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The refurbished alpine house at Wisley – December 2023

December 11, 2023
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Where to start the new Diary?

One of the main changes that took place in the Alpine Department at Wisley this year was the complete re-development of the Alpine Landscape House.

In June 2022 the old roof of the Landscape House was removed. It dated back to the 1980’s and had manually operated vents for ventilation and lacked automatic shading. The Wisley weather station has recorded average temperatures that are 1.3°C warmer during recent summers (1991 – 2020) compared to 1961 – 1990. In 2022 the garden saw the highest ever day time temperature at over 39°C.

Wisley Alpine House before the new roof was fitted

Alpine House before the new roof was fitted

The House had a new roof fitted onto the existing brick structure. It was also recognised that many of the cushion plants being grown in the Elliott house, that were put into the Alpine Display house for brief periods of time while in flower, could be enjoyed by visitors the whole year, if planted out.

It also allows the roots to delve deeper than they would when the plants are kept in pots. The root runs will be cooler than would be achievable in the Elliot House. It also gives the plants an opportunity to reach a size that would not be possible when grown in pots that have to be capable of being moved in and out of the Alpine Display House. According to some of the horticulturalists who have been at Wisley since the 1980s, this is now the third design in this house since it was erected.

It was also recognised that the cobbled floor wasn’t very conducive to visitors with reduced mobility and who relied on electric buggies or wheelchairs to get around.

Whilst we were very grateful to the team that had undertaken previous constructions, we just wished they hadn’t used such substantial foundations. Some of them would have been appropriate for a motorway flyover. I’m sure they never thought that it would be taken apart.

The yellow Sussex sandstone on the right hand side was completely removed. Some of the planting on the left hand side was retained. The tufa that was used was repurposed from material that came from Ingwersen’s. This had been stored in the alpine yard since the nursery closed in 2008.

New paths allow access around the tufa beds

The planting in this area is expected to take a number of years to mature and and spread. The new layout allows visitors to get much closer to all the planting areas. The house was officially opened on 26th July.

At the western end entrance, one of the sand beds has been removed. The tufa wall on the external north and south facing sides have been retained. The new facility has shading on the south facing side and automatic roof and side vents. New sliding doors completed the transformation.

The refurbished alpine house was officially opened on 26th July

Within a few months some of the plants have already settled in and are spreading, such as Rhodiola pachyclados. It used to be a Sedum, also known as the Gray stonecrop or Afghan stonecrop. Not surprisingly it is found in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan. It has blue-green rosettes. The name comes from the Greek for rose/rosy (rhodon) as the roots have a rose-like smell. The specific epithet comes from the Latin for stout/thick (pachy) and for branch (clado).

Rhodiola pachyclados - credit Hamish Sinclair

As most of the planting is spring-flowering, I’ll take pictures next spring when there will be more colour and interest.