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Started by: Tim Ingram

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Contribution from Tim Ingram 29 May 2013, 16:57top / bottom of page

Perhaps a big part of the enjoyment of the Conference, from the viewpoint of a British gardener like myself, was a refreshing view of alpines from so many speakers I had never heard before. Because the emphasis in the Czech Republic is so much on gardening with alpines it was also exciting to see more of this in detail; and for a culture like this to really develop and become so effective in growing and presenting plants, it does need a strong momentum and sharing of experiences.

Zdenek Zvolanek introduced us, in the first evening, to the 'Charms of Balkan. To remember Czech sources of alpines within iron curtains in the past'. It is obvious that iron curtains do not subdue, but for anyone with a poetic and free spirit they must take great fortitude to resist. In my notes I have some 70 different plants ranging through Bulgaria, Macedonia, Greece and Albania, and it is difficult to pick one more than any other. Many appeal to me as a gardener in the relatively warm and dry south-east of England, and I can see us gowing more of them in future years using crevice and sand beds (and the rare as hen's teeth, tufa). Edraianthus are especially good in our garden and the Czechs grow very many species; E. horvatii from the Galicica Mtns.; E. vesovicii from Mt. Prokletije in the south of Montenegro; E. pilosulus, a tiny and recently named species from the Komovi Mtns.; and E. pulovii and sutjeskae (these last three species are discussed in Systematic Botany 34(3): 602-608. 2009). In the West there may be some dispute about nomenclature (E. horvatii and vesovicii are both described as synonyms for forms of E. graminifolium in the 'Plant List' for example - but the former looks very distinct in our garden, see the pictures below). From a purely gardening perspective though this variety is greatly appealing, and many of these plants are very local in their distribution.

The second picture shows E. horvatii, with quite broad greyish leaves unlike the more grassy-leaved E. graminifolium that I grow, and the lovely silver-leaved form of E. pumilio. This latter species does vary markedly so it must be difficult to delineate species at times.

Also proving an excellent garden plant is the very local species of Aubrieta, glabrescens, which is restricted to the smallest smattering of plants on the summit of Mt. Smolikas. Seed of this was introduced by the AGS MESE Expedition (No. 536) which is comprehensively described by John Richards and others in Vol. 68(3) of the Bulletin.

Daphne velenovskyi has been widely grown from wild collected seed, but Zdenek showed a very lovely albino form, 'Josefina', which is rare in cultivation at present. On Mt. Bobotor grows the rare Balkan endemic D.malayana (close to jasminea and oleiodes), along with Sempervivum kosaninii, Edraianthus sutjeskae, Gentiana verna calicina (which can have beautiful soft-blue flowers), Scabiosa silenifolia and Potentilla clusiana.

This is a 'whistle-stop' tour of so many interesting places and plants, showing what rich sources of alpines have been open to Czech growers and travellers, and how well these have been capitalised on. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and stimulating way to open the Conference...

Contribution from Tim Ingram 03 June 2013, 22:25top / bottom of page

On the first evening, after Zdenek's talk, Martin Hajman from Tromso showed why this Botanic Garden in the very north of Norway has become so famed for growing intractable plants like Cremanthodiums and such rare gentians as G. futteri and G. hexaphylla (which has become a weed and is wonderfully pictured on the website Crevice gardens are used for androsaces and douglasias (if you retain the New World name); horizontal crevices for Porphyrion saxifrages and vertical for Ciliate species, grown in semi-shade. Martin also mentioned some of the people who help and collaborate with the garden - notably Ole Olsen and the 'man of order' Finn Haugli (who has written about Tromso for The Saxifrage Society, see Tromso must be an oasis of horticultural and botanical excellence that would be wonderful to visit. The practical and conservation importance of the garden is illustrated by the endangered Ranunculus wilanderi from Svalbard of which only some 50 plants are known in Nature (see the exemplary website Very many more are now grown at Tromso.

Martin, and Kai Anderson from Bangsbo Botanical Gardens in Denmark, both portrayed the adventurous spirit of the Vikings, which is leading them to take over the world of alpine gardening as well as having discovered the rest of the world in the distant past! Well they are not far wrong, but climate plays a very big part, at least in growing the plants so well. Scandinavia rivals the Czech Republic for a place to go and see alpines growing in the open air.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 04 June 2013, 21:53top / bottom of page

The first day proper of the Conference moved from the 'Flowers of the Patagonian Mountains' (Martin Sheader) to 'The Top Plants from the flora of Kazakhstan' (Vladimir Epiketov), via 'Small Bulbs in Cultivation' (Ian Young) and 'Daphnes and a little bit more' (Jiri Papousek). A nice mix of plants in Nature and in cultivation. Martin's talk has been described as a shameless advert for his new book on Patagonia - so like me you must also buy the book!

Ian is such an accomplished grower, and also disseminator of knowledge, that he is brilliant at putting across what often seems complex in terms that immediately hit the mark and clarify your thinking. Describing the different forms of geophytes, and how they often intergrade one into another, was eye-opening (and I just wonder if Alan Titchmarsh, another fine communicator, borrowed these ideas when he did much the same on one of the Chelsea programmes?) In the real world it is the experience of growing and observing that makes individual sense of plants. As someone who has never been too good at growing bulbs, I learnt a lot.

Our later visits to Czech gardens showed how well daphnes grow in all of them. Jiri Papousek looked at this in more detail. Many species grow in central and southern Europe and are well adapted to the Czech

climate; and none more so than D. arbuscula, which has been widely selected and hybridised. Robin White pictures six forms in his book on Daphnes (including the very beautiful and difficult white form). Jiri added several more, including 'Koryto' (a dwarf form), 'Plestil' and 'Fialka' (a dark form) - [if I am right in giving these cultivar status?]. His remarkable crevice garden showed how well these grow, along with many other species and hybrids. One variety he mentioned, 'Kelsey Ann', is a cross between D. velenovskyi x D. petraea, made by the American nurseryman Rick Lupp (who grows a very wide variety of these plants). The range of daphnes available to gardeners now is legion, and they will always be amongst the finest plants in the garden when grown well. (See also the website:

Kazakhstan has a truly remarkable flora of over 6000 species, of which 1000 grow in the highlands of Tian Shan in the south-east corner of this vast country. Vladimir Epiketov showed us nearly 150 choice alpine plants (which doesn't even begin to look at the wide variety of herbaceous perennials, many familiar and valued garden plants, that come from here). This talk was one of the highlights of the Conference, and it is difficult to know where to begin with the great variety of plants mentioned... (to be continued).

Contribution from Tim Ingram 06 June 2013, 07:39top / bottom of page

These dry Central Asian regions are home to many bulbs, including good garden species like Tulipa greigii and T. kaufmanniana, and Allium karataviense (some 140 species of allium have been recorded in Kazakhstan). With these are much rare species which are more of a challenge to grow: Tulipa heterophylla, T. behmiana and T. regelii, the last a narrow endemic of the Chu Li Mtns near Lake Balkhash. This species is unique in having parallel ridges running along the leaves and is nicely pictured in 'Tulips' by Richard Wilford. Even more exciting are the irises, which include I. loczyi and I. tenuifolia - two very beautiful and closely related species; Brian Mathew describes growing the latter in sandy soil in Surrey but not finding it free flowering. Vladimir also mentioned I. regelii, a very small species of the same group, which had (or has?) not been seen for over 100 years. Others that were mentioned were I. glaucescens (scariosa), which is often found in saline soils, characteristic of such semi-desert regions; the Junos I. kuschakiczii and I. almaatensis (subdecolorata), and the rare reticulate I. kolpakowskiana.

Some parts of Kazakhstan are exceptionally dry steppe and can have temperatures ranging from -35°C in winter to 50°C in summer. Succulent and bulbous plants are therefore common, including species like Goniolimon callicocum and the rare endemic Limonium michelsonii, adapted to saline soils like the iris mentioned earlier. In places Opuntia torspina has become naturalised; Orostachys spinosa is found in the driest places; and there are many species of Sedum, Pseudosedum, Rhodiola and Rosularia. One plant I have always wanted to grow is the summer dormant Gentiana olivieri, and there are any number of small legumes; Oxytropis chinobia a particularly beautiful blue and Cicer hungaricum, violet-blue.

Two borages: Onosma irritans (a good specific name for the whole genus!) and the curious Macrotomia (Arnebia) euchroma, which has blackish-purple to pink flowers on a small plant to about 30cm - in her book 'Pulmonarias and the Borage Family' Masha Bennett describes these smelling 'intensely of peaches'. Dracocephalum as a genus has become more widely cultivated and Vladimir showed five: nutans, grandiflorum, stamineum, imberbe, and the superb small blue origanoides. In regions with more moisture were plants such as Erythronium sibiricum, Trollius dschungensis and T. altiacus, and one of the most beautiful of all alpines T. (Hegemone) lilacinus. Ligularia narynensis is the smallest of its genus, just 15cm high; Viola tianschanica a very attractive small violet; and the cushion forming Thylacospermum caespitosum a species found widely through Central Asia to the Himalayas. There are also plants much more common in cultivation, and widespread in distribution: Aster alpinus, Erigeron aurantiacum, Aquilegia glandulosum, Saxifraga oppositifolia and Fritillaria pallidiflora. Finally a Red List plant, Rhapidophyton regelii, narrow leaved and with narrow purplish bracts subtending the flowers. The only reference to this in cultivation ( describes it as 'very pretty but spreads very quickly and is difficult to eradicate'! Here botanical and gardening considerations would seem to complement one another.

Kazakhstan surprises for the wealth of flora it contains, though perhaps the surprise should not be so great when one considers the vast size of the country and hugely variable terrain, and its central geographical

position. Those who have travelled and seen it first hand are lucky indeed.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 16 June 2013, 08:09top / bottom of page
'Chinese Flowering Paradise'

The alpine plants of China (along with the species of lower altitudes) have excited gardeners for as long as plant hunters have had entrée to these regions. We are more than lucky to still have access to seed collections by Czech botanists and plant hunters. Vojtech Holubec described a 'Chinese Flowering Paradise - the best of the Flora of China and Tibet', and his talk was doubly fascinating because many of the plants he discussed he has also made available through seed collections.

One such is Androsace flavescens which I first heard of from Rick lambert on these Discussion pages. Pictures of this (or a close relative) in Kunlun Shan, Xinjiang, are given on Vojtech's website In 'The Genus Androsace' George Smith and Duncan Lowe describe its first collection in the same locality in the 1880's by Przewalski. It appealed to me especially because it is closely related, but less robust, than A. sarmentosa, generally a good species in the garden with care. Vojtech had some plants for sale and so now one sits in a crevice between stones in a trough on the patio, and my fingers are crossed that it will grow away successfully.

Kunlun is on the northern rim of the Tibetan plateau and here also grow several other choice androsaces; A. akbaitalensis, A. russellii and A. squarrolosa (a beautiful tight cushion). Other plants include the wonderfully compact composite Ajania tibetica (with button-like flowerheads lacking ray-petals), and magnificent mats of Saxifraga subsessilliflora. The mountain landscapes in these regions look especially arid and bare of vegetation, though precipitation and snowmelt from high altitudes must provide sufficient moisture for small herbs.

Lhasa, the subject of that famous book 'Seven Years in Tibet' by Heinrich Harrer, sits at 3800m on a flat plain, surrounded by mountains, and one of the plants growing here which really must be brought into cultivation, is Ceratostigma nanum (beautifully pictured on Vojtech Holubec's website). It is hard to imagine a lovelier small sub-shrub but its cultivation requirements are likely to be exacting. I also have a note against Onosma weddellii - 'superb blue'. Syncalathium is an intriguing rosette forming genus of composites (rather finely pictured on the cover of the Journal of Systematics and Evolution, Vol. 47, No. 3, 2009) - S. roseum grows in the region around Lhasa.

I have notes of Corallodiscus kingii and lanuginosus, these fascinating relatives of the European mountain gesneriads; Clematis tibetica var, vernai, with darkest purple, thick tepalled flowers; Swertia tulipiflora, an extraordinary mimic of tulips; and the really fine gentian, G. waltonii. David Wilkie in 1936 describes this as growing on 'dry sandy slopes' at 10000 to 12000ft and difficult to keep. It would certainly be worth any effort.

Floristically these regions of Tibet and China are very rich with transitions from dry arid areas to monsoon sometimes over very small distances. In the latter (Min Shan) are plants like Gentiana hexaphylla, Meconopsis punicea and Gentiana georgei. Another place, the Galung La pass is particularly rich in alpines with some very special plants: Cremantodium rhodocephalum, with purple, typically hanging flowers of monsoonal regions; several primulas including P. tanneri, P. agleniana and P. cawdoriana (this latter is an extraordinary species to my eyes with flowers so reminiscent of soldanellas); and finally the surprising Caltha sinogracilis f. rubriflora, which has flowers of deepest pink.

On Shen Shan is the exquisite soft-blue Gentiana szechenyi, and much better known and a good garden plant, G. veitchiorum. The N, American nurseryman Harvey Wrightman speaks of these on his blog and gives valuable information on their culture. Some gardeners may have trouble getting used to G. farreri under its new name G. lawrencei.

In all I have just over 100 species noted from Vojtech Holubec's talk - a tiny fraction of the alpine flora of China, but a fantastically exciting one. Maybe it can be summed up by the amazing Gentiana urnula, as close to a cushion forming gentian as Nature has achieved.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 18 June 2013, 08:31top / bottom of page
Growing in Sand

Peter Korn is the typical alpine gardener in that he wants to grow a great variety of different plants, but he is not so typical in that he succeeds brilliantly. His talk was entitled simply 'Growing in Sand', but his gardening is founded on an exceptional understanding of plants in their natural environments - and has been described as 'Biotype Gardening', which goes beyond many of the naturalistic styles of planting that have become more fashionable in recent years. The talk at Chelsea this year was how many gardens were more 'natural' as though like the latest fashion this had just arrived on the scene. Understanding how and where plants grow in Nature is more substantial than that.

Few people would consider growing Lewisia tweedyi or Iris acutiloba and I. sari in a forest clearing in Sweden with 2 metres of rain a year, but not only do these plants grow but the lewisia forms clumps 50 to 60cm across! The simple answer is 'Growing in Sand' but of course there is much more to it than that. Peter moulds the landscape in a way few gardeners do, and on a scale that creates multiple habitats suited to many different plants. Helichrysum milfordiae, for example, benefits from excellent drainage but a high water table and is best in the lower parts of sand berms, some of which are built specifically over water. The irises and lewisias from summer dry climates need the sharp drainage higher up. In this way the disadvantages of the high annual rainfall can be turned to advantage and allow a very wide variety of plants to be grown. The significant winter low temperatures (occasionally dropping to -30°C) and in contrast summer highs (to 35°C), and yet sometimes only 2½ months without frost, are also more suited to many alpines than maritime regions like much of the UK. The success of growing in sand is evident not only from the variety of plants that grow so well but also their vigour. On first impression this may seem surprising, but the size of the sand berms provide plants with virtually unlimited root run to tap moisture and nutrients. The obvious example of plants in the alpine house that root through into the sand plunge shows how effective this can be.

A species that I have planted in sand, Pulsatilla vernalis, forms huge clumps for Peter with 50 or more flowers, and is relatively long lived, having grown for at least seven years in situ. Cushions of Silene acaulis merge to form a wonderful 'moss-like' carpet. Plants that nearly all alpine gardeners find next to impossible, Ranunculus glacialis and Diapensia lapponica for example, grow in cooler and moister places. And in much drier and sunnier spots are N. American alpines like Aquilegia jonesii, Claytonia megarhiza and Penstemon debilis. All gardeners become sensitive to microclimate in their gardens but few so intimately.

At one point I have the note: 'brilliant crevice cliff'. Another photograph showed a planting of grasses and herbs based on a natural community of species on a hillside in Kazakhstan. And it is hard not to be amazed at the size of the rocks moved to give just the impression wanted in the garden landscape. Growing in sand and the crevice style of gardening that is so effective in the Czech Republic and elsewhere, recall in some ways the heyday of rock gardening in the UK in the first half of the last century. But they also show how these can easily be adapted to smaller and individual gardens just as well as the larger rock gardens that were prevalent then. Peter somehow manages to work on both the large and small scale, and the unusual and rare plants he grows explain why he calls his special open days. 'Nerd's Days'. But they are for nerds who know what they are doing!

Peter Korn's garden is open from April to September and I haven't visited yet, but it is somewhere that must appeal to any gardener with alpine plants in their blood, and we hope to arrange a Group visit before too long, in combination with Gothenberg Botanic Garden and other private gardens in Sweden. If you haven't tried growing plants in sand then you will be surprised!

Contribution from Tim Ingram 25 June 2013, 08:01top / bottom of page
Plant Exploration in Iran

There are some 37 dionysias recorded in Iran, and Dieter Zschummel showed nearly all of them in his talk! (These included 7 species discovered since Christopher Grey-Wilson wrote his authorative book on the genus, published by the AGS in 1989. Five, all from the Zagros Mtns. in W. Iran, are described by Magnus Liden in Willdenovia 37: 37-61, 2007). Iran is such a huge country, five times the size of Germany, with so many plants of interest to alpine gardeners, and that clash of cultures which, as nearly everywhere, belies the friendliness of the individual and the fascination of the ethnic and historical heritage. The images by Klaus Kamstra on his website ( bring this out very well.

Although dionysias were the highlight of the talk, and are closely identified with the country, Dieter also showed many other fascinating plants and mentioned, for example, the genus Astragalus: over 700 taxa have been recorded in Iran, over 50% of them endemic, and 400 listed in the Red Data book of Iran. The total flora is just over 6000 species, giving it the same richness as Kazakhstan that I mentioned earlier, and countries like Turkey and Greece. Besides dionysias, irises, fritillarias and many other bulbous plants have a strong following amongst alpine gardeners, of course!

Dionysia aretioides is not only the most familiar species and one of the easiest to grow, but was also the first to be found and described (C. G-W. gives it as first collected by Hablitzl in 1770 and for something like 70 years it was known as a Primula). It grows in N. Iran, endemic to the Elburz Mtns., and is the only dionysia found there. Good garden plants from the same region include Fritillaria kotschyana, Tulipa montana and T. humilis, and Paeonia witmanniana. (As an aside, Jim Archibald collected seed of a compact yellow peony which ??rendered him speechless?? in the Gilan area of the Elburz Mtns. - this is P. iranica [and see the SRGC Forum under Paeonia 2013, replies 37-44]. This will be a very exciting new species to grow in the garden when more widely available).

(Fritillaria kotschyana in cultivation)

Plant Exploration in Iran

I also have noted: Primula auriculata, Iris pseudocaucasica, and a very lovely violet, V. spathulata (of which more of later). The crucifer, Physoptychis caspica, is a rare and endangered species (in the Red Data book), very closely resembling Degenia. Saxifraga wendelboi is also native to these regions, and commemorates one of the pioneering botanists of the Iranian flora (and especially dionysias).

On Kopeg Dag, near Bajgiran are several irises, including the quite widely grown I. acutiloba, but also I. fosteriana, ewbankiana, koptdagensis and songarica. Several of these are finely photographed by Marijn van de Brink (http:/, along with Eranthis longistipitata and Anemone petiolulosa from the same region.

Dionysias are exceptionally beautiful and nearly all the species are now in cultivation, which is a triumph for horticulture and skill. However, some of the other plants that Dieter showed interested me even more because of their novelty or relationship to species grown in gardens. The rosette forming, woolly leaved composite Aegopordon berardioides is an extraordinary, if not especially attractive, species; Gundelia tournefortii, a spiny yellow thistle of some distinction; and rather more enticing, the daphne relative Dendrostellera lessertii, with yellow flowers and glaucous foliage - a really intriguing shrub. Cleome coluteoides contrasts with the well known garden annual by having warm ochre, brown-veined flowers and bladder-like pods - it grows in exceptionally dry places with very sparse vegetation.

There are many euphorbias in Iran and E. decipiens (or something very close to it) resembles E. rigida except for more striking red nectaries. The latter, given the hottest and driest of spots, can be a remarkable plant in the garden. Eremostachys macrophylla is a compact species of an interesting genus that a few alpine gardeners have had success with (Lori Skulski on the NARGS Forum likened them to Pedicularis, and they do have that same look). Amongst several Corydalis Dieter showed C. rupestris, a true chasmophyte with yellow flowers and finely cut ferny foliage. A beautiful plant in habitat. This is close to the well known C wilsonii and tomentella, and all come readily from selfed seed. Lovelier still were two violets (there are 16 species in Iran): V. spathulata - mentioned earlier - and V. pachyrrhiza. Both are or have been in cultivation - Brian Burrow showed the latter at the 2007 Midland AGS Show (and there are good pictures of it in the wild by John and Hilary Birks [] and Klaus Kamstra []). A stunning picture of V. spathulata was entered by Eberhard Proessdorf in the AGS Online Show 2011. Well, one can always dream of these plants, and like some of the choice European species, it would be interesting to know if they have been grown in crevice gardens or deep sand outside.

The dionysias of course are extraordinary and the preserve of the most skilled growers of all. For all us lesser mortals we can just delight in the photographs brought back by Dieter Zschummel and the fact that such beautiful plants are found in what seem such harsh environments

Contribution from Tim Ingram 27 June 2013, 15:26top / bottom of page

How does the saying go? 'All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy'. After quite a few presentations of small and obscure plants we had the chance to buy some! These are a few pictures taken just outside the entrance to the hotel.

Jiri Papousek and his wife Ludmila were key to the whole event, and their children also helped as couriers in the coaches visiting the gardens. Both here, and later in their garden, they had some fascinating plants for sale, including a number of the dwarf 'witch's broom' conifers which appealed to many people.


These are some of Jiri's plants being closely perused by - from the left: Olga Bondareva, Cecile Shepard, Kay McDowell and Peter Korn.

Olga very kindly brought seed of several Pulsatillas (including the lovely yellow form of P. patens) which she distributed to a number of us. She, and Susann Nilsson from Sweden, both have a deep interest in the genus, both botanically but also photographically, and have put some beautiful photographs on the SRGC Forum of these plants. The forthcoming book by Christopher Grey Wilson must be eagerly anticipated by many gardeners who love the genus, although many of us may remain quite confused as to some of the plants we grow.

Two of the Vikings: Kai Anderson in red and Martin Hajman in the pale brown jacket. The plants he is looking at are some quite choice rhododendrons.

This picture, taken a little earlier, shows the more typical 'scrum' that develops whenever there are interesting plants for sale. Those who have experience of snowdrop events have probably developed the best technique. Anna-Liisa Sheader and Diane Clement in prime position.

Vojtech and Lenka Holubec had some wonderful plants, many from seed collected in China, such as the yellow Androsace flavescens. I could take a photo, but reaching in to the plants was another thing!

Contribution from Tim Ingram 27 June 2013, 16:01top / bottom of page

The plant sale was followed up by two really enjoyable, and different, demonstrations of planting troughs; first by Zdenek Zvolanek and Paul Spriggs, and second Vojtech Holubec. The stone used in the first was quite a 'crumbly' metamorphic rock, and even a very simple planting like this was showed how the rock plays as important part as the plants. Vojtech's trough was a more sophisticated crevice planting which was really imaginative and effective, and gave a variety of different planting places on the smallest of scales. For those who have not discovered details of these yet please see the thread under 'Cultivation' (growing techniques) - entitled 'Czech Interlude'. The strong message that came, not only from these but also from the gardens we visited later, was the equivalence of stone and plant, something that was also an important talking point in the earliest days of the AGS, and is intensely satisfying to see when done well.

Trough demonstration...

Contribution from Tim Ingram 19 July 2013, 20:11top / bottom of page
'Rock Gardening in Poland'

Alpine plants can appeal in so many ways, but none more so than when you surround yourself with them in your garden. Michal Hoppel showed this to us literally as he started his talk with a Google point of view of his garden. He lives in Poznan in the centre of Poland, a country of 36 million people, but one imagines few rock gardeners. Summer temperatures can reach 35°C, and winters -20°C, which doesn??t sound hugely different (if a little colder) than the south-east of the UK, except that it can be -15°C in March, and that continental climate with a proper and predictable winter is more favourable to many alpine plants. Rainfall is low - 500mm on average across the year. No primulas and meconopsis here but the most marvellous variety of dryland alpines, especially from the American Rockies and Turkey, grown in a wide variety of ways which teach a lot about what plants need.

Alongside the house, under the roof overhang, Michal showed a long narrow crevice garden facing south and east and made of a hard grey slate. The soil is 100% mineral, and the bed watered with a micro-drip system and manually. This is taking alpine gardening to the sophisticated level as found by other private growers (like Harry Jans) and Botanic Gardens in Europe, and exemplifies that attention to detail which these plants bring out in the gardener. The plants growing here include Convolvulus boissieri in the driest section (which indicates to me that I need to be even more severe in growing this plant outside); very many N. American composites, especially townsendias and erigerons, which often self-sow across the bed; many small penstemons and the beautiful microphloxes such as P. missoulensis (I have noted: 'superb scent') and P. caespitosa ssp. pulvinata. Some of the choicest of eriogonums do well - E. kennedyi and E. schockleyi, as well as the 'Dinosaur Daisy', Tetraneuris (Hymenoxys) lapidicola, described so intriguingly by Graham Nicholls in the AGS Bulletin (Vol. 63, p. 421).

By the house are some troughs with an eastern exposure and using a 'soil' of 70% mineral or more. Troughs give the chance to use a great variety of stone and Michal mentioned lava, gneiss, tufa, hard slate and quartzite; a geologist's as well as a botanist's delight. These contain some really choice plants; Draba polytricha (acidic), Aquilegia jonesii, Phlox bryoides, Viola delphinantha, and Androsace mathildae self-seeding in a limy trough. One of the most striking plants of all is Calyophus (Oenothera) lavandulifolius, of which Claude Barr (in 'Jewels of the Plains') says: 'It is a gem of the first water, long-lived, and a perfect subject for a limy rock garden. Its small lavenderlike leaves are dark and faintly grey'.

By now you will realise that this is no ordinary alpine garden and several further areas have been developed for plants, including a rock garden of 30m.sq, 1m deep, and which is made with amphibolite rock (metamorphic and acidic), and 'soil' varying from dust up to 8mm grit, plus a little clay and peat (5%). From my notes this is watered by subterranean 'streams' and occasionally manually. With such low rainfall and a harsh scree this must be an important consideration. Plants here include acantholimons, Campanula choruhensis and C. formanekiana, Inula acaulis and Viola altaica.

In another part of the garden is a crevice sand bed, 30 to 40cm deep, flat and open, with occasional hand watering. Here are grown plants from the driest of places of all; Tetraneuris acaulis, Talinum brevifolium, Eriogonum ovalifolium (which in its very varied forms must be the finest of the genus), Oenothers caespitosa (established from seed) and several townsendias.

You may be feeling you need a break, but just take a look at Michal's website ( to give an idea of how successful these various ways of growing plants are. For species which really need overhead protection the piece de resistance is a crevice and tufa garden under a polycarbonate alpine house. Here are Tanacetum leontopodium (impossible in the garden), Sphaeralcea caespitosa (a vivid orange mallow which dies on the sand bed), Draba longisiliqua, and campanulas such as C. fragilis and C. thessala which grow naturally in vertical crevices. This is quite some garden and is underpinned by a particularly thoughtful and careful vision, which is impossible not to learn a great deal from.

At the end of his talk Michal was dubbed the 'King of Townsendias'. But right at the beginning he had mentioned that the nearest quarries to Poznan were 300km away to the south, so this is definitely a case of bringing the mountain to the garden, rather than the garden to the mountain.

Contribution from Margaret Young 21 July 2013, 16:14top / bottom of page

Michal Hoppel has contributed to various journals on his very successful rock garden. He wrote about it, including some photos of his Townsendias, for the International Rock Gardener in November 2010 :

Contribution from Tim Ingram 29 July 2013, 20:36top / bottom of page
Cultivation of Alpines in Pots

The dedicated growing of alpines in pots is undoubtedly one of the great joys of alpine gardening and Cyril Lafong shared his 30 years of experience in a 'Workshop' giving many tips and hints into his remarkable successes growing plants in this way.

Why? Where? and How?

When he asked Kath Dryden 'Why' she grew alpines in pots, she simply answered 'Because I want to!', a wonderfully straightforward response reminiscent of Mallory's: 'Because it is there!' In Cyril's Scottish garden last winter's snow covered the ground for 2 months, and the alpine house then becomes a wonderful place to still see and tend plants. And of course early flowering species like Ranunculus calandrinoides are given protection as they come into flower. The perfection of plants grown in this way must be immensely satisfying but not so easy to achieve, and calls for great dedication.

Cyril lives midway between Edinburgh and Dundee at a similar latitude as Gothenberg in Sweden, where alpine plants are also grown so well (a picture of the Dionysia house there was quite a revelation!). The climate is cool and moist; 18°C on average in summer and 0°C in winter (with extremes of 25°C and -15°C respectively). A large greenhouse gives the best aeration and control of temperature. At Kew the cooling effect is given by height and design; for the ordinary garden large doors at each end and fans are essential. Cyril supplements the latter with small overhead fans for cushion plants timed to come on at regular intervals.

The sand plunge is ideally at least 9 inches deep, which is very heavy (and in Alan Furness' garden some plants like Rhodolirions are plunged even deeper, using vertical paving slabs to contain the plunge - in effect a high raised bed). I liked Cyril's trick to prepare holes in the moist sand plunge for pots - a simple bulb planter! Even in Scotland shading can be necessary for certain plants and I have a note: 'Nixol' reacts to the weather? Does anyone have experience of this?


Using plastic pots a deeper container can be made by removing the base of a top pot and placing tightly in a slightly smaller one. A clever and simple idea. Deep pots are ideal for bulbs and many tap rooted plants, and have a significant influence on drainage due to the 'perched water table' (which Paul Cumbleton has described in detail on the SRGC Forum). Plunging pots in sand effedtively removes the perched water table by transferring this to the sand plunge (it is important to use mesh rather than crocks to cover the drainage hole, to ensure good contact between soil in the pot and the sand). In commercial practice many plastic pots now have slits in the side which improves drainage at the base in a similar way.

What about compost?

Below a critical size of 1.6mm sand impedes rather than improves drainage (at least in the small scale of a pot) and the ideal is around 3 to 4mm, or even larger for critical plants. This makes up a minimum of 30% of the compost by volume, usually more. The 'Air Filled Porosity' of the compost (the volume still filled with air after saturating and draining the pot) should be at least 15% and with high alpines 25 to 30%. Probably few growers ever measure this and determine composts on the basis of trial and error and experience. Cyril's recipe is: I part JI No. 3; I part Bark/Vermiculite; I part Grit (3 to 4mm) and ½ part Perlite. For seed compost an additional 1 part Vermiculite is added, and for high alpines more Grit. Good compost must have much the same thought behind it as good cooking!

Growing plants in this way is very specialised and exacting and consistancy and routine must be important. I tend to pot on plants too quickly into larger pots, and probably often at the wrong time of year - so spring flowering alpines should be potted soon after flowering, and summer flowering not until the following spring (as a general rule). A 20cm pot would be repotted into a 25cm, and 25 into a 30cm, and for larger plants ingenious techniques have to be used. (As I write this I am acutely aware that my own experience of growing plants in pots is very limited, so excuse my journalistic licence).

Cushion plants are turned every week to get uniform flowering (the engineer might devise an automatic way of doing this based on a small turntable?!). Watering is clearly critical. A friend in our Group often uses a small meter pushed into the pot, especially for more vulnerable plants like daphnes, but with good well drained compost and a deep sand plunge excess water will be wicked away. It can be easy to allow plants to become too dry but ensuring they dry out significantly between waterings is equally important. This must be one of the greatest skills of growing plants in pots.

What about feeding and pest control?

Here the careful attention to each plant regularly must be key and certain problems like botrytis and red spider mite can quickly become serious, especially if only a limited range of different plants are grown. Both of these can often be overcome by removing plants to areas outside subject to all that the weather can throw at them. Mike Smith at Hythe Alpines grew many of his androsaces outside in an open sided Access frame.

It is difficult when you don't significantly grow plants in this way to gain a real feel for the skills involved, but the results are plain to see and the joy that comes from growing plants so well must be wonderful. It is something to aim for, and to have such a clear explanation from such a fine grower as Cyril is so valuable.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 04 January 2014, 21:14top / bottom of page
Czech Rock Gardens

My intention was to write about the gardens that we visited earlier in the year. However, having put together a talk on these and considered them in more detail, I think they are worthy of a more considered exposition in print, either in the alpine journals or elsewhere. The traditions and skill that lie behind them, and the ongoing development of gardens deserve a longer look. In 1966 Olga Duchacova (Vol. 34, p. 236 of the Bulletin) wrote 'A Letter from Czechoslovia' describing some of the early history of rock gardening there, mentioning the famous Czech writer, Karel Capek (who wrote 'A Year of a Gardener' and was a keen rock gardener)  and the 'Czech Reginald Farrer', J. Naumann-Horny. She finishes by asking for someone to write a history of English Rock Gardens. Like learning about the culture of rock gardening in the (now) Czech Republic, this would also be a fascinating and worthwhile project at a time when rock gardening and alpine plants have less appeal to gardeners in general than they may have had for many years.

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