Alpine Garden Society

01386 554790
[ Back ]

Narcissus December Gold and 2013 talk reports

Narcissus December Gold
Many years ago I received some bulbs of Narcissus romieuxii from the late Sturtevant Piggin, a member of the Nottingham Rockgarden Club and, later, a major benefactor of the AGS. Among the pale-flowered plants was one with larger, darker yellow flowers. I isolated this and grew it on separately. Later I was able to share it with my friend Ann Borrill. It was she who noticed that it tended to flower earlier each season until it became an Autumn-flowering Narcissus. I named it and registered it as December Gold (although it sometimes flowers in November.)

Obviously it would be interesting to know the origin of this plant which is presumably a hybrid. I am not aware that Sturtevant did any deliberate cross- pollination so the possibility of it being a wild hybrid has to be considered. He had taken shares in the early expeditions of Jim Archibald to the Atlas Mountains and received Narcissus bulbs in his share. However without DNA studies it is difficult to imagine what species could have been involved.

Whatever its origin December Gold has considerable horticultural merit and it would be good to see it commercially available.

Ray Cobb



Ray Woodliffe
I regret to advise you Ray has passed away.

Ray was always keen to attend our meetings, but had not been able to do so for about two years. He kept in touch by enquiring about our monthly meetings and lectures and of the AGS nationally. He was among the first to renew his membership each year, well before the AGM in December, even though he could not get to meetings.


Following Freda’s death some years ago and having created a plantsman's garden, over many years, Ray moved to smaller accommodation in Gedling with no garden. He experienced ill-health and at one time he was in hospital for about three months before returning home. He became wheelchair bound but that did not stop his positive, enthusiastic outlook or dampen his love of alpines, which was always to the fore, with his books and catalogues always evident on his lounge table, within reach of his wheelchair.


Despite not having a garden or the ability to tend one in the usual sense, Ray created an amazing avenue of troughs, about 6 metres long, on each side of the level path, running along the back of his house, wide enough for his wheelchair. The space was less than three metres deep. The troughs were raised to his level in his wheelchair so he could look after them. His love of saxifrage and miniature conifers enabled him to create beautiful landscapes in the troughs over the past two or three years. It was an amazing sight to admire, looking along the whole display, which was completely concealed and private. A sight to impress everyone.


Ray and Freda were founding members of Nottingham Rock Garden Club, in 1950 and Ray, at one time, had a very large collection of dwarf willows. Over many years, he was an avid exhibitor, with great success, at AGS and RHS shows around the country.


He also introduced a variety of dianthus which he named after Freda and which, for some years, has been sold by Aberconwy Nursery and is still in their catalogue.


Ray will be sadly missed by those of our members who knew him.


Nottingham Local Group 2014 Newsletter Introduction
I have tried to develop the Group’s Newsletter more along the lines of a report of activities. Hopefully this might enable infrequently attending members to see what they have missed and provide a memory jog to those who attend meetings and want to look back at aspects of a talk. Where possible I will obtain notes and slide lists from the speakers, If this is not possible I will attempt a summary of the talk. Thanks are due to Alwyn Foster and Peter Noon for help with this.
There is a wealth of gardening and botanical information available to members in the AGS quarterly publication The Alpine Gardener, also elsewhere and of course on the web. The Committee however would still like to include items of interest from members in the Newsletter. Do you have a useful tip for growing a particular plant? Have you visited somewhere, a garden, park, nature reserve at home or abroad where you have seen interesting plants that members might like to know about? Contributions of a paragraph or two to a longer description would be most welcome. I will not edit any piece without communicating with the contributor.



Please let me have your criticisms, suggestions for improvements and corrections. And of course contributions by e-mail will be gratefully received.
 Alan Filmer
 Quiz – can you identify these iris?
 Answer at the end of this Newsletter



The following are reports on some of the talks given recently.

Saxifrages ? Across the world and in the garden - by Malcolm McGregor
Malcolm McGregor is the author of the recently published book. Saxifrages – The definitive guide, published by Timber Press. He was thus very well qualified to give this talk. From the outset he asked for questions to be asked as he went along rather than at the end as he was bound to over run. We duly obliged. In the introduction to the talk he defined a plant placed in the family Saxifragaceae. This has two stigmas connected to two ovaries and two rings each of 5 stamens. There are also 5 petals but this is not a requirement of the definition. When looking at flowers in the wild I would identify a member of the genus Saxifraga by noticing the outer ring of 5 stamens are longer and tend to lay outward so that the anthers lie between the petals. This however is not a rigorous observation.
The family contains several genera in addition to the genus Saxifraga, it includes Bergenia and Heuchera for example.
In the second part of the talk Malcolm explained that the Saxifragaceae had a circum polar distribution in the northern hemisphere plus a small outlier in the Andes. During the waxing and waning of the ice ages over the last 3 million years this distribution had moved north and south in response to the advance and retreat of this northern ice sheet. This had left four main areas having a large number of species. These had become effectively isolated from each other and now contain rather different genera and sections. Questions were asked about this isolation and how seed was distributed. It was established that seed was wind distributed and that desiccation of the seed prevented it from travelling too far. There was further discussion at this point about how long Saxifraga had been on the planet. This point is dealt with later in this Newsletter. The four areas of distribution are Europe (principally the Alps), the Himalayas, the North American Rockies and the areas of Russia and Alaska either side of the Bering Strait. In each case the principal genera and sections were described and illustrated.
Finally, the question of Saxifraga in the garden was dealt with. This included hybrids and selections as well as species. This section also prompted questions and discussion.
It was an excellent talk with lots of member participation.
How long have Saxifraga been on the Planet?
This item was prompted by a question to Malcolm McGregor during his talk on 14th November. See above.
To answer this question a fossil saxifrage flower would need to be found. If the geological layer it was found in could be dated, then this would give a minimum date. However fossilisation of a flower is rare on land and as any gardener knows, flowers are very fragile and made up of separate parts. The chances of a flower not falling apart, being eaten or rotting are vanishingly small.
Prior to 1981 only two fossils of a flowering plant in flower that could be identified had ever been found. One of these was identifiable as a form of Magnolia and could be dated to about 130 million years ago, the Early Cretaceous.
Another line of research was pursued in the early part of the twentieth century by a number of taxonomists and in particular J Hutchinson who spent most of his life as Keeper of the Kew Gardens Herbarium. Their aim was to try and see how the 350 or so families of flowering plants (the Angiosperms) were related to each other and to arrange them in an evolutionary order based on similarities between families and a concept of “primitiveness”. There was no way of absolute dating of geological strata at this time. A further problem is that many families would have become extinct. Hutchinson published a number of books on his conclusions during his life time .
His conclusions were disputed by many but have generally survived until molecular (DNA) evidence became available. The researchers from this period concluded that the most primitive of the flowering plants were the water lilies and the magnolias and that most flowering plants had evolved from the order Magnoliales. In Hutchinson’s evolutionary scheme the order Saxifragales is fairly early in the succession.
From these two lines of research, geological and taxonomic, a latest date for the appearance of flowering plants on Earth was considered to be 130-140 million years ago. And this is the date given in all text books on botany. However many geologists, having taken into consideration the movements of the continents and the modern distribution of plants, consider this date to be too late.
Another problem is what did the magnolia evolve from? The most likely candidate offered by taxonomists is a branch of the conifers (gymnosperms) known as the gnetales However gardeners will recognise a vast difference between the flowers of these two sub-divisions and that this must indicate a evolutionary gap of many millions of years, The fossil record back to about 290 million years contains many fragments of extinct plants that show some of the characteristics of flowering plants but also some of those of conifers.
The other geological problem is that from 330 to 200mybp all the continents were grouped together as the super continent of Pangea which began to break up 200mybp. The distribution of the families of flowering plants between the northern and southern hemisphere continents suggests that the earliest flowering plants or their direct predecessors should have arisen before the break up of Pangea.
Two developments in recent times have thrown a little more light on this problem but also raised many more unresolved arguments. One recent advance has been to recognise fossil pollen and interpret this in the evolutionary scheme of things.
As implied earlier, a break though occurred in 1981 when researchers in Sweden found fossil plants in a china clay deposit. These had been carbonised in three dimensions and some have been identified as saxifrages and dated to 93 million years. The saxifrage was named Scandianthus Since then a wealth of fossilised carbonised material has been found on other continents. It seems that the more data that has been obtained in the last 20 or so years the greater the disagreements between experts have become. Including whether Scandianthus is a Saxifragale, although it would certainly fit the criteria given by Malcolm McGregor in his talk. So for the time being the best answer is 93 to 127million years for saxifrages. But other angiosperms go back to at least 140 million years ago and extinct plants intermediate between gymnosperms (conifers) perhaps back to 290 million years ago
Further reading
Fossil Plants by Kenrick and Davis 2004
Evolution and Phylogeny of Flowering Plants by J Hutchinson 1969 and earlier dates
Kingdom Plants
Division Spermatophyte ie seed plants
Sub division Angiosperms ie flowering plants
Class or clade eg. Monocotyledons or dicotyledons
Order Saxifragales ie. a group of related families
Family Saxifragaceae includes saxifrages, begenias and heuchera
Genus Saxifraga
Species Members with in a Genus

Dwarf Bulbs throughout the year. Michael Myers
Our speaker gave a very good insight into the subject ?on hand, backed by some excellent photography. Clearly a very keen snowdrop fan, he described how some varieties bulk up very easily, whilst others find it difficult to multiply. Many varieties were shown to us. For well over 100 years this flower has given much pleasure as one of the earliest spring flowers to be seen. Many new varieties have come to the fore over the period, some reaching rather ridiculous prices as sold on the Internet. The double petal variety ‘Charlotii’ being prone to losing its yellow markings in the following years. Another variety ‘Trym’ 1994, has rich markings on outside of petals. There could soon be a version with yellow anthers. A slight sweet aroma exists with some varieties. Twin scaling is now popular to increase bulk numbers. I recall the good lecture given to us a few years ago by Ray Cobb on this subject. Leucojums, which are closely related to Ssnowdrops were well described, and looking at its lampshade flower head a few contain yellow tips, and also green tips, in some cases. The bright yellow of winter Aconites makes a pleasing winter colour alternative. Many varieties of miniature Narcissus were shown, and their presence with several varieties of Crocus gives a pleasing display year on year, as can be seen on ‘The Strays’ at Harrogate, in naturalized conditions.
Puschkinia and Erythronium provides pleasing alternative shades of colour, the later bulking up much quicker if they are positioned on slate, below their root system. Cyclamen coum and Corydalis were well covered in his talk giving an alternative colour range from November through to April. The many delightful shades of Anemones add to the general colour scene. Fritillarias — particularly meleagris and Erythronium were both considered popular bulbs as a ‘follow on’ within the season, the former doing particularly well in meadowland situations. Both were good for naturalizing. Within the shady areas of forests wood Anemones and Trilliums were well covered in this lecture. Moving to the autumn we saw several varieties of Cyclamen hederifolium, Colchicum, not forgetting the Arum with its attractive red berries. Nerines, the wonder bulb from South Africa provide us with a variety of shades of colour to see us well through the autumn period. Yes, this was an interesting presentation, and offered his audience of over thirty people some good cultivation advice, and ideas. Peter Noon.

Flora & Fauna of Patagonia & Central Chile - Tony Willis
Tony was a former member of Nottingham Rock Garden Club. After retirement, he fulfilled a wish by visiting Patagonia & Central Chile ‘to see the other side of the world’. He had originally been attracted to John Watson’s articles in the AGS Journal during the late 60’s, and was able to confirm the articles were to be both true and accurate. His tour started from Santiago in central Chile — a narrow coastal country, say 2700 miles long and 100 miles wide. He showed some excellent photos of local buildings and native people, before turning his attention to the subject matter. His search was for fauna and flora, and soon encountered black neck swan, upland geese, Chilean flamingo, black faced ibis, and red shoveler duck. Several different species of orchid family were found including Chloraea alpina; Chloraea magellanica; & embotluyiums. Several varieties of Calceolaria were discovered which included C.uniflora (C. Darwinii) a rhizomatous evergreen perennial with dark green leaves & orange/yellow flowers. At one point he was well entertained by the South American Fur Seals & pups, and a beach colony of penguins were quite friendly. A fungus known as Indian bread was seen healthily growing on a bBeech tree, and also red mistletoe was seen growing well on cactus. Calceolaria arachnoidea, Mimulus cupreus, and Ourisia ruelloides were enjoying the climate in this area. A very brief day visit across the border into Argentina via the Tino Valley gave him some good photographs of the grey or Patagonian fox, and also the crested caracara. Sisyrinchium graminifolim (half hardy - yellow flowered rock garden plant standing about 8 inches tall), Alstroemeria hookeriana (half hardy perennial, about 2 inches tall with pinkish flowers), Schizanthus gillesii, and grahamii (both statice), large clumps of oreopolus — an attractive white flowering small rock garden plant, hundreds of Oxalis adenophylla — aboutsay 4ins tall with lilac/pink flowers, and absolute masses of violet congesta were seen before he had completed the time allocated to him with his border pass, to complete his holiday in Chile. A very pleasant evening indeed. Peter Noon

A Shady Garden - Diane Clements
This talk gave a peep into Diane’s garden, near Wolverhampton. She described her ‘plot’ as a long narrow garden with greenhouses, frames and an Access shade house, and all in a protected position at the bottom of her garden. She seemed to develop her theme on the first two seasons of the calendar. During and after the snow melt period- a lovely shaded area of various types of galanthus, Cyclamen coum appeared, and also put C.coum to good use in troughs nearby. She furthered the springtime with eranthis, white and red Ashwood helebores together with several hybrids, including seedlings of lemon x red. Several varieties of corydalis and erythroniums added good colours. Late spring gave her a good display of rhododendrons with anemone undergrowth, together with sanguinaria doubles in various colours, displayed under an ‘umbrella’ of Rhododendron merganser. Her ‘woodland and shady’ border contained Hacquetia epipactus, and also a nice alpine blue Primula denticulata made a good show, whilst ‘Erythronium “White Beauty’ and varieties of Dicentra ‘king of hearts’ showed good splashes of blues and yellows. The later spring saw that several varieties of triliums, and meconopsis being present with a ‘light blue mophead’, and racemosa being monocarpic. A slope near to the house supported a Rhododendron triangle, including sargentianum — the whole area covered in leaf mould and crushed coco shells. At present she is creating a ‘woodland’ bed using Lilium mackliniae and various sSaxifraga with attractive foliage. Several paeonies were present, including japonica and veitchii. Being a very keen fan of John Massey at Ashwood (and who can blame her!) she is trying to develop new shady spots as far as her garden will allow — encouraging self plantings where possible, including probably her favorite flower, the hepatica. This was a very interesting talk from a lady who is completely immersed in Alpine matters with the AG.S. (including being seed distribution manager). She is also a very keen raiser of seed - particularly cyclamen and Hepaticas, and has given many lectures and guidance notes on the A.G.S. website, and within the quarterly bulletins in the past. Her photography and computer knowledge is excellent, and she is always prepared to share ‘secrets’ of her successes with her listeners. One is left wondering how she finds sufficient time to keep on top of her main interest — her own garden!!! Peter Noon

?The Burren? ? David Mountfort
The Burren means a rocky place of limestone — covering about 1 % of the total area of Ireland situated in the county of Clare, and bounded by the Atlantic and Galway Bay, and, of which a small section has been designated as the Burren National Park. It is the smallest park in the Republic, and is rich with historical and archaeological interest. There are many megalithic tombs around, and among them a number of ring forts.
The bed rock is limestone which was formed as sediments in a tropical sea, during the Carboniferous period, with 300ft. cliffs on the coast, The strata contains fossil corals, crinoids, sea urchins, and ammonioids. The limestone pavement is criss-crossed by cracks (grikes and clints) main due to the dissolving action of rain on the limestones (solutional weathering). There are isolated rocks (erratics). Glaciation contributed greater denudation, and this area is recognized as one of the finest examples of glacio-karst landscape in the world. It gives the Burren a very long growing season, and supports rich plant growth. It supports Arctic, Mediterranean and alpine plants in close harmony. Woodland plants can be seen growing out in the open with no ‘umbrella’ to protect them from the sun. Sheep & cattle are more prevalent in the southern regions of the area where the limestone bedrock disappears under a layer of glacial till, and this area also supports silage and pastures. Wildlife includes fungi, frogs, and butterflies and moths. Wild flowers are in abundance with spring Gentiana verna, and marsh and spotted orchids, and many varieties of grasses. Also, heath land heathers, hellebores, good coloured lichens, polygala, geums, primroses, cranesbill, saxifraga, & ferns and butterworts — to name but a few, are all present and thriving well. May- June is supposed to be the sunniest time, and probably the best time to view the scenery. This proved to be a most interesting and informative talk. Thank you, David. Peter Noon

Show and Tell evening
In excess of 70 splendid specimens of plants where brought by nine members. These made a marvelous show display. Because this is a non competitive show, members are able to bring not only magnificent show specimens but also usual rare plants not normally seen on the show bench.
There were outstanding show plants brought by Robert Rolfe and Jean Wilson, some very interesting trilliums brought by Tony Lee and a large number of unusual bulbs brought by Peter Taggart. The nine members each talked briefly about their plants. This most interesting evening was then capped by a buffet of food bought by members and coordinated by Sue Miles.

European wild Orchids by Dr Tony Hughes, Vice Chairman of the Hardy Orchid Society.
In his talk Dr Hughes introduced members to the structure of orchids and explained how insects use then to obtain nectar, although some orchids cheat and don’t provide any in spite of having a temping spur. Others mimic insects to tempt a mating attempt, while others provide shelter. All three strategies succeed in prompting an insect to pollinate the orchid. There were magnificent close-up photographs of all of these activities in action.
Tony then introduced the most common British orchids and explained the recent name changes where by some orchids in the genus orchis have been moved to the anacamptis.
We then visited three localities photographically to see the typical orchids found there. These were Turkey, French Alps and Sardinia. This nicely covered extremes of the range of habitats in Europe and the Near East and particularly introduced the idea of endemicism in isolated locations. Happily Dr Hughes is not a splitter and to our great relief lumped lots of the very diverse members of the genus ophrys together.
To further illustrate the problems of lumping and splitting in orchids our speaker then showed a wide range of inter species hybrids and inter genus hybrids.
A most interesting and well illustrated talk delivered in an accessible way.

Aspects of the flora of Turkey by Tony Rymer
Tony had visited Turkey in March/April several times, both independently and with a number of AGS groups.
Much of Turkey is very mountainous and his talk illustrated the flowers seen in both the SW and NE mountainous parts of this very large country and the Anatolia area. The rocks are principally limestone, some of which has been metamorphosed to marble. The southern areas share some of their plants with the northern Aegean Greek islands, but many plants are confined to Turkey and other nearby mainland countries. These include a large number of “special” plants of great interest for alpine house cultivation and the show bench. These included a number of iris including oncoyclus and juno types which make stunning photographic subjects. Also numerous fritillaries, cyclamen, gaga, crocus, colchicum, anemones, tulips, muscari, scilla, hyacinthella and orchids.
It was very interesting to see so many of these special plants growing and photographed in their natural habitat.

Primulas; Sowing, Growing and Showing by Jim Almond
There was a full house for the return of Jim Almond to the Group who gave one of his
characteristic humorous talks, packed full of useful information.
Sowing advice
Store in a refrigerator at 4C for up to 10 years.
Use clean plastic pots
Label and keep records.
Use a copper fungicide in the water when sowing.
Compost JI2 1 part – sharp sand 1 part – Perlite or vermiculite 1 part
Top dress with grit and sow on the grit, don’t bury the seed.
Sow in winter.
Prick out when big enough to handle easily, not too small.
Be careful when watering.
Give shade.
Protect from slugs.
Growing advice.
Use clean clay pots.
Keep cool and moist.
Remove tired leaves and flowers.
Annually repot into slightly larger pot in spring.
Check for pests and diseases, vine weevil, red spider and root aphis particularly.
Always use clean pots and good labels.
Remove all imperfect material.
Many examples of good show plants and varieties were shown.
Jim then continued to talk about plants in the garden with lots of growing tips and plants around the world.
A very informative and entertaining evening.

AGM and Members Evening
Due to the lengthy discussion that followed the AGM about the AGS’s suggestion the Society’s name might be changed to make it more appealing there was only time for one member’s talk.
Bob Taylor gave a beautifully illustrated talk on one of his passions – auriculas, covering, growing in the wild, appearances in art, classifications, growing and displaying.


Quiz Answer

Two colour forms of Iris suaveolens photographed on Mount Ambelos Samos Grece at around 1000m on marble rocks by Inga Filmer. A pan of the yellow form was awarded a Farrar Medal at the Midland show in 2013 for Rannveig and Bob Wallis.   It is pictured on the Ags webite.


[ Back ]