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On the road – May 2023

June 22, 2023
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Yet again another action-packed month. Meconopsis are a mass of colour at RBGE and the alpine display house is packed with delights. Many of the early spring bulbs are beginning to go dormant and other plants are now taking centre stage.

At the start of May I attended the Czech Rock Garden Conference which was held in Prague. I had a great time visiting gardens and listening to lectures. On my return back to the UK, at weekends I fitted in a few other garden visits, including a trip to the Saxifraga open day held at Waterperry Gardens. I also visited Cyril Lafong to see his impressive plant collection. I was also very fortunate to attend the press day at the Chelsea Flower Show, to see the exhibits and meet lots of esteemed and inspiring people.

The Alpine Yard at RBGE - May 2023

Work at RBGE

At work, many of the early flowering bulbs are now starting to show signs of dormancy. We have been feeding them regularly with high potash to encourage good flowering next season. Once they go fully dormant, feeding will stop and the bulbs will be kept dry. Shading is essential for many plants during the summer months. A number of the glasshouses have had whitewash applied to stop direct sunlight hitting the plants which could cause scorching.

Out in the alpine display house, as some of the bulbs have gone over, other plants are taking centre stage such as several species of lewisias. A close relation I rather like is Lewisiopsis tweedyi, a species that occurs from British Columbia to central Washington.

Many arums and cypripediums have also begun to flower. One which has been looking good in the display house this month is Cypripedium parviflorum x calceolus. Out in the gardens at RBGE, it is the start of the Meconopsis season.

Cypripedium parviflorum x calceolus

Cypripedium parviflorum x calceolus at RBGE

Czech Rock Garden Conference

I have been waiting eagerly to attend the Czech Rock Garden Conference ever since last autumn, when I used my savings to book a place at the event. On 4 May I flew over to Prague and then made my way to Pruhonice, where the conference was held. The Czech are well known for their crevice gardens – a type of miniaturised alpine landscape and they sure are good at it! During the first two days of the five-day event, we visited eight amazing gardens. I was mesmerised by each one and I was able to take inspiration from all of them.

Vojtěch Holubec’s garden

Vojtěch’s was the first garden we visited. His garden is small but packed with wonderful plants.

Vojtěch Holubec rock garden

Vojtěch's rock garden

Going around his house, he has created a limestone rock garden. Each area is planted based on where plants came from. Vojtěch also has a large collection of witches’ broom conifers, scattered throughout his garden. Hidden behind the main rock garden is a recently built tufa wall which is also home to alpines from around the world. As you walk around the house the garden becomes much shadier with tree canopy cover. Here he grows lots of woodland plants and a number of areas are home to ericaceous loving plants.

Vojtěch's rockery was packed with alpines

Zdeněk Zvolánek

Commonly known as ZZ, Zdeněk is a famous Czech crevice gardener. After hearing so much about ZZ from various people, it was great to finaly meet him and see his fantastic garden. This is known as the ‘Beauty Slope’, a very steep garden built in an alkaline volcanic rock quarry. Walk up the steps into the garden and as you turn the corner you are greeted with a steep bank. Masses of Aethionema are growing here. Climb along a narrow winding path to arrive at the top where the garden levels out slightly. You can take many different paths through his garden. One area I really liked was in the far corner, set at the bottom of a cliff, where Fritillaria imperialis grows among self-sown pulsatillas. Daphnes were in full flower and looking wonderful. Up on the rock faces you are greeted by sempervivums growing in cracks in the rock.

Jiří Papoušek

Jiří’s garden is made up of many different areas. From a tunnel which houses a landscaped tufa bed to raised beds where woodland plants grow in shade, and several crevice beds dotted around. He also has an alpine house and a tufa wall out in the open garden. As you enter the garden you are greeted by a recently finished crevice bed. I loved this area which had clever rock positioning to create micro pockets for plants. I was amazed how within one small area there was such a wide range of thriving plants. Fastigiate acers are used to add height while daphnes, saxifrages, gentians and cushion plants all added different textures throughout.


Jiří's new crevice bed in his front garden

Jiří's new crevice bed in his front garden

At the side of the property, Jiři has built a long tunnel through which you can walk. On the right side of the tunnel, he has created an impressive tufa landscape which is over 10 metres long. The tufa is home to many plants that are tricky to grow, needing protection from the winter weather. He grows a good selection of dionysias here. Jiří is also known for his Daphne collection and many of these shrubs are growing in these tufa walls. One daphne that caught my eye, with its pure white flowers was Daphne arbuscula ‘Czech Crystal’.

tufa wall

Jiří's tufa tunnel

Daphne arbuscula Czech Crystal

Daphne arbuscula Czech Crystal

After two days of garden visits the rest of the conference consisted of lectures delivered by people from all over the world. There were locals from the Czech Republic and many other people from the Netherlands, Scotland, and as far as Iran and Australia. I had a very enjoyable time attending the conference. I returned home with a camera full of pictures, a notebook full of notes and a head filled with inspiration.

A visit to Cyril Lafong

Cyril is widely known for winning many prizes at the northern shows. He regularly goes home with the trophy for the best plant in the show, as he grows a wide range of plants to perfection. I was fortunate to visit him and his alpine collection this month.

Part of his garden is on terraces with raised beds which are home to plants he has collected over the years. Cyril has raised lots of alpines from seed and they are now flourishing in his garden. During my visit, the first seed-raised Meconopsis delavayi plant had just started to flower on his patio.

Meconopsis delavayi

Meconopsis delavayi in Cyril Lafong's garden

At the back of Cyril’s garden there is an area where he nurtures the plants destined to be exhibited at shows. Several greenhouses and access frames are allocated to different plants and one greenhouse contains seed raised plants to grow on. Other areas are home to his bulb and daphne collection.

One of the largest greenhouses has plunge beds running along both sides. It is packed full of interesting plants, mainly cushion-forming, all grown to perfection. Cyril pointed out that getting the correct light level is extremely important. If shading goes on too soon for the summer months, the plants will elongate. It is also important to make sure plants get as much light as possible in the winter months. He recommended that as soon as temperatures reach 20 degrees, shading should be applied to the greenhouses. Cyril is widely known for growing daphnes, many of which he has raised himself. It was intriguing to see how he grows them and his grafting setup. I was thus able to gain some hints and tips for growing daphnes successfully in the future.

A tray of recently grafted Daphnes

Chelsea Flower Show 2023

Towards the end of the month, I was fortunate to attend the Chelsea Flower Show on press day and to attend the President’s Lunch.

It was great to see so many impressive exhibits and to meet lots of fascinating people, especially those who I will be working with next month whilst helping Carol Klein to create a show garden she designed for the RHS at the Hampton Court Garden Festival. In the great pavilion I very much admired the stand of Kevock Garden Plants. The display consisted of different areas representing conditions which alpines grow in. What I enjoyed most about this stand was that there was such a wide range of alpine plants in such a small area. It was very cleverly put together and it didn’t matter how many times you walked around the stand, every time you would spot something you didn’t see before!

Plants of interest

Paris luquanensis

Striking dwarf Paris, one of the most desirable of the genus. This species is native to China ( Sichuan, central Yunnan)

Edraianthus pumilio

Native to Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia. Can be found growing in limestone crevices at altiudes of around 1500 – 2000m. Photographed here thriving in tufa in the West Midlands, UK.

Edraianthus pumilio

Edraianthus pumilio

Physoplexis comosa 

Commonly known as devil’s claw, native to the French and Italian Alps. The word ‘comosa’ means tufted. Here it is seen growing in the tufa wall at RBGE

Physoplexis comosa

Physoplexis comosa at RBGE

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.