Alpine Garden Society

01386 554790
[ Back ]

Newsletter of the Norfolk Group of the Alpine Garden Society January 2017

Alpine Garden Society Norfolk Group


Welcome to your January 2017 Newsletter

The Chairman’s notes
The proposed Scottish holiday
The lecture programme
The local group show schedule
The local group show photographic competition schedule An AGS member for seventy years
The perils of living with a galanthophile
Living with a galanthophile - the real truth
Gardens open

Chairman’s notes – Autumn 2016

The Norfolk Group continues to remain a vibrant and active group both at its ‘home- base’ in Norfolk or when travelling to new botanical and horticultural destinations. Although we may occasionally feel fairly distanced from the national headquarters, the Group remains steadfastly behind the aims and objectives of the Alpine Garden Society.

Our Group very actively supports the AGS programme of country-wide Shows and it is extremely gratifying to hear the praise, from judges and senior officers of the AGS, directed at our team for the efficient, effective and professional way in which we manage the East Anglian Show at Wymondham. We should congratulate ourselves on the exemplary way in which we stage, prepare and run the event and on the way we present such a wide range of nurseries, offer dawn-to-dusk catering and, not least, on the friendly reception visitors, exhibitors and judges receive from our team.

The Group made a couple of excursions during the year, starting with a trip to Scotland. The trip could have been a logistical nightmare but all concerned seemed to agree that the travel, the accommodation and, not least, the gardens visited, could not be faulted.

Although, perhaps, under-subscribed on the day, the ‘local’ visit to Dale Farm was described by those who attended as a great success

We gave ourselves some respite this year by not organising and running a Norfolk Group Conference but, having made the decision to look to run one every other year we should, perhaps, be gearing up for another busy year in 2017.

One challenge we have had to set ourselves has been to sort out and ‘prune’ our Group Library. Many of the books, dated from the early years of the Group, have seen better days. Many have subsequently seen later, updated prints and editions and some have reached the stage where time has taken its toll and the actual fabric is disintegrating. A quick look at the patterns of lending has shown that a significant part of the collection has not been loaned to members in the past 5-10 years. A small sub-committee has sought to review our entire collection with the aim of disposing of a major proportion of the library – some will be offered for sale to Group members, some will be made available for sale at the Show and a small number will be ‘recycled’. The Group will, however, retain some major works of reference, the encyclopaedias, some of the monographs and a few more of historical significance.


None of the Group’s activities, the superb monthly lectures, the trips and the acclaim which comes from being party to the running of our successful Show would be possible without your Committee. It would be wrong to try 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 – because, I might just miss one! I will, therefore, thank your Committee and all our volunteers, on your behalf, for everything they have done to make the AGS Norfolk Group such a significant contributor to Norfolk’s botanical landscape and such a successful part of the national Alpine Garden Society.

And so to 2017 ........................
Ian Black, Chairman, AGS Norfolk Group.


Proposed group holiday in Scotland

As nothing has been finalised this is a progress report. The dates will be Friday 12th to Tuesday 16th May as this was the most preferred period. We had 18 people expressing a positive interest. The possible timetable (one week earlier than 2016) is below although subject to change:

Friday 12th: Rail travel and coach to Perth.
Sat and Sun 13/14th:to be finalised, but Branklyn will possibly figure somewhere, finishing up in Edinburgh Sunday evening.

Monday 15th: Edinburgh Botanic Garden.

Tuesday16th: Return to Norfolk.

For Saturday and Sunday we have a firm invitation to visit the garden of Prof David Rankin, President of the SRGC and also from Ian Christie to visit his garden. This looks as if he has a wide range of plant collections. He is also suggesting Forfar Botanist Garden and Brechin Castle Garden (not alpine but interesting) and a couple of local nurseries that may be of interest if we need somewhere to eat lunch. I will finalise a programme, then ask for final numbers to see if there is sufficient interest to run the trip.

Phil Blyth 





Feb 15 Kit Grey Wilson, Nepal

Mar 15 Local group show & photographic competition (schedules on page 4 and 5)

Apr 19 Jim Almond, The all year bulb garden

May 17 Kit Strange, Orchids of Öland

Jun 21 Diane Clement, A shady garden

Sep 20 Cliff Booker, Zion to neon – An American road trip

Oct 18 Roderick Woods, Australian adventures -
Trying to understand the amazing and shocking spring flowers of southern Western Australia.

Nov 15 Simon Wallis, Growing alpines at Cambridge University Botanic Gardens

Dec 20 AGM & Christmas social


In a packed programme this year .... a mixture of old and new speakers, professional plantsmen and enthusiastic, knowledgeable amateurs, all keen to share their passion for alpine plants and the growing of them.

Former editor of the AGS Bulletin, plantsman extraordinaire, Kit Grey Wilson kicks off our year in February. Be assured of excellent photos, expert commentary and a dry wit as Kit talks to us about Nepal. In April, Jim Almond returns. A seasoned exhibitor at AGS shows and an accomplished photographer, Jim will talk on bulbs through the year. Kit Strange, who works in the Alpine department at Kew, is no stranger to Norfolk having spoken to our group at Wednesday meetings and helped with practical demonstrations at our occasional one day conferences. An enthusiastic and often colourful speaker, in May she will take us to Öland, a region in Sweden with a rich orchid flora. In June, Diane Clement who has talked to us about ‘Cyclamen and Hepatica’ and ‘A Year in the Life of an Alpine Gardener,’ will share her experiences of growing alpines in a mostly shady garden. A retired teacher, Diane will be known to many as the manager of the society seed exchange but she also manages to keep her suburban Wolverhampton garden packed with interesting plants.

We reconvene in September in the company of Cliff Booker, remembered for his photographic tour de force around the Dolomites. This time he will take us on an American road trip which follows a journey from Utah through Arizona, Nevada and California to Vegas looking at the amazing diversity of scenery and fauna - and especially the incredible flowers - discovered along the way. In October, we welcome Norfolk member Roderick Woods who has offered to distil his 3000 odd pictures from a trip to see flora and fauna of Australia into an hour or so of highlights for our entertainment. Roderick writes: ‘Caroline and I garden six acres in West Norfolk - trees, shrubs, grasses, bulbs and a few Alpines in naturalistic, or a wild way, depending how you view gardening. We grow fruit and vegetables in more controlled ways. I used to breed irises and lilies, but now just Hibiscus. We met going to the Dolomites and would spend our lives amongst plants in the wild if we could. We need mountains! The talk will try to understand the amazing and shocking spring flowers of southern Western Australia’. Simon Wallis from Cambridge Botanic Gardens will fill the final slot in our lecture programme with a talk on growing alpines. Simon is Assistant Supervisor, Alpines and Woodland, at Cambridge University Botanic Gardens and recently presented a shortened version of this talk at the AGS AGM Conference.

Tony Goode, Programme organiser


The schedule for the local group show

Beginners section 19cm pot maximum:

Class 1 - 3 pans rock plants distinct

Class 2 - 1 pan rock plant in flower

Class 3 - 1 pan foliage plant, sempervivum or cushion plant (not in flower)

Class 4 - 1 pan bulbous plants

Class 5 - 1 pan rock plant from seed or cutting (date of propagation to be stated)

Open section 36cm pot maximum:

Class 6 - 3 pans rock plants distinct

Class 7 - 1 pan rock plant in flower

Class 8 - 1 pan dwarf shrub (includes conifers)

Class 9 - 1 pan bulbous plant

Class 10 - 1 pan foliage plant

Class 11 - 1 pan primulaceae

Class 12 - 1 pan cushion plant

Class 13 - A display of one or more cut alpine flowers not to exceed 20cm square Exhibitors are allowed 2 entries in each class.

Exhibitors cease to be eligible for the Beginners section if they have won the beginners section on 2 occasions or have won the Open section at the group spring show. 


2017 Norfolk AGS Photographic Competition

Portrait of an Alpine plant in the wild Portrait of an Alpine plant in cultivation Alpine plant(s) in a wild landscape Alpine plant(s) in a garden setting

A close-up or detail of an Alpine plant in its natural habitat or in cultivation Members may submit up to two entries per class.


For the purposes of the competition an “Alpine Plant” is any type of plant that might be seen in an AGS Show or in the Bulletin. Lack of altitude is no bar!

A “portrait” has the whole, or most of a plant(s) as its main subject.

All sizes and of photograph are accepted. Mounted or unmounted. The pictures will be judged solely on their photographic merit within the class description. Large or mounted images will not be favoured over small or unmounted images.

Please do bring entries along, as with the plant show, the more the merrier!

An AGS member for seventy years John Fletcher

Looking back over 75 years I realise that the road I have taken was the result of meeting folk, much older than I was, whose enthusiasm for alpines was infectious.

In 1939 having a father and mother who loved gardening, my sister and I were given a small plot each, in which we could grow any thing, except weeds!

I made a small Japanese garden using a set of pottery temples, lanterns and arches priced at 6 pence from Woolworths. Using various sorts of moss for decoration the effect was not very colourful. This is where fate took a hand.

An elderly Welsh lady, Mrs Edwards, saw what I had done. She said that she grew alpines which would add colour (and were small).The next Saturday I went to her house with a shoe box and a small trowel. She and her son Fred came to the front garden and the three of us talked about plant choices and the shoe box soon filled up. Fred Edwards was an AGS member and a judge at annual AGS shows in Birmingham.

In 1940 Birmingham was blitzed and we spent nights in our Anderson shelter in the garden. My father was in the 8th army in Egypt and in 1943 I went to King Edward 6th Grammar School at Camp Hill in Birmingham where fate again took a hand alpine wise as I soon found out. In 1946 I joined the AGS and to increase my alpine collection I wanted to go into the City. A nurseryman sold alpines from a stall in the destroyed market hall there. I had to get permission from my head master and ten minutes later I was in the Bull Ring and looking at the alpines on sale. I heard a voice at my back say “What are you doing here, Fletcher?” and I turned round to see a tall, stern looking English master from school. I showed him my pass and I turned my lapel back and showed him my shiny new AGS badge. He said to me “Oh, this changes things for me and you”. In school you will call me “Sir” and I will call you “Fletcher”. Outside school you will call me “Mr Drysdale” and I will call you “John” but keep your badge hidden in school. I was pleased to have a new friend!


I did not show any plants until 1950. Between then and 1960 I won one first class, five second class and four third class prizes at the shows.

My father came home from Italy safely in 1945 at the end of the war and I left school in 1948. I was apprenticed to train as a lighthouse engineer at the works of Chance Brothers in Smethwick and after two years I was awarded a 3 year scholarship to study for an engineering degree which I obtained in 1953.

My sister at this time was at Dudley Road hospital training to be a nurse and midwife and her tutor was Dr Parsons. Another coincidence, as Dr Parsons was a well known AGS person and a judge at shows, and I saw him each month at our local meetings in Birmingham.

At Chance Brothers, when I had finished my apprenticeship, I was asked to write an article for the monthly magazine and, having had a holiday in the French Alps with a pen friend, I was able to mention (you have already guessed it) the alpine flowers I had seen.

In 1951 I had a short article and photos of my alpine plants in my cold frame published in the magazine Popular Gardening and won half a guinea (the equivalent of £1.05 now) which was nearly half my weekly wage!

Chance Brothers closed in around 1960 and I changed firms four times in the next sixteen years and the Sempervivums which were now a fixed hobby had to take second place in my life. I still went to shows and monthly meetings but had little time to increase my collection.



At one firm we had bought a very accurate machine which had to be in a temperature controlled room. I had to speak to the engineer on the machine and was very surprised to see a large sheet of perforated hardboard which had in every hole a Primula or Auricula flower grown by the engineer. He was the Chairman of the local Primula and Auricula Society!

My next major change came when I married my wife Mary in 1983. She was much more involved in all types of flowers than I was and had a particular interest in propagation and she also grew ALPINES which meant that we had a mutual interest.

We bought Street Farm in 1982 and spent four years

renovating the house (another story) but as Mrs Thatcher abolished the West Midland County Council (our employer in 1986) we came to live here in Foxley. We started to go to the AGS meetings in the Norwich library and when it burned down later we came to your meetings at Hethersett and made more friends. We

still come to the shows but at the age of 84 it is difficult to drive at night.

I can only sum up my 70 years in the AGS by saying that our mutual interest in alpines is the catalyst which pulls people together. We may be competitive at show time but we are a generous crowd at other times.


The perils of living with a Galanthophile Brian Ellis

It is that time of year again! This is normally the season when some friends suffering from SAD escape to the sun to lift their spirits. It is a different matter here as I don’t have the option of seeking the sun and, thankfully, don’t need to. For those that stay at home there are, of course, some plants in the garden, mainly scented shrubs, that give much joy over the winter. Who, for example would be without a Daphne bholua if they had a suitable position? Nevertheless, I am sorry to say, my eyes are not lifted up so much to these, but cast down as I have a passion for the, (not so), humble snowdrop.


I blame it all on Rod Leeds and Richard Hobbs (sorry chaps). One year we were visiting Rod and Jane to see their Fritillary collection. It was, however, a late season when we arrived and there were no fritillaries to see but their garden was a mass of snowdrop clumps. I was flabbergasted as I had never thought beyond the ‘common’ Galanthus nivalis seen in roadside verges, churchyards and gardens. In fact there are now twenty known snowdrop species. The varieties in Rod’s garden showed marked differences in leaf colour, height, substance, markings, flower shape and there were even some with yellow marks instead of green! 


That same year Richard Hobbs gave a talk to a group of the then NCCPG, (now Plant Heritage), on propagation and included chipping and twin scaling of bulbs. I had to have a go and successfully chipped one bulb into eight and twin-scaled another into about 26 pieces. All survived and have grown to maturity.


We started to visit gardens known for their snowdrop collections, Richard Hobbs at Little Plumstead, John and Brenda Foster at Redisham, Ann Borrill in Wymondham, John and Judy Wilson at East Beckham, Jane Ann Walton at Swanton Novers and Anglesey Abbey. Everywhere my eye was drawn to an attractive clump or individual snowdrop that stood out from those around it and I gradually began to acquire some myself. It has to be said here that galanthophiles can be the most generous of people and love to exchange snowdrops for varieties that they have not got in their collection, consequently our garden began to fill with different forms.

Now you have to understand that I do not like cold, damp weather and the last thing you would have caught me doing in the past was visiting gardens in the winter! One of the snowdrop’s charms is their robustness. In french they are called ‘perce-neige’ and indeed they do pierce through the snow, it is not unusual to see a group of noses pushing through snow which has melted around them. Presumably the energy produced by the plant in breaking through the soil is sufficient to produce a local change in temperature. This occurs in many spring plants when there is snow on the ground, such as eranthis, and is a process known as thermogenics. No matter what the weather, they will stand up to wind, rain, ice and snow. Initially their scape (flower stem) may be knocked down to the ground but a few hours of wintry sunshine will have it once more erect and they will be braving the elements. They are far from tender!

To illustrate their variety I would name a few favourites. Of the twenty species those generally seen in the garden are forms of G.nivalis, G.elwesii, G.plicatus, G.gracilis and hybrids of these. Of course we are all enchanted by drifts of Galanthus nivalis, one of the most widespread naturalized snowdrops in the country - although not a native. It can be as tall as 18 cm and has a single inverted ‘u’ shaped mark, this mark occurring around the sinus (a notch) at the apex of the inner tepal. You might also notice that the leaves of the plant1are facing each other, in fact when coming through the ground they are like praying hands, this is known as applanate vernation. In other species the leaves can be folded back - explicative vernation or wrapped around each other - supervolute vernation.

Humour me whilst I describe four distinct Galanthus nivalis whose beauty lies not only in the form of the flower, but also in the appearance and stature when in a clump.


One of the most charming has been named ‘Gloucester Old Spot’, the flowers are of good substance and the receptacle is long and narrow, the sinus notch is large and the mark is not joined up but separated by the sinus into two spots.


Another G.nivalis variant is ‘Anglesey Abbey’ which can be poculiform (derived from the Latin poculus meaning a little cup). This means that the inner tepals are elongated and resemble the outer tepals so much so that they often have lost the green mark resulting in a flower with six, fairly equal, white segments.

Areas of Northumberland (in particular) have given rise to

snowdrops where the green marks have been replaced with yellow in varying degrees. These date back to 1877 when a Mr Sanders of Cambridge found a plant and asked the Revd. Harpur-Crewe to identify this form. They are named G.n Sandersii group for him. One of the most intensely coloured forms was found at

Lowick and has both a yellow inner mark and yellow receptacle.

In recent years one of the most desirable green marked snowdrops has been a strongly virescent flower named G.nivalis ‘Green Tear’. This was found in 2000 in a naturalised population of G.nivalis in Holland, it stood out as the outer tepals are broad and marked with soft green veins which merge into each other giving an overall impression of a green flower with white edges. The inner tepals are almost completely emerald green with a white border at the apex.


So here you have four simple variations in one specie as well as the
widespread single and double form. There are many, many more and I believe that in wild populations of each species variants are waiting to be found. Those six types multiplied by twenty species would give one hundred and twenty different snowdrops, and I haven’t even touched on the differences in the marks and flowering times. The season can be short and there is a lot to cram in, visits to like-minded friends, talks and plant sales.

Living with a Galanthophile - The real truth David King
So that’s one version of living with a Galanthophile. But what is it really like?

Of course snowdrops are only around during the winter season. Really? Well lets take their year as it unfolds. September/October is the kick off point with the Greek Galanthus reginae-olgae starting to flower so the chatter over the air waves of the internet or phone lines is starting to warm up. 


You get quite used to early morning telephone calls, although rarely for oneself, and hearing long chats about the latest nose to appear or flower to drop. I often wonder if the telephone companies that offer deals with free (in theory) sixty minute telephone calls realise what they have unleashed. After breakfast I normally look at my computer to check emails and make any updates to the horticultural group websites we run. I have a telephone next to me and more often than not it rings around 9am. It could be anyone and for either of us but much more likely it won’t be for me. Quite often I call out ‘it will be snowdrops’ thus avoiding answering the call. I do, however, occasionally answer and have a pleasant chat, to an amiable galanthophile friend. I am, of course, burning up those precious fifty nine and a half minutes. Not so daft as I look!

When I hand over for what remains of those fifty nine and a half minutes what follows is frantic conversation and then, suddenly, an abrupt end to the call as time runs out. Nevertheless in those precious minutes every white and green, or is it green and white, aspect of the little things has been discussed and dissected. By this time it is ten in the morning and plenty of time for even more callers and talk during the day.

The real season gets into full swing in the early months of the year, probably January through March when all the sales, galas and national group days come along. Of course because I do the driving I go to all those too. What excitement! All those telephone conversations all over again and again and again. Thank goodness I can amuse myself taking photos!

Then the season rolls on to a close. You must be joking. We now get to the digging up, splitting up and the repotting season in June and July. So yet more phone calls to talk about increases in number, size of bulbs, how many have gone to snowdrop heaven, how was the season for you? Will it never end? Well, no, it won’t as it starts all over again.

I realise that over the years I have come to know quite a bit about snowdrops and even recognise some in other peoples gardens. Am I on the slippery slope down? I don’t let on too much about what I know and our garden cannot cope with two galanthophiles. My kitchen garden is fast being invaded by them and I am having to cut back on sowing vegetables. Where will it all end?

I sometimes wonder how other people, who are not into snowdrops but, with snowdropping partners cope. What keeps them sane? If you are one perhaps we could compare notes. It might even end in fifty nine and a half minute phone calls. 


Garden opening dates 2017

Brenda and John Foster (01502 575298)


Sunday 12 February 11am – 4pm

Snowdrop Day in aid of The National Gardens Scheme
Large collection of snowdrops, aconites and cyclamen in a one-acre garden Entry £4.00

Sunday 4 June 11am – 5pm

in aid of The National Gardens Scheme Flowering shrubs, roses, perennials, water feature Entry £4.00

Sunday 3 September 11am – 5pm

Autumn bulbs and perennials
Collections of cyclamen, crocus, colchicums, fritillaria, erythroniums etc Free entry

John and Judy Wilson (01263 822241)

CHESTNUT FARM, CHURCH ROAD, WEST BECKHAM, NR25 6NX Sunday 26 February 11am - 4pm

in aid of The National Gardens Scheme

Sunday 5th March 11am - 4pm

in aid of The National Gardens Scheme

Sunday 29 May 11am - 5pm

in aid of The National Gardens Scheme

Sunday 9th July 11am - 5pm

in aid of The National Gardens Scheme

Sunday 6th August 11am - 5pm

in aid of St John’s Ambulance brigade Entrance £5 at each opening 

[ Back ]