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Started by: Tim Ingram

Go to latest contribution by Tim Ingram, 04 January 2014, 21:14. Go to bottom of this page.

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Contribution from Tim Ingram 11 May 2013, 21:18top / bottom of page
A Czech Odyssey

How many alpine conferences would end with a song in Czech about a woman seducing a man with an apple? The applause said it all - the 2nd Czech International Rock Garden Conference was a joy at every level, organised with great care by Jiri Papousek and fellow members of the Czech Rock Garden Society and attended by gardeners from seventeen different countries.

There were talks ranging from the Patagonian Andes (Martin Sheader) to China and Tibet (Voltech Holubec), Plant Exploration in Iran (Dieter Zschummel) to Daphnes in crevice gardens - a real highlight of the gardens later on (Jiri Papousek), Growing in Sand (Peter Korn) to Rock Garden Construction (an impeccable presentation from Michal Hoppel from Poland), to workshops on bulbs (Ian Young) and Cultivation in Pots (Cyril Lafong); a mix of subjects that both informed and inspired. Particularly impressive was the presentation by Vladimir Epiktetov on Kazakhstan, whose knowledge of the plants of this extraordinary country was very strong, and especially interesting to me after learning something about these same plants from our Local Group members Gill and Peter Regan. (Those of us from English speaking countries were humbled by the ability of speakers to present their talks in English, helped because we all share the common language of Latin binomials for plants!).

The Conference Centre was in the Hotel Dvorak in the beautiful old town of Tabor, north of Prague, sitting high above the river; a fascinating place to explore and with a wonderful range of building styles and designs and an impressive church overlooking the main square. There may have been many expert alpine growers amongst those attending but the practical demonstrations of planting troughs by Zdenek Zvolanek and Vojtech Holubec showed at heart how we all enjoy growing alpines so much; they engendered great interest, and Vojtech‚??s crevice trough in particular, built high with slivers of rock was simple but really inspirational.

For many people the second part of the event (based at the Hotel Academic, Roxtoky, near to Prague) was even more exciting; a chance to visit many of the Czech rock gardens and to buy plants. This was a skilled logistical exercise with over 100 people divided into three coaches, visiting four gardens each day. Here the true artistry of the Czech rock gardeners became evident, some gardens having been built over 30 or 40 years, others more modern, with an emphasis on crevice gardening and use of tufa. The success of these methods, a combination of a very naturalistic way of presenting plants and the benefits of the Czech climate, was really eye-opening, with many rare and difficult plants growing happily in the open garden. Rocks and stone are mixed in very different ways in different gardens but in every case you see how well suited they are to growing challenging plants like daphnes and rock ferns. At times this approaches gardening in Japan and is hugely artistic, giving that combination of the practical and aesthetic so satisfying to mind and body.

Maybe most stimulating of all was the opportunity to purchase plants, and these included many real rarities like Callianthemum farreri (in its best forms a good blue) and the extraordinary and varied ‚??Witch‚??s Broom‚?? conifers which are such a strong feature of many gardens. Daphnes and saxifrages are real specialities of Czech gardens, and many people ordered fine collections of these to be picked up during the week. The wealth of seed introduced by Czech seed collectors such as Josef Jurasek, Mojmir Pavelka and Vojtech Holubec, ensure that there are always new and interesting species becoming available, and it is these that make the Czech crevice gardens so intriguing in their detail, in addition to the striking combinations of plants that arise by accident or design.

If I learnt anything from the visit it is that most plants are grown in pure 'mineral soils' - i.e: sand and fine gravel overlying the normal garden soil, and that they can be long lived and reliable without winter cover. This is where the crevice garden probably scores best over the sand garden, as well as in its general aesthetic appeal. No doubt in the climate of British gardens the experiences will differ, but the spirit of experiment and co-operation between different gardeners in the Czech Republic has resulted in what must be the finest rock gardens anywhere in the world. In many ways these are the equivalent to exhibition of plants in the UK - in that the culture has developed around the garden rather than the alpine house - and it allows a different way of expressing the beauty and wonder of alpines, where stone and rock can draw out their true nature.

I must speak on behalf of all those from the UK who attended the Conference when I say how grateful we are to the organisers for making us so welcome and showing us so much. I would wholeheartedly recommend the next 'happening' (in Jiri‚??s description), to anyone who is even a little tempted to go. There are some real stars in the alpine gardening world in the Czech Republic, notably of course Zdenek Zvolanek and Vojtech Holubec, but also many others, and they shared their fascination, knowledge and skill in growing alpines and travelling to see them in Nature, freely and generously and gave us much to think on.

(Over the next weeks I will look in more detail at some of the plants and gardens and people that made the Conference so enjoyable. At one point I asked Zdenek Zvolanek (most of us English speakers stick with Z.Z!) whether anyone had considered writing about the Czech gardens, and he replied ‚??Who would consider buying such a book?‚?? For me the gardens hold as much artistic value as good music, fine paintings and literature, and deserve to be celebrated in the same way - and most of all shown to gardeners yet to be captivated by the world of rock plants. It was certainly an unforgettable experience to visit them).

Contribution from Ken Curtis 13 May 2013, 19:45top / bottom of page

Tim, thank you for sharing your conference experience. I am looking forward to future installments.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 20 May 2013, 15:39top / bottom of page

Where do I start with this wonderful event! To do justice to the gardens we saw, the talks we listened to, and all the rock gardeners at the Conference, I will need to spend some time. But on the premise that a picture equals a thousand words, these are several highlights - the thousand words will come later! The last two pictures are in ZZ's garden, our gracious host on our coach and rock gardener extraordinaire, as well as fine singer, imbiber of good Czech beer and 'stone rider'.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 29 May 2013, 16:07top / bottom of page

I would like to start describing the Czech Conference by directing readers to an important thread on the SRGC Forum in which Margaret Young has put names to almost all of the faces at the event, and is a marvellous reference, both for all of us us who were there and for those who would like to see pictures of some of the people I will refer to later.

One of the great highlights of this Czech 'happening' was the Czech evening when we were entertained by Marika Divisova and the 'Marika Singers'; ( The introduction to this group - and they varied wonderfully from the young to, well, older - was very appealing. After showing surprise at our ability to sit through so many presentations of small and obscure plants, our passion for these was equated with their's for music. I found this a comfortable thought and perhaps a sign of the more poetic nature of the Czechs. At the end of the whole event Marika gave a resounding rendition of two songs to us, and she and her partner, Petr Divik (in Maggi Young's words 'the technical lynchpin' of the conference) also gave everyone a CD of her songs - Fenix. Listening to this as I write is a fine reminder of the event - and she does have a most beautiful and powerful voice.

It is interesting that I should first think of this rather than the plants (plenty of these to come!), and we were also caroused in a different way by the Vikings - the Czech born Martin Hajman from Tromso and Kai Anderson from Denmark (Bangsbo) - and shared in some rather good bottles of malt and shortbread from Scotland. Plants know no boundaries and this was my feeling at this event too.

Let me go back then to Tabor, the lovely old town in Southern Bohemia where the Conference was held, perhaps appropriately in the Hotel Dvorak, a converted brewery sitting high in the old quarter.

In a sad sense beauty must often arise out of conflict and oppression, which Europe has not been short of - but Tabor is especially beautiful with a wonderful variety of building styles and a lot of colour.

Zizka Square, just a few minutes walk from the Hotel, is overlooked by the statue of Jan Zizka, the greatest of Hussite leaders who founded the town in the 1400's. The whole square is surrounded by fine architecture, including the church built in the 1500's.

The view down from the Hotel to the Luznice River is particulary lovely, and a step round and down an alley, looks back from the other side showing the fortified position of the castle built here 600 years ago. The roads leading to the Square are narrow (apparently as a form of defence), but as in old British towns this has no effect on the motor car! Very fortunately the main road leading to the hotel was closed by major roadworks, so the streets were quiet.

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