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Another busy month – October 2023

December 4, 2023
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The last autumn shows of 2023 have now been held. I attended two of them in October, the joint AGS/SRGC Show held in Hexham and the AGS show at Harlow Carr. I was also fortunate to spend a week at Harlow Carr, working in the alpine and woodland department with their wonderful and enthusiastic team. At RBGE we are still busy repotting the extensive bulb collection but the end is now in sight. It’s great to see that so many of the plants we repotted are now flowering well.

Joshua in the Alpine Display House at Harlow Carr

The RBGE have a large collection of bulbs which we have been working through, repotting. With peat soon to be banned, we are trialling a new compost mix consisting of peat free John Innes no2 with added grit and composted bark. So far the results are encouraging. The autumn-flowering bulbs which were repotted using this mix a few months ago, are now flourishing and making their way into the alpine display house.

Looking particularly good this month are the autumn-flowering crocuses. These take me back to fond memories of my trip to Greece in 2018, where we saw lots of different species, such as Crocus goulimyi, including the white form subsp. leucanthus , Crocus niveus and many more.

We have finished repotting the Fritillaria and Gymnospemium collections and we are coming to the end of repotting the iris collection, next we will move on to the tulips. During the last few years, the iris collection has suffered an infestation of iris aphid. The team has now taken necessary measures to combat this problem. The sand in the bulb plunge bed has been sterilised, and while we repotted the collection we removed the top layer of bulb skin. All debris which could harbour iris aphid has been removed.

Gymnosperiums repotted and plunged

Gymnosperiums repotted and plunged

All bulbs were then dunked in Flipper, a contact only insecticide, before being repotted into fresh compost in a sterilised pot. All the iris pots are now back in the Rovero House sand plunges. We have not top dressed these pots in order to be able to monitor the plants closely for aphid around the plant crowns. A number of the Irises have already started to grow, so the collection has been watered. Watering will continue throughout their growing season.

Repotting Juno Iris at RBGE

During the AGS Traineeship I was given the opportunity to work at various horticultural establishments. The RHS garden Harlow Carr was one of these, and I chose to spend one week in October and two weeks next spring. This will give me the chance to help out with some exciting new projects.

I had been looking forward to this placement, working with the team that looks after this RHS garden. The team show huge enthusiasm and passion for what they do. On arrival I received an introduction from the garden curator, Paul Cook, and a guided tour around the site. It was great to see so much wonderful autumn colour. In the alpine department I caught up with team that I would be working with for the next week.

Throughout the week, we carried out a variety of tasks including repotting the Primula collection, which consists of many varieties of Primula auricula and P. marginata.

Root mealybugs love primulas, so to keep these pest away all the plants were cleaned up and all dead foliage was removed. The plants were then knocked out of their pots and all of the compost was removed as well. Before repotting, the plants were dunked into SB Invigorator, an environmental pesticide. Harlow Carr used to repot the primula collection in September but they found they were getting increased losses due to the late summer heat. Instead, the collection is repotted a little later, in October.

Every morning, before the garden was opened to the public, the team and I headed to the alpine display house. This is when we had the chance to go through the display house, watering, sweeping up, picking over plants, deadheading and changing the display.

It is important the display house looks in perfect condition before the gates open for the general public to come and enjoy.

The plunge beds in the Alpine Display House at Harlow Carr

On one of my days at Harlow Carr, I also worked in the woodland with Aimee. This gave me the opportunity to work closely with more fantastic plants. Aimee had started mulching the old peat terraces with a mix of leaf mould, well-rotted manure and pine needles. First we focused around the greediest plants, which we knew would benefit from a good mulch. We sprinkled blood fish and bone around the Meconopsis and using hand forks we carefully dug it into the top layer of soil. We then added a good layer of mulch around each plant. For protection, we added a good layer of pine needles on top of the crown of cypripediums; these are commonly known as the lady slipper orchids. When growth occurs in spring, the needles will be pushed away from the plant crown. The pine needles will eventually decompose into the soil. We left the old flower spikes on so we could see where the plants were when working in the borders; in spring the old stems will be removed.

As the AGS Trainee, I really enjoy working in various gardens. These work placements are a great way of learning different techniques. I have been able to see what works best for each place I’ve been to, while having the opportunity to work with different collections of plants. I look forward to returning in early 2024, to help out in the last stages of creating the new rock garden at Harlow Carr, which is situated in front of the alpine display house. (Ed. You can read all about this exciting new project, online, in the June 2023 issue of our journal, The Alpine Gardener).

The new rock garden at Harlow Carr

Plants of interest

Viola pedata

Growing in a pot in the plunge bed display at Harlow Carr. Commonly known as bird’s foot violet. Grows to around 4 to 8 inches in height. In North Carolina it can be found growing in dry rocky or sandy forests.

Viola pedata

Pterostylis coccina

The Australian redwood, an autumn flowering orchid. Native to New South Wales and Victoria. Seen here on the show benches at the Hexham show, grown by Bob and Rannveigh Wallis.

Pterostylis coccina

Colchicum speciosum ‘Atrorubens’

Seen en masse growing under trees in the gardens at RBGE. A rarely offered form with wine-purple tepals and purple stained stems.

Colchicum speciosum 'Atrorubens'

Colchicum speciosum 'Atrorubens'

As a charity, the AGS supports the development of knowledge and skills in the alpine field by funding the AGS Trainee Scheme. During the 18 month placement, the successful candidate has the opportunity to work at various horticultural institutions (such as RBG Edinburgh, RBG Kew, RHS Garden Harlow Carr, RSPB Haweswater Nature Reserve and the AGS Garden at Pershore). The work includes maintaining and enhancing the alpine plant collections in all the gardens as well as management of plant records. At RSPB Haweswater the trainee with help with conservation work.