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Plants in the Alpine House or Cold Frame: The New Alpine House at Kew

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Started by: John Humphries

A Periodic Visit to the Davies Alpine House at Kew

Go to latest contribution by John Humphries, 11 July 2006, 21:54. Go to bottom of this page.

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Contribution from John Humphries 11 July 2006, 20:21top / bottom of page
This is open for anyone to add to after a visit to

Named after it's main sponsor, Edwin Davies. The new Alpine House at Kew was officially opened on the 11th March this year.

This is open for anyone to add to after a visit to

Looking for all the world like Wellington’s Hat, the new Alpine House at Kew is certainly a remarkable sight. Situated adjacent to the grass garden at the North end of the rock garden where the New Zealand collection used to be, the house provides a spectacular and eye catching entrance to an area which previously was mostly visited by enthusiasts who knew where they were going!

Early in January 2006 I got a sneak preview of the house. With this in mind, there was still much to do in terms of internal planting and external landscaping, but the structure of the displays was already clearly defined.

Some of the planting is more or less permanent.

Other Beds are designed purely as display plunge beds which will be put to very good use in displaying elements of Kew's extensive collection.

The funnels seen prominantly here are to allow for air drawn through external vents and passed along a labyrinth of concrete channels under the house where it is cooled, to be passed out amongst the plants on display. This air flow was distinctly lacking in the old alpine house and the rate achieved by this new system is two meters per second.

The ample path snakes downwards through rocky outcrops on either side providing a multitude of micro-environments in which to site plants. Heat, always a problem in the old house, is dissipated through the tall chimney roof and is helped on its way by the cooled air from the funnels.

Although the house does not appear to give a huge area for planting, it has virtually the same floorspace of the old house. Not everyone is impressed with the overall use of that space, however, very importantly, the new house serves as a portal to draw the public through and into the rock garden and the world of alpines.

When I was there in January, the only thing I found in flower was this little hedgehog lily, Massonia pustulata from the Cape Province. This rose scented member of the hyacinth family is very amenable to pot culture in a sandy well drained compost.

I returned during the heatwave in May to observe the use of the shading blinds. These are very impressive and work with the cooled air and chimney extraction to maintain the house at a temperature within a target maximum of 28C.

Having been open for two months by this stage, the staff at Kew were very pleased with the performance of the house. The external temperature had been at 29C and internally had remained at 27C, a significant improvement on the old house.

Also of course at this stage the beds were fully planted up and there were a good number of gems on display.

Cypripedium parviflorum var pubescens

Trillidium govanianum, a rarely seen Asian trillium relative.

Iris acutiloba ssp linerata

Iris iberica ssp elegantissima

Contribution from John Humphries 11 July 2006, 21:54top / bottom of page

Finally Calceolaria uniflora has delighted visitors with its little bobbing faces.

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