings - and by showing a sequence of images merging from one to another this can come across really well, especially when pictured so beautifully. When pictures are combined with music, as they were at the start of Cliff?s presentation, they can be very evocative, and another member in our group has shown us in detail how this can be done - an immense amount of work is involved in harmonising picture and sound.
This all shows once again the great dedication that lies behind preparing talks and presentations like this, and how lucky we are to capitalise on it. It should give us pause for thought as to how we can use the same purpose in finding ways to advertise ourselves to new gardeners.
Many thanks for such a complimentary appraisal of my presentation to your very welcoming Group, Tim ... it's always a pleasure to visit AGS and SRGC local groups and Sue and I enjoyed our visits to East Kent and Oxford immensely.
Those who have attended the Chelsea Flower Show over the years will probably have been excited by many of the rare bulbs on Jacques Amand's stands. Our talk this November was by John Amand on tulips. John's connections with the Dutch bulb growers and obvious enthusiasm and fascination with the subject, really came across, and made his talk very different from many others that we have had. The range of tulip varieties and the scale on which they are grown is mind boggling, but what is also nice is some of the smaller scale growers and groups that maintain older and historical tulips in cultivation. From a gardeners point of view it is astonishing how so many rare and, what many would regard as tricky, plants are grown on a field scale. A good example is the 'Chilian Crocus', Tecophilaea cyanocrocus. He showed pictures of a number of other bulbs, including the very fine Erythronium 'Joanna', named for his daughter, which has made a superb plant in our garden, a gift from Wol and Sue Staines at Glen Chantry. All in all a great talk from an authority on the subject (from the gardener's perspective), plus some pretty interesting plants to try in the garden!
Our talk tonight, on a horribly wet and windswept evening, was from Jon Evans on 'Digital Photography'. The wealth of technology that digital cameras face photographers with can tend to overwhelm and one just tends to click away and become snap happy, often with quite good results on occasions. But Jon took us in a more meticulous way back through the fundamentals of using a camera, emphasising that the 'photographer' is the most important component and that learning about the way light and aperture and shutter speed are used can lead to so many different interpretations of scenes. Slowing down, using a tripod and considering what it is about a photograph that appeals individually are all elements of this - and thinking much more carefully about composition, which after all is how photographs capture our attention, often in indefinable and stimulating ways. That combination of technical mastery and care in composition is what makes Jon's photographs so fine and I think many of us will have learnt to take more care and thought in our photography in the future. Thanks Jon on behalf of our Group.
Thanks Tim. I'm glad you found the talk interesting. I would like to thank you and Gillian for your hospitality, and a lovely meal (particularly a very fine apple crumble); also for your careful and clear navigating from the backseat of my car, and for being so easy to follow back to the M2. Have a good Christmas.
Probably all AGS Groups have home-spun talent that helps out at meetings during the winter months. Our meeting this month was a 'member's meeting', not always guaranteed to bring members out in their droves (rather like AGM's), but those that didn't come missed a treat. Four of us gave widely different short talks, starting with reminiscences of mine of a highly enjoyable Plant Show that we went to several times in France (near to St. Malo). This was held with characteristic French bonhomie in the grounds of a very fine restaurant on the coast, so food and wine was as strong a component as plants. My special memory though was of a wonderful old gentleman alpine grower (a veteran of the Algerian war), to whom all of us nurserypeople grouped together to give Volumes of the Algerian Flora, and of his wonderfully traditional nursery where all plants were still grown in clay pots.
The second talk stayed in France too, but down in the south, looking at orchids, and the great variety found in this relatively warm and dry region, across to the Pyrenees. Parts of this region are particularly beautiful landscape wise, and why we haven't yet visited there is a mystery (it could be partly because of a total disability with the language!).
Third was a trip on the Overland Track through the Cradle Mountain- Lake St. Clair National Park in Tasmania, a place of special significance to me as I visited it over 30 years ago. Some wonderful and very different plants and stunning scenery - and in discussions afterward we questioned why our emphasis is so strongly on the plants and not on the mountain scenery, which in itself is so awe-inspiring.
Finally we had summer scenes from a members garden set to music and presented rather in the manner of Cliff Booker's presentation I described earlier on. This was lovely to see for several reasons; first just as a presentation of music and plants; but second because it is a garden we all know and enjoy; and thirdly I think for the enjoyment and recognition it must have brought to the members who had made the garden and shared it with us - a real 'in house' experience.
So 'member's evenings' can be quite stimulating affairs!
Our talk this Friday was from Julian Sutton - Desirable Plants - on the Plants of the Western Cape (by the way Julian's list is a revelation for the keen gardener and the botanically minded, and his talk(s) highly recommended).
A lot of gardeners visit South Africa and come home astounded by the richness and diversity of the flora. Many of these, agapanthus, kniphofia, eucomis and others, come from regions with dry winters and wet summers. However, the more coastal regions of the Western Cape, and east from Cape Town, have a Mediterranean climate with wet winters and often very hot and dry summers. It was these places that Julian took us around in a conducted tour and, most helpfully of all, reference to particular plants that he has experience of growing well in, at least mild, gardens in the UK.
The ericas of South Africa are astonishingly varied and colourful (and the subject of a beautiful book by Schumann, Kirsten and Oliver). Julian described a number of these; E. plukenetii - distinctive for its long exerted stamens; E. glauca var. elegans - attractive for a long period in bud before the flowers open and moderately hardy (in Devon); and E. caffra - a strong bush which will grow in the open garden in mild areas. In the remote Cederberg Mountains, north of Cape Town, very arid and with low winter temperatures and snow, grows E. junonia - which has been described as the queen of South African ericas. This would make a stunning specimen at an Alpine Show!
In the De Hoop Reserve, west of the Cape, rainfall is moderate (<30") and there are plants like Ixia viridiflora and Gladiolus pappei (carneus?), the latter a wetland plant that has been hardy and free-flowering in Totnes for over 30 years - very attractive for its short neat habit and good pink flowers.
The Little Karoo with lower rainfall again has plants such as the 'hardy' Gerbera tomentosa and well known and valued garden plant, Gladiolus tristis. Julian showed pictures of some fascinating hybrids of this which could prove highly exciting new plants for gardeners. Watsonia aletroides from this region has grown in our garden in north Kent, if not flowering reliably every year.
In some ways the most remarkable plants of all were bulbs flowering here in the UK throughout January (when perhaps many of us are more exercised with snowdrops!); Lapeirousia oreogena - intense blue; Lachenalias such as viridiflora and the very striking L. aloides var. vanzyliae, pictured in the Alpine House at Wisley; and a variety of Romuleas and the bright red Gladiolus priorii.
There does seem to be a strong and growing interest in growing many of these South African species, and it is exciting to have them described by someone who knows and grows them well, and can give such good advice on which are most suitable for mild UK gardens. Perhaps a South African group of the AGS could be in the offing?
March saw us really looking at alpines in all their variety. Adrian Cooper has been growing alpines since he was 8 (!), and has a fascination with them in all their diversity. For some time he grew plants in a London garden in Blackheath, and has now moved to the country just south of Maidstone. Even in London, though, he was successful with many plants that are tricky in the south; petiolarid primulas, shortias and ericaceous species. Other growers like Jim & Hedi Hancox have grown some of these very well too, showing that with dedication and care they can be grown very well in areas climatically less suitable. David Sampson, who ran Oakdene Nursery near Heathfield, was also one of the few really skilled with these plants in the south.
Adrian also showed us fine plants of Dionysias, some very choice Irises (and his friendship with Tony Hall is testament to how well he grows these), and other rare and beautiful plants like Pteridophyllum. Interspersed with descriptions of the plants were valuable comments on growing media, notably using coarse materials to ensure drainage and aeration is excellent. A good example is for Hepaticas which he found seeded down very well in a gravel path, and thrived much better in a very stony potting mix with bark, rather than peat which often tends to fill air spaces within the compost. Bark is extensively used commercially and for propagation for these very reasons.
In his new garden Adrian is building raised beds as well as growing plants in pots in an alpine house and it will be exciting to see how these develop. A thoroughly enjoyable talk, only let down (I hope he will allow me) by a lesser expertise with a camera than with growing the plants - but then it is the plants that come first and they were fascinating!
Gill and Peter Regan must be the most travelled of all our members, although some others come close. They have given us some fascinating talks on various places they have visited, and especially the great wealth of plants in different regions. Their talk tonight was on Kazachstan, a very large country strategically located with borders to Russia and China, and on the plants in the south-east corner, which has high mountains running up to the Tien Shan. A tremendous variety of plants are found in these regions, some quite familiar garden plants, and others completely unfamiliar and intriguing. A whole range of Eremurus, from the well known pink E. robustus, the more delicate regelii, a short warm orange species, cristus, and the yellow fuscus - these would be very exciting in steppe-like plantings. Morina kokanica is very bright pink and less spiny than longifolia. There are many phlomis species, alliums (a special interest of Gill's), some superb Rosularias with warm reddish flowers over succulent leaves, some fascinating 'borages', and familiar bulbs like Tulipa kaufmanniana and Ixiolirion. Some areas are arid and sandy with echinops and a strange and strangely appealing yellow thistle, Cousinea minkwitzae; others like wild herbaceous borders with aconitums, nepeta, geraniums and veronica. And still others moist with snowmelt with Trollius - including a beautiful soft-blue species, lilacina - and Ligularias. Finally for the alpine enthusiast and surely close to Eritrichium nanum in beauty and allure, Paraquilegia, growing tight in crevices in cliffs.
There is something wonderful in being taken to see so many plants in their natural state, even if the accomodation and plumbing may not be all it could be, and the outside loo a place of last resort! We are very grateful to Gill and Peter for sharing their journeys with us, and also for all the behind the scenes work in putting names to plants - there may be few we will ever end up growing, but on the other hand you never know if and when seed or plants might become available, and in the meantime it is very exciting to see them pictured.
The talk to our group in May, by David Hoare on 'Growing and Showing Saxifrages' coincided with the Czech Alpine Conference. But just to mention one of the great saxifrage growers in the Czech Republic, Karel Lang, who has raised many fine hybrids - an informative display of some of these is presented at the Prague Show. Karel Lang brought plants to sell at Jiri Papousek's garden, and it was instructive to see how carefully they were grown and presented - and they stimulated great interest.
I have visited kew since I was a student in London 35 years ago and always graduate to the Alpine area. On Tuesday we were lucky to have a Group visit to Kew, though interestingly there were more gardeners actually not belonging to the Group on the coach - and my lifetime interest in these plants is probably unusual. We were fortunate to meet with Richard Wilford (who oversees all the areas where alpines are grown and has also written in detail on 'Alpines from Mountain to Garden' and his specialist interest, 'Tulips'). There has always been a strong debate about the new Davies Alpine House at Kew, but simply as a piece of sculpture it is very striking, and the logic of its construction, explained by Richard, clearly aims at providing as good conditions for growing plants as possible - whilst also showing them off to visitors. A specific donation to Kew enabled construction of the glasshouse. None the less the cultivation, propagation and gardening that goes on behind the scenes is equally important and investment in people must also be very valuable.
After seeing the more intimate rock gardens in the Czech Republic, the rock garden at Kew is very different, with emphasis (of course) on the botanical origins and characteristics of plants (though this was also a feature of Vojtech Holubec's private garden). Until relatively recently plants were not separated into distinct geographical areas and Richard described how this was carried out - a major operation but one which is much more informative to visitors, even if they are not fully aware of it. If you are really interested in the diversity of the plant world then there is nowhere quite like Kew, and whilst we can often debate the minutae of plant names and botanical detail at length, gardeners also have a more artistic appreciation of plants which makes the rock and woodland gardens and alpine house thoroughly fascinating.
The South American bulb Leucocoryne was amongst the most striking genera in the Alpine House, along with several South African Lachenalias: L. rosea in particular had that extraordinary mix of blue and purple in the flower that you find in some penstemons. Another species, L. latimerae, I at first mistook for Ypsilandra, and it is interesting that both genera are readily propagated by leaf cuttings. These may not be true alpines but the smaller species in particular still sit happily with more familiar hardy bulbs. A great variety are listed by Choice Landscapes in the Plantfinder, and the recent Kew monograph on the genus must have awakened even more interest in them.
The genus Centaurea contains some very striking species for dryland gardens, and the rare Spanish C. clementei was a feature also of the previous alpine house; the flowerheads are yellow and it is a glorious foliage plant (this plant is described by Richard Wilford in the AGS Discussion pages in may 2008). Slightly tender Tropaeolum tricolorum was in full flower showing what a stunning plant it can make trained up 'pea sticks', probably one of the most spectacular of the genus for those dark-purple-mouthed red flowers displayed in their hundreds. Verbascum dumulosum is a magnificent feature of the alpine house and makes me consider even more the prospect of a glass covered Mediterranean bed similar to the 'Cliff House' made by Dwight Ripley. There must be many plants such as shrubby verbascums and Centaurea clementei that would thrive in such a situation.
For choice cushion plants a tufa cliff is almost essential to grow them well and in character (if not grown in pots in the alpine house or frame). The tufa at Kew came from the roof of the Barbican and shows how connections can come in useful! So many plants adapt to this way of growing that for those of us unable to source tufa, or afford it when it is available, it may be time to resurrect the ideas of making artificial 'hypertufa' stones as described in earlier Bulletins. The crevice garden probably provides the closest alternative, and variations on these must be essential in the repertoire of the keen alpine gardener.
Part of the alpine house display is permanent, but many plants are also moved in and out as they come into flower, and these are grown behind the scenes in the 'Alpine Nursery', overseen by Graham Walters. here are held different accessions of certain plants such as Dionysia tapetodes and tender species of mossy saxifrages. These provide an indication of natural variation within a species which is often not so evident from type herbarium specimens. When in flower these plants can look spectacular, viz: this row of Leucocorynes
Many alpine growers would be envious and at the same time overwhelmed by the large range of different plants grown here, especially in the open sided glasshouse containing many of the larger stock plants, backed by brick bulb frames. These latter must be truly remarkable early in the year as different species come into flower. The foreground benches are on rollers which enable them to be moved easily to aid access and to maximise the growing area. Plants are grown here for various purposes; detailed botanical study, as specimens for display, and as plants to be put out onto the rock garden. Names and origins are obviously key but there can be equal uncertainty in a botanical institution like Kew as in a Society like the AGS: for example the wonderful carpet of Asperula arcadiensis on the rock garden was originally accessed under the specific name suberosa in the 1980's, a name familiar to gardeners - in the Online 'Plant List' and the Encyclopaedia of Alpines' these are described as distinct species, but how many alpine growers would readily distinguish them? It is very easy to see how such plants can become confused without detailed study. It is highly likely that members of specialist societies like the AGS will often have a better understanding of many genera than taxonomists, who can work in isolation of cultivating and observing plants over longer periods.
(to be continued... )
For a practical gardener and nurseryman like myself the pots of germinating seed in the Alpine Nursery were extremely appealing. Propagating and growing such a wide range of plants is no easy exercise and is underpinned by a great deal of accumulated experience. The working heart of the nursery is the office, which recollected to me many of the alpine nurseries I have visited over the years (not to mention my own office!) - a sort of studied disarray with fine collections of books and the general paraphanalia that goes with working outdoors.
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