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Any Other Topics: Random Nuggets from the Bulletin

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Started by: Tim Ingram

Go to latest contribution by Tim Ingram, 11 December 2013, 18:34. Go to bottom of this page.

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Contribution from Tim Ingram 24 November 2012, 16:42top / bottom of page

(These final four pictures show Vaccinium nummularia and, in the hands of the experts, a rhododendron at 'Bryn Collen', Jim and Jenny Archibald's garden in south Wales - with perhaps 60in of rain compared with 25in in north Kent! But gardens even locally vary remarkably and the azaleas in flower are in a garden only a few miles from us in Canterbury - the growth of lichen on the branches is a rather beautiful and fascinating feature.

Gwendolyn Anley's article has seriously encouraged me to try a group of plants that I have always been drawn to, but have felt would not be so suitable for our climate and conditions. It will be interesting to see how they fare).

Contribution from Tim Ingram 29 November 2012, 10:18top / bottom of page

The war years didn?t completely prevent the exhibition of plants, but the greatest credit was bestowed on the Editor of the Bulletin, Vera Higgins, who was also involved with producing the Royal Horticultural Society Journal. In 1946 the Shows were reinstituted and two, in particular, attracted huge numbers of visitors. On May 15th & 16th the Birmingham Show had over 2000 paying guests, and 40 people joined the Society (Vol. 14, p.190). This is despite the Director of Shows, Clifford Crook?s, comment that far fewer members exhibited plants than he would have liked. Even more interesting was a summer Show held in Stratford-on-Avon, in collaboration with the Stratford Horticultural Society and British Delphinium Society, and opposite the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. The attendance nearly reached 10 000!

It would be hard to imagine achieving anything like this now, not least because of the relative monopoly that the RHS has with significant Shows, but location and imagination could have a lot to play if new ideas were felt worth exploring.

One of the most interesting articles in Vol. 14 is ?Notes on the Alpine Flora of Kashmir? (in three parts) by K. G. Lazenby. This is illustrated in Part 2 by a double page map; rather surprisingly one of the few times I have seen articles so annotated. A member of our Group, Jill Abery, drew personalised maps in Journals she kept of travels with her husband Peter (the eponymous entomologist of an earlier entry), and these were a delight.

Lazenby starts by describing the location of Kashmir ?near the western extremity of a range which extends some three thousand miles to the East and consequently bears a distinct relationship in plant distribution to some of the neighbouring ranges in Persia, Afghanistan, and Central Asia.? Secondly it lies outside the summer monsoon belt and is very much drier than most of the remaining Himalayas.

The ?Meadow of Flowers?, Gulmarg, has many popular garden plants such as Geranium Wallichianum, Podophyllum emodi and the lovely white Paeonia emodi. Morina longifolia ?contrasts oddly with the floppy yellow-green umbels of that coarse but unusual cruciferous herb Megacarpaea polyandra?. I wonder if this is still in cultivation? Higher and there are true alpines like Mertensia tibetica, Paraquilegia caespitosa and Androsace lanuginosa.

(Geranium wallichianum, Morina longifolia - really one of the most extraordinary and distinctive of perennials - and Paraquilegia, here growing in tufa at Blackthorn Nursery)

In Part 2 he travels up the valley of the Sind River ?by far the richest in interesting and beautiful flowers?. In the lower parts goats and sheep leave few apart from Crown Imperial and the white Eremurus himalaicus. But higher, at Sonamarg, ?the meadows abound in an infinite variety of sub-alpine flowers?. Again many of these are familiar garden plants, including the polygonums (Persicaria) affine and amplexicaule and Primula denticulata. The ?noble? Lilium polyphyllum occurred in open glades, the scaley bulbs ?often eight inches below the ground and are wedged between stones in the sub-soil under a layer of rich leafmould?. Higher still, at Thajiwas, and locally in moraines, a form of Primula nivalis (var. Stuartii) ?startling in its appearance and found growing with its toes in the ice-cold streams... flowers are a dark velvety-purple with darker centre and a white eye, the entire plant being profusely powdered with a mealy yellow farina.?

(Androsace lanuginosa, Eremurus himaliacus - in Jim Archibald's polytunnel, grown for seed - Persicaria amplexicaule)

The Sind Valley leads up to the Zoji-La Pass (Part 3). Interestingly here is found an increased number of Boraginaceae including Eritrichium strictum, Mertensia moltkioides and Adelocaryum anchusoides. In summer ?Should the traveller be lucky enough to have a fowling piece with him, these two birds [the Chikor and the Himalayan Ptarmigan] make a tasty and excellent contribution to the day?s rations?.

The alpine zone, between 12 500 and 14 000ft, ?must be one of the richest in the world for interesting plants?. These include such species as Androsace sarmentosa, Allardia tomentosa, Bergenia Stracheyi, Gentiana carinata, Inula Royleana and Anemone obtusiloba.

At the highest altitudes of all are ?the absurd Lilliputian? Primula minutissima, and even smaller, Polygonum perpusillum, ?whose specific name means appropriately ?smallest of all??.

Contribution from Susan Read 29 November 2012, 17:13top / bottom of page

Interesting to see the Morina. I wonder if the picture is of one you grow? Those of us who went on the AGS trip to the Indian Himalayas in 2011 saw it growing in the wild in some quantity. In fact it looked as pernicious as our thistles! Perhaps other people have better pictures but here are a couple of mine.

Note the spines.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 30 November 2012, 09:45top / bottom of page

Wonderful to see it in the wild like that Susan. I have grown it for a long time in the garden and it self-sows in a dryish spot. I first saw it at the Bristol Botanic Garden and thought it one of the strangest plants I had seen; most gardeners just regard it as a thistle out of flower but the leaves actually have quite a pronounced scent. I would love to grow the yellow species, coulteriana, but have only ever come across seed once.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 04 December 2012, 09:31top / bottom of page
An Alpine is a little plant That nestles in the snow It wouldn?t if it hadn?t to But ?tas nowhere else to go.

(Fred Stoker, cited by R. B. Cooke, Vol. 14, p.179)

The first post-war Bulletins contained, perhaps not surprisingly, a particularly varied and fascinating range of articles, like that on Kashmir referred to previously.

?Alpines in the Hebrides? by R. B. Cooke is especially different and educative. Although he uses Fred Stoker?s fine rhyme to introduce it, the plants he speaks of are essentially sea cliff and coastal species. Dryas octopetala was one of the first alpines I grew (from Treasures Nursery of Tenbury Wells) and Cooke describes this growing on limestone cliffs on the east of Raasay, where it makes ?a cream coloured band a mile or so long? when viewed from near Brochel. Where dryas grows so does Silene acaulis in various shades of pink, and occasionally white.

Irish Ladies Tresses (Spiranthes Romanzoffiana) is found on Coll and Colonsay and nowhere else but the West of Ireland, outside North America. On the uninhabited island of Fuday, west of Eriskay, an unusual alkaline soil made of a mix of sea shell sand and peat, has resulted in an uniquely rich flora, including eight species of orchid. ?Besides these orchids there are many common plants which contribute a veritable carpet of flowers which rival a Swiss meadow in the brilliance of its colouring?. There are many reasons to visit the Western Isles and the plants are certainly one. (Islands are invariably fascinating places and Kate Price, elsewhere in these Discussion Pages, has described a visit to Lundy in the Bristol Channel).

At the other end of the country the article following Cooke?s (by R. Ginns) takes the reader on ?The AGS Excursion to Felixstowe?. Here is a line which could not be true now, ?East Anglia hardly sounds a promising venue for a party like the AGS... ?. In fact it wasn?t true then either, with visits to Dr. Giuseppi?s garden at Felixstowe and Mr. Gray?s garden at Benhall (of snowdrop fame), where members met E. A. Bowles. Quite a gathering! Snowdrops are hardly a small feature of East Anglian gardens these days either. I am fascinated by the description of ?Othonnopsis cheirifolia, which had formed great curtains hanging down the cliff... accompanied by trailing growths of a Mesembryanthemum?. There were talks too, from Mrs Anley on Japan and Mr. J. P. C. Russell on Dwarf Rhododendrons. Perhaps something to repeat?

(Othonnopsis (now Othonna) cheirifolia; Galanthus nivalis and Ophiopogon planiscarpus 'Nigrescens'; and G. plicatus 'Augustus' (at Copton Ash, Kent). The latter is a very fine snowdrop, named for E. A. Bowles (see the 'Snowdrop Book'), which increases well and can make very large bulbs.

(The fascination of snowdrops in the garden continues unabated. These three pictures show interesting variation in unnamed snowdrops derived from collections made by Martyn Rix, in the Kentish garden of Elizabeth Cairns)

Amongst the plant awards (on p.198) is an AM to Dimorphotheca Barberiae forma. Compacta (now Osteospermum jucundum var. ?Compactum?), which was shown by the Editor Vera Higgins. She mentions various intermediate forms between the species and this especially compact and richly coloured variety, but the latter is a very good plant, widely available in the Plantfinder. While osteospermum is well known to gardeners, who would think of growing a Tradescantia in the rock garden? Above the Smoky River in central Texas, T. brevicaulis ?is seldom more than six inches tall, oftener shorter, with its relatively broad, decidedly hairy blades spread well out so that the big, wide, three petalled blossoms appear face up in the centre of the plant?. The flowers are bright rose, with no trace of purple or lavender, and ?Once we found a snow-white clump?. The writer, Mrs. H. P. Magers from Arkansas, cautions that the plant does need to be grown in the poorest of soils to remain compact and ?is a prolific bloomer... for weeks?. In habit, and flower (the white form), this sounds very like the famous Weldenia candida. Gwen and Phil Phillips in passing (Vol. 73, p.391) mention that a dozen or more species of Tradescantia grow in Texas and I wonder if any others compare with T. brevicaulis?

Contribution from Tim Ingram 09 December 2012, 09:59top / bottom of page

These notes, of course, are not as random as I make out because they are the result of my own personal fascinations about plants and people in the Bulletin. But who would not want to cross America from Los Angeles to New York, botanising along the way? ?Searching High and Low? (Vol. 15, p. 18), another article by Dwight Ripley, does all of this, and his descriptions of plants really bring them to life. In Southern Colorado, heading towards Molas Lake Pass, he describes Pedicularis procera, ?It is a massive thing, as tall as a man and with the large dissected leaves of ferns. The flowers are proportionate to the plant, of a wonderful clear brown that will either charm or repel you according to your tastes? (a good image of this plant is on This sets the scene for a host of unfamiliar plants; the yellow Synthyris Ritteriana (take a moment to read his honest and positive appraisal); Ranunculus Macauleyi, ?whose calyces are little forests of dense black hair setting off to perfection the yellow buttercups on their short thick stems?; and the exquisite Eritrichium Howardii, certainly much more growable than E. nanum.

Not content with going one way, he and a friend travelled from New York back to the West in May 1946, ?making a wide detour through the southern states - Georgia, Arkansus, and Oklahoma...?. The sandy woods and ?pine barrens? of these regions ?possessing an exclusive flora of great interest to the botanist?. In name alone ?Pyxidanthera barbulata, a cousin of Diapensia, [is] as enchanting as anything you?re likely to see in a lifetime... where else in the world will you come upon a mat of linear incurved, bronze-green leaves looking like some wondrous boreal moss, completely hidden at flowering time by the sheet of pink and white apple-blossom??. Following my reference to Tradescantia brevicaulis earlier on, here from sandy woods in Virginia is T. rosea, ?infinitely more delicate and charming [compared with true Tradescantias], with hundreds of grass-like leaves forming a basal tuft from which erupt the umbels of clear pink, three petalled flowers?. This grew in moist sand encircling a sphagnum bog along with the orange milkwort Polygala lutea.

I am intrigued by Teucrium laciniatum, but its abundance along roadsides throughout Oklahoma to New Mexico ?tend[s] to detract from any excitement it may cause?. Further into the West come some more familiar alpines such as Phlox bryoides, several species of Astragalus and Penstemon and the ?rock-like symmetrical dome? of Eriogonum acaule.

Many years ago I grew the American crucifer Stanleya pinnata, which resembles nothing much more like an Eremurus for its spike of yellow flowers. Ripley describes a second species in the Big Horns, the endemic S. tomentosa, ?with whitish leaves and spikes of ghostly green?. An ?oxblood-red Pedicularis cystoperidifolia?, adds to the frustration that these hemi-parasites have not been tamed in cultivation.

?Butte (pronounced ?Bewt?), turned out to be a mad and wonderful mining-town with tall maroon houses piled steeply against a mountain of copper slag? (Here - the Industrial Revolution collided with the romance of the frontier, corporate capitalism battled organised labor, and human appetite laid waste to land and water, yielding vast fortunes for a few and a tragic environmental legacy for the people left behind []). An interest in plants would seem to be minimal in such a town but Ripley does sing the praises of Draba densiflora and oligosperma, growing on cliffs above the Wise River, which are in cultivation, along with several other western species, sphaerula, incerta and novolympica, which are not.

His story ends with the ?peer of any Persian Dionysia, and perhaps even the finest rock-plant yet to have been found in the United States?. How is the following for a description of Kelseya uniflora? : ?It is, as you probably know, a relict rosaceous shrub squeezed by aeons of bad luck into the semblance of a ?vegetable sheep?, (I won?t call it a bun because no patisserie known to man could ever produce such a titanic cookie as this)?. It shows how little this plant was known at the time that there was some debate as to the true flower colour, but a cushion six feet across in full flower, as pictured recently on the NARGS Forum, is an astonishing sight.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 14 December 2012, 09:38top / bottom of page

What must be the most extraordinary photographs ever reproduced in the Bulletin are of a trainload of cushion plants in the Andes (Vol. 15, p. 218). These were taken by Commander J. P. W. Furse between Antofagasta (Chile) and Bolivia, at 13 000ft altitude, and show plants 2ft or more in diameter piled high into wagons. Later in the same Volume (p. 291) K. G. Lazenby suggests that they are ?a rather uninteresting Umbellifer by name Azorella diapensioides? (described by Prof. Th. Herzog in a study of plants of the Bolivian Andes - see also the article by Robert Rolfe in the December Journal) ). He also mentions a more familiar plant, Gypsophila aretioides, being collected as fuel by Ossetian tribesmen in the Caucasus. Laretia compacta, another ?azorella?, from the Atacama, is also reported to have been used in the same way.

Many umbellifers, including the azorellas, produce gum resins, which must give these cushion plants a high calorific value, though these resins are more normally collected as medicines (eg: Asafetida and Galbanum from species of Ferula). It is hard though to credit plants being collected from the wild on such a large scale, and like trees cut down for firewood these cushions must have been hundreds of years old.


One of the dangers of the Internet is discovering books on plants which seem essential for your shelf. One such is ?Little Big Bend: Common, Uncommon, and Rare Plants of Big Bend National Park? by Ray Moray. This Park in south-west Texas, about 360 miles south-east of El Paso, was only established in 1944 and is briefly described by Robert M. Senior in Vol. 15, p. 305 just a few years later. It is ?located in a bend of the Rio Grande river, separating Mexico from the United States?. A wide variety of habitats - desert, foothills, mountain and moist woodlands, river canyon and floodplain - have resulted in very diverse plant life.

Perhaps there are few plants here for the alpine gardener, but Senior does mention Zinnia grandiflora and Penstemon barbatus, as well as Phlox mesoleuca and Bouvardia ternifolia (a relative of which I am trying from South West Native Seed). The Desert Willow, Chilopsis linearis, can experience quite low temperatures in the wild but requires more summer heat than British gardens can provide, as must also Stenolobium incisum ?often classed as a Tecoma... a shrub possibly about five feet tall, bearing large light yellow, somewhat funnel shaped flowers. When in bloom... a glorious sight?. With the summer heat of a large glasshouse or conservatory, however, these Bignoniaceous shrubs should grow and flower well.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 19 December 2012, 09:58top / bottom of page

A robin redbreast in a cage,

Sets all heaven in a rage.


An alpine growing in a pan,

Is an offence to God and man.

( ?At the Spring Show?, Vol. 16, p. 90)

This may seem rather an extreme ditty but there is a serious sentiment behind it, which the writer draws from Gertrude Jekyll writing in 1908, the same year in which Reginald Farrer wrote ?My Rock Garden?:-

?I am strongly of the opinion that the possession of a quantity of plants, however good the plants may be themselves and however ample their number, does not make a garden; it only makes a collection... and it seems to me that the duty we owe to our gardens and to our own bettering in our gardens is so to use plants that they shall form beautiful pictures... It is just in the way that it is done that lies the whole difference between common-place gardening and gardening that may rightly claim to be fine art?.

At this same time too the more naturalistic ways of using plants pioneered by William Robinson in ?The English Flower Garden? were gathering strength. To use the same arguements for alpine plants, which by their very nature are viewed more discretely, probably has less validity, and this was pointed out later in the same Volume, particularly with reference to the fact that very many of the plants exhibited would only languish and expire in the garden. However, it is when you see alpines in the gardens of skilled growers like Alan Furness in Northumberland, or in America at Denver, Panayoti Kelaidis, that you begin to see the real potential of these plants, in the garden and as ?fine art?. The extraordinary thing is that the brilliance of using alpines in this way is not properly recognised or appreciated in the wider world of gardening, and that is why these lines written in 1948 still have bearing today. This division between those who exhibit and those who garden with alpines (even though many do both) does seem quite a strong one; inevitable but not necessarily beneficial in promoting the Society.

The days of extensive private rock gardens may be long gone, but the Alpine Forums show that gardeners are still making wonderful plantings with alpines and these are as much a feature of our Society as anything else, and allow a different way for other gardeners to appreciate these plants. Perhaps one of the most surprising attitudes arose (or was, and is?, prevalent) after a questionnaire was sent out to member?s in the 1950?s, which was that ?the Shows were to be for the benefit and pleasure of exhibitors and members, and not for the general public, and Shows were not primarily to be regarded as a valuable means of attracting new members?. I wonder how members would feel now? Reading ?Pages from the Society?s History? by F. H. Fisher is interesting - membership after the war was relatively static and an increase from the early 1950?s on coincided with more concerted publicity, including from R. C. Elliott (?... the first of several executives from industry to fill this post? [of Publicity Manager]). Membership doubled between 1950 and 1960.

(And see the following entry, which was written to try and take a wider perspective on this).

The pictures below illustrate the fascination that alpines bring to a great variety of gardens, supporting Gertrude Jekyll's premise that gardening is an art form like any other and allows an infinite variety of expression. I will leave it to the viewer to decide which might be 'fine art'. These same principles have been espoused by highly respected plantsmen and gardeners like Keith Wiley and Ian Young (notably at the Nottingham Conference of the AGS) and really do stress the importance of gardening in the way the Society appeals to new gardeners, and personally in the way one discovers and learns about plants.

(Sand bed at Copton Ash in Kent and a few of its denizens - Androsace studiosorum 'Salmon's Variety'; Asperula daphneola; Campanula hercogovina; Daphne x hendersonii 'Blackthorn Rose')

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