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November 2023

December 21, 2023
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The bulb collection at RBGE is in good order and records have been updated on the database. We are now in the process of re-plunging all of the bulb pots before the cold nights begin. November is the month of the Annual AGS Conference. I attended the event in Stratford Upon Avon and made use of my few days off, visiting some gardens before heading back to RBGE.

Autumn colour at RHS Garden Harlow Carr

The Edinburgh Scottish Rock Garden Club held an event one Saturday consisting of a series of lectures that were accompanied by a tour around the botanical garden and its glasshouses. These are currently being restored.

In the alpine yard we are in the process of cutting back herbaceous plants and adding a good thick layer of mulch to the borders, ready for spring bulbs to emerge in the months ahead. Here is a little more detailed account of what I have been up to this month.

Plunging the bulb collection

The bulb collection is now all repotted we have been plunging all of the pots into the raised sand plunge beds.

Plunging pots into sand is a great way of growing many alpine plants and bulbs. Using terracotta pots, which are porous, allows the plant to take up moisture when needed. This also provides a much easier way of watering, simply by keeping the sand plunge moist. However, if pots are not plunged correctly this method will not work. Here is the method I have been taught at RBGE.

Step 1) Sand is dampened if dry which makes it easier to excavate the sand. Pots are laid out onto level sand and arranged into alphabetical order.

Getting ready to plunge the bulb collection

Step 2) Each pot is firmed onto the sand to mark the spot and sand is excavated using a bonsai scoop. This is a fantastic tool which I have found works better than a trowel.

sand is excavated using a bonsai scoop

Step 3) Once the hole is dug to the same depth as the pot, a small cone shape is made at the bottom, in the middle of the hole. This will make sure full contact is made between the sand and the pot’s drainage hole; for good water uptake.

a small cone shape is made at the bottom to ensure water uptake

Step 4) The pot is dropped into the hole with the rim just above the sand. Sand is then firmed around each pot by hand, making sure there are no gaps between the surface of the terracotta pot and the sand.

the rim of the pot sits just above the sand

Step 5) Once complete, the sand is levelled around the pots using a hand brush. Finally, the sand is given a good watering with a hose on the shower setting. This will help settle the sand in and eliminate air gaps.

the sand is levelled using a brush


We have been working through the borders in the alpine yard, weeding, cutting back the herbaceous plants and collecting leaves. The majority of leaves have now fallen and will be put onto the compost heaps in the nursery. Mulching is an important task for a number of reasons. Mulching adds organic matter for plant growth and nutrients, reduces water loss in the summer months and it also suppresses weeds. Of course it looks decorative too. Now with the borders all mulched, we look forward to seeing the snowdrops start to make an appearance along with spring bulbs in the coming months ahead.

Mulching material

AGS conference and garden visits

The annual AGS Conference weekend took place again in early November. I attend this event every year, and this gives me the chance to listen to lectures given by passionate plants-people; many with different backgrounds in the horticulture industry. One talk I was really looking forward to was given by Martin Hajman on the Tromso Artic Alpine Botanic Garden. I was amazed to see what fantastic plants they can grow in their climate. I have always wanted to visit the botanical gardens in Tromso and now, after hearing Martin’s lecture, I want to go even more!

A visit to Harlow Carr

I travelled down from Edinburgh to attend the AGS Conference with my friend and colleague Aaron Marshall. We decided to take a few days off it and visit some gardens. The first garden we went to was RHS Harlow Carr; we timed it just right for spectacular autumn colour as illustrated at the top of this page. We made our way to the alpine department where the display house was full of autumn-flowering alpines. An impressive range of petrocosmeas were in full flower. Outside the display house, growing in a trough, was a stunning specimen of Saxifraga fortunei ‘Gokka’.

Beth Chatto

I have always wanted to visit this garden, a place known by many. After working with a few members of their team at Hampton Court this summer, I was even more determined to visit.

It was great to stay for a whole day, spending time looking around the garden and meeting the entire team. We were given a guided tour and were lucky to go behind the scenes to see the day-to-day running of this fantastic place. Emily Allard kindly showed us around the tunnels and glasshouses of the nursery. I was astounded by the sheer size of the place and by the great plants they produce. We went into the propagation glasshouse. I saw a plant which I never thought you could take cuttings from: Eucomis. Emily explained how easy it is and that they have a good success rate. Emily also explained that all the cuttings are placed on a heated bench and all the trays of cuttings are top dressed with sand. They are currently trialling top dressing with cork.

In one of the tunnels, I was drawn straight towards some fantastic plants of Saxifraga fortunei ‘Black Ruby.