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Study tour and winter jobs

January 14, 2022

During the last month, I had a great opportunity to do a three day alpine garden tour with Amy and Aaron, for knowledge sharing, plant swaps, and chat with other alpine professionals.

We first travelled down to Birmingham Botanical Gardens and Glasshouses, a familiar place to me, as I was a horticultural apprentice there in 2014 and grew to know the gardens very well.

We were treated to a tour around the different parts of the gardens by Wayne, Head Gardener, and Guilio, Senior Horticulturist. It had been around 5 years since I had last visited so it was so wonderful to see the changes, projects and improvements that Wayne and his team have completed (and are still working on!)

diary AGS apprentice

Visiting the National Cyclamen collection at Birmingham Botanic Garden.

We looked at their National Collection of Cyclamen species which were fascinating with the various leaf formations and some bright flowers peeping out. Cyclamen are definitely a genus in which I’m becoming more interested.  I have previously only grown coum and hederifolium and now I’d like to grow other species and try them from seed too. (Something to look for in the AGS’s seed distribution this year…)

The Alan King Alpine Garden

I was impressed by the development of the area now named as the Alan King Alpine Garden previously known as the Alpine Yard.   The beds are set out in a naturalistic rocky landscape which really works well and invites you to explore the individual sections which are laid out in geographical areas. Two glasshouses sit towards the bottom of the landscape, one displays alpine plants in pots and the other has plants growing in tufa. There’s also an alpine meadow which runs alongside the space. I’ll definitely be back again to see how things develop and to appreciate all the hard work the team are putting in at BBGG.

Aaron, Amy, Giulio and Bertie. Credit Giulio Veronese

Our next visit was a whole day exploring RHS Wisley. This was my first serious visit there and I was impressed by the huge scale of the gardens. We had a look round various areas before visiting the new RHS Hilltop which looks out over produce-growing gardens and orchards.

The Hilltop at RHS Garden Wisley

Chloe, who is one of the alpine team at Wisley, gave us an insightful tour around the alpine garden,  glasshouse and the extensive collections behind the scenes. There were lots of exciting plants to be seen and I particularly enjoyed seeing their impressive rock garden which is built onto a hillside.  The running water and different vistas you get along the various pathways are impressive.

Our final visit was at Cambridge Botanic Garden. This was arranged with Helen, whom I met through the Professional Gardener’s Trust and used to be the Supervisor of the Alpine and Woodland areas at CBG.  We had a guided tour by Simon around the glasshouses, alpine potted collections (including National Collections of Saxifraga and Tulipa). It was good to compare how they are cared for and how they manage the Cambridge climate compared with how we do in Yorkshire.

Behind the scenes at Cambridge Botanics

We also looked round the Rock Garden and heard about the ongoing revitalising work that has been happening and how they propagate older specimens in advance so they are ready for when they redo the different geographical borders in the future.  I found it difficult not to stay and offer my hand with the work!

To end our trip, Helen took us on a tour around the public glasshouses and the rest of the gardens. It was so interesting to hear her thoughts behind the Systematic Beds, the use of native plant areas and the Winter Garden and how they are interpreted to the general public.

My thanks to all those involved and who helped make these trips and tours happen – I can’t wait to visit all three of these sites again!

The rock garden at Cambridge Botanic Garden

Jobs at Harlow Carr this month

We have an alpine quarantine glasshouse, where plants are stored and monitored for set periods of time before being allowed into the main collection.  Here we have been cleaning potted Salix plants by removing dead and dying leaves and any debris on the grit top dressing.  This prevents the spreading of any fungus that they might have brought into the garden.

Our various alpine stockhouses had to be washed to remove the last of the spray-on shading so the plants can make the most of the winter light. General maintenance continues daily in our display areas and the behind the scenes stockhouses and all the time we are vigilant for pests and diseases.

Seed cleaning was completed on the seedheads that had been collected earlier in the year so they were ready to be stored and then sown in the near future. Some of the seeds included Calceolaria cheliodonioides, Primula forrestii, and Erigeron umbellatum.

I helped Aimee complete the mulching of the old Peat terraces.  The small azaleas and Rhododendrons received an extra collar of rotted pine needles whilst the rest of the borders were carefully mulched with a mix of leaf mould, pine needles, and well-rotted manure. On the edges of Aimee’s woodland areas we used an ericaceous mix to mulch along with well-rotted manure. Some of the leaves that had fallen earlier in the year hadn’t been removed so we added them to the mulch.


We have created a new compost mix for Petrocosmea, comprising equal parts of perlite, vermiculite, and John Innes so we were ready to get them tidied up and repotted before Christmas. Petrocosmea are a genus that have recently caught my eye and I have started researching into the genus as part of my weekly plant profile study afternoons. I am very excited that Amy has kindly let me take the lead on improving their care – so watch this space!

Harlow Carr Petrocosmea potting mix

The Arisaemas were also repotted by tidying up the tubers and removing old rotted off material.  We checked for any new bulbils. The Soldanellas were also repotted and are now looking much fresher and ready for the winter.

We also completed the repotting of Incarvilleas and Lewisias by removing old and rotted leaves and roots along with as much of the old compost as possible. They were then planted so that the crown of the plant was just resting above the top dressing. We trialled half of each variety in a new gritty, peat-free compost mix and the other half in the previously used alpine compost mix to see if there is any difference in performance.

I’ll end this month’s blog with Massonia longipes, a plant that has recently attracted my attention in the Alpine House. This is a fascinating plant that could be compared to a sea anemone. It is in the Asparagaceae family and native to South Africa.  It is a bulbous plant which boasts dark green, pustulate foliage (which remind me of toad-like warts) and a very short creamy flower in which the stamens are the star of the show. It’s important to be be extremely careful when watering Massonias as any water that sits in the centre can cause rot. If you are visiting Harlow Carr over the winter, do pop in the Alpine House to see this amazing plant!

Massonia longipes


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