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Newsletter of the Norfolk Group of the Alpine Garden Society January 2016

AGM Norfolk Group AGS

Wednesday 16 December 2015


Chairman’s Report

Once again we should congratulate ourselves on yet another extremely successful year. The Norfolk Group continues to remain virtually self-sufficient in both its organisation and in the management of our finances. At the same time we continuously support the aims and objectives of our parent society.

A major input to the annual programme of the AGS is the Group’s organisation and staging of the East Anglian Show at Wymondham. Without exception, all involved in the Show praise all aspects of the event – staging, preparation, the range of nurseries, the catering and, not least, the friendly reception visitors, exhibitors and judges receive from our team. Once again we held to the AGS requirement for us to manage the finances and present a positive balance at the close of the event.

The Group made a number of excursions during the year, starting with a trip to Gothenburg to visit the Botanical Gardens and also the astonishing home, nursery and garden of the internationally-known alpine specialist, Peter Korn. Having initially been encouraged to consider this trip by a speaker (Ray Drew) at one of our Hethersett meetings, we accepted the challenge and a group of us thoroughly enjoyed the trip in mid-May.

A further trip, this time involving more members and friends, saw us hit RHS Wisley on an astonishingly hot day in late June. Unlike the Swedish trip which allowed us to return with only a few small plant acquisitions, the Wisley trip saw the coach’s luggage hold pretty well filled with purchases.

And this year’s ‘local’ trip was a real eye-opener for many who attended. I, for one, had never seen the Bishop’s Garden adjacent to the Cathedral. Stepping through the side gates was like setting foot in a by-gone age and the big question was, how could so much garden be hidden away right in the heart of the city without any obvious clues to its presence. Our guide for the evening was the head gardener and there were many in attendance who would have jumped at the chance to have his job – working in a wonderful, historical setting whilst having free-rein to acquire and experiment with all sorts of ‘exotics’.

On top of all this, we still found time to plan, prepare for and run yet another wonderful conference. The Abbey Conference Centre, once again provided the ideal backdrop and infrastructure to allow us to bring together national and international speakers, Peter Korn, Paul Cumbleton and, of course Kit Strange who, in addition to providing a wonderful lecture, also ran a practical workshop midway through the conference. An exhibition of Colchicums, two displays of wildlife and botanical art and a series of excellent nurseries all contributed to a well-rounded, enjoyable and informative event for the Group. With questions from delegates, such as “brilliant, when are you running the next one?” I think we can claim yet another conference success.

None of these events, none of our superb monthly lectures and none of the acclaim that comes with being party to the running of our successful Show would be possible without your Committee. If I were to detail the individuals, the tasks and the behind-the-scenes activities involved in putting together a year’s worth of events for our Group, it would take an inordinate amount of time. I will, therefore, thank your Committee, on your behalf, for everything they do to make the AGS Norfolk Group such a significant contributor to Norfolk’s botanical scene and such a successful part of the national Alpine Garden Society.


And so to 2016 ……………………


Ian Black


AGS Norfolk Group


Programme of Meetings 2016


17 Feb  Doug Joyce - A Dummies Guide to Photographing Plants

16 Mar  Local Group Show & Photographic Competition

20 Apr  Ray Drew - Temperate Gesneriads

18 May  Tim Ingram - The Sand Bed (Nursery Plants for Sale)

20-24 May  Scottish Trip - More details below

15 Jun  Members’ Slides

21 Sep  Celia Wright - From High Mountain to Long Mountain

19 Oct  Rick Lambert - Slovenia, The Julian Alps

16 Nov  Jon Evans - The Garden at Blackthorn Nursery – Part 1

21 Dec   AGM, Christmas Social + entertainment.


The programme for 2016 is unique in all the years that I have been preparing the lecture dates. It is the first time that practical gardening topics have held sway over talks about plants in the wild. The AGS lecturers list has always contained far more ‘travel talks’ than gardening talks and while all of the speakers this year are well travelled, they offer a wealth of hands on practical gardening experience which is reflected in the talks that will be presented.

We start the year with Doug Joyce from Essex who will be familiar to most of us as he is the official society photographer at the East Anglia Show in Wymondham. An entertaining speaker as well as an expert photographer Doug will give a down-to-earth guide with plenty of interesting plants and some comments about them as well as the photographic know how. Doug writes: “When out and about I use a variety of cameras, depending on circumstances, from the typically compact point-and-shoot models to a range of more professional DSLRs. In the lecture I will endeavour to illustrate plant photography in all of its various guises using subjects, equipment and techniques from the 'sublime to the exiguous'. I am essentially a self-taught amateur with love of plants and nature in general.” Appropriately the next month we will have our second local group Photographic Competition alongside our Spring Show.


Ray Drew, former AGS Director of Shows, enthused us all with a talk about Gothenburg Botanic Gardens a few years ago. Ray is an expert grower of many unusual plants, a particular interest in Gesneriads will be reflected in his chosen talk in April.

A very diverse family which includes the familiar African Violets and Streptocarpus, there will be many less well known genera represented here but expect appearances from Ramonda (pictured above in Tim Ingram’s garden) and Petrocosmea which can sometimes be seen on our show benches.


In May Tim Ingram returns to Norfolk with a talk about Sand Beds. While Peter Korn from Sweden showed us these on an epic scale at our 2015 Conference, Tim has been using sand beds for many years in Kent which shares our dry climate. There will be plenty of practical advice drawn from Tim’s experience plus lots of plants suitable for growing here, some of these may be on sale as Tim will bring plants from his nursery for sale on the evening.  Part of Tim’s sand bed planting is pictured on the left.


We will end the summer programme with a member’s night where several members will share alpine experiences from home and away.

We return to Hethersett in September with to welcome Celia & Iain Wright from Shropshire. It is Celia’s turn to give the talk which will be based around their garden on the edge of Long Mountain close to the border with Wales. An unusual feature of this garden is the windmill tower which Celia and Iain have restored as living accommodation Growing wide range of alpines, bulbs, shrubs and herbaceous plants in what might be described as a dell garden, there should be something for everyone on the night!

When Rick Lambert last visited his talk was about Dianthus, a favourite genus that had not been covered comprehensively at our meeting before. This year, in October we will let Rick escape from the garden as he takes us on a journey to the Julian Alps in Slovenia where he found many stunning plants across two visits. Another hands-on gardener, we may expect some references to the grow-ability of the plants he shows us.

Before the Christmas social evening we close the lecture programme in November, with a veritable tour de force Garden visit courtesy of ace photographer Jon Evans. Jon, who brought the remarkable photographic display to our 2012 conference, has made a photographic record of the gardens at Blackthorn Nursery. The nursery, famous above all for the Daphne species and hybrids propagated there, produced a wide range of other alpines too. The gardens are so extensive and so treasure filled that Jon tells me the full length talk can last up to three hours! However, he has sensibly split it into two talks. We will be treated to Part One – I will ask Jon to make it snappy but perhaps I will also bring a cushion ☺

Do come-along to as many meetings as you can. The speakers are carefully chosen for their knowledge and their skill at communicating. We have – as they say – a treat in store for you!

Tony Goode


How we became “Hooked” on Alpines


From the middle of the '70s Phil use to grow dahlias for showing and we belonged to the Norfolk & Suffolk Dahlia Society. When we moved to Poringland in 1979 we moved all the dahlia plants in pots. The garden was overgrown with nettles, fruit trees that had half fallen down across the garden and brambles. In the back garden we laid a patio, planted a lawn and made a small border. The rest of the garden was planted with dahlias, about 600 plants of various cultivars. The flowers made a lovely display from August sometimes until November and one year I had some indoors at Christmas. The down side was the empty garden from the time they died down after the first frost until new plants were planted out in June but no flowers until August.   

Our first AGS meeting, with Mike Smith in the chair, began an interest that has steadily grown. Phil and I first joined the AGS Norfolk group when the meetings were held in the old library in Norwich, several years before it burnt down. We had our meetings in the lecture theatre and sat on tiered seating. I remember having a show there and the plants were displayed on the side of the stairs. It was there we introduced the idea of having mince pies for the Christmas meeting instead of biscuits. Before we moved to our present venue in the late 90’s we met at the John Innes Institute for a short while.

Our garden gradually changed from dahlias to more and more alpines, small bulbs, snowdrops, cyclamen and of course some shrubs for my flower arranging. For his first project, Phil built a raised bed followed by a long rockery, all planted with different alpines. A large greenhouse appeared with sand plunges either side, which are constantly full of pots of AGS seeds and seeds collected from our own garden, all at various stages. Many of the plants in the garden have been grown from AGS seeds as well as plants bought at various shows and on holidays around the country.



Books in our Library


Aware that we have a wealth of gardening literature in our group library, mostly sitting in boxes at the Hall, I have decided to review one or two of them in each newsletter with the aim of stimulating a little more interest.


E A Bowles and his Garden at Myddleton House 1865-1954 by Mea Allan

The Crocus King is well known for his gardening writing, including of course, Crocus and Colchicum.  This biography charts his life and his involvement in the garden at Myddleton House.  Written after his death, the book draws heavily on the memories of his many friends and acquaintances as well as much documented material.  It covers Bowles from cradle to grave and paints a picture of a quiet thoughtful man, kind and charitable both in and out of the garden. 

His family, his travels and of course many of the plants he was known for are recorded here.  The forty-six illustrations put faces to some of the names and add an extra dimension to the man himself.

I found it a thoroughly interesting read and would thoroughly recommend it for the many insights into the man behind the prose.


AGS Encyclopaedia of Alpines –Two Volumes.  Various Contributors

The most comprehensive reference work on alpine plants from around the globe.  Many expert contributors shared knowledge including some details on cultivation, it is a great place to go when studying the AGS seedlist.  In truth, I use Google these days as the AGS has helpfully provided links through the online seedlist.  This links to images of the named plant but there is still great value in the written word, this book contains a vast array of distilled wisdom.  There are in depth studies of all the major genera and stand-alone entries for many others.  Unlike the biography reviewed above, this is not a work to be read en-block but if you are looking for information about a particular alpine plant it is an excellent place to start.


The Smaller Bulbs – Brian Mathew

Although perhaps surpassed by more recent volumes, particularly on the illustration front, this work by one of the leading plantsmen of our generation is still packed with interesting information about a very wide range of bulbous plants.  It was one of the books that helped to get me hooked on growing dwarf bulbs nearly thirty years ago.  In those days I picked it up from the Library in Lowestoft where I was working at the time.  You don’t have to go to the coast to borrow a copy as there is one languishing in our library.  More than a reference book, it contains anecdotes and observations from Brian’s, recent travels to find bulbous plants in the wild. 

Tony Goode


at March Meeting


Exhibitors are allowed to have 2 entries in each class

Class 1 Portrait of an Alpine plant in the wild

Class 2 Portrait of an Alpine plant in cultivation

Class 3 Alpine plant/s in a wild landscape

Class 4 Alpine plant/s in a garden setting

Name of plant/s to be displayed. Name of exhibitor on the back

After the success of last year’s competition we have decided to continue the exercise in 2016.

Photographs may be any size, mounted or unmounted.

We plan to use display boards this time to make the display easier to view.

Peter Mallett has kindly agreed to judge the show for us again and will present a gentle critique of the entries for us.

Printing images does not have to be expensive. Some supermarkets offer a service and there are many online offerings such as Snapfish where you can print enlargements as little as 40p.

Please email Tony: if you are bringing prints so that we can ensure sufficient display space.


Group Trip to Scotland 20-24 May 2016

Your committee are in the early stages of organising a trip to visit some Scottish gardens in late May.  The basic plan is to hire a coach in Scotland and travel to visit gardens in Southern Central Scotland.  Likely destinations are Branklyn Gardens (Perth), Explorers Garden (Pitlochry), Cluny House Garden (Aberfeldy), Henry & Margaret Taylor (Invergowrie) and the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh while Glendoick Nursery, Cambo Trust and St Andrews BG are also under consideration.

Travel to Scotland will be for each candidate to choose between fly/rail/drive.  Rail Norwich – Edinburgh is cheapest, £60-80 Apex Advance tickets.  There are flights from Norwich to Edinburgh at around £150 return.  Some members may choose to drive up which allows the option of extending the trip beyond the activities we are planning.  (Hiring a local coach to take us up to Scotland looks to be excessively expensive for a small group.)

The plan is to stay B&B in Travelodge accommodation in Perth and Edinburgh where there are plenty of options for evening meals to be taken in local restaurants.  We have yet to determine precise costing but are working to keep the price as reasonable as possible.  More information will be available at the early spring meetings.  Please can you contact Ian, Diane or Tony if you are interested in joining the trip.

A view from the entrance to Branklyn Garden  (October 2015)

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