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Spring delights – March 2024

April 7, 2024
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Spring has arrived, the last of the snowdrop flowers are fading away and many other gems are now in bloom. Alpine enthusiasts know how busy this time of the year is!

As always, if I am not in the alpine department at RBGE, I’m out and about visiting places. It was great to attend the Joint AGS & SRGC show held in Kendal and be part of the RBGE team putting on a display that won again a gold medal. I have also attended the AGS Hepatica Day. I was fortunate again this year to visit Pen-Y-ghent, in the Yorkshire Dales, to see the limestone cliff faces dripping with Saxifraga oppositifolia. In Dundee I went to see Margaret and her late husband Henry Taylor’s Garden; they are a couple known by many in the alpine world.


The Alpine department at RBGE is full of fascinating plants in flower. I take any chance I get to walk around the gardens to see the start of the rhododendrons flowering. In the alpine potting shed we have been busy propagating many plants including saxifrages, and haberleas from leaf cuttings. Temperatures are slowly getting a little higher, and regular checks are made for pests and diseases. At this time of the year, we also check the seed frame, in case seeds we’ve sown in January have germinated. If germination has occurred, the pots are moved into the glasshouse to grow on a little more until we prick the seedlings out. I’m glad to see that many unusual and rare things are now germinating.

Out in the public area at RBGE we have been busy with a project re-freshing the shade frame by digging and dividing many plants up. During the summer months the frame tends to dry out rather quickly. To help with this, we added a mixture of 50:50 peat free John Innes and RBGE’s own leaf mould, to add more goodness to the soil and retain moisture. With all the alpine team hands-on, including the volunteers, we got the job done pretty quickly.

In my April diary entry last year, I mentioned planting dionysias in the tufa landscape bed in the Rovero house. Many have taken off, and now plants are growing well. Some have even started flowering, including a specimen of Dionysia curviflora x tapetodes.

Saxifraga oppositifolia in the Yorkshire Dales

I was quite keen to join David Morris and fellow plant enthusiasts again on a trip to Pen-y-ghent in the Yorkshire Dales in search of the fabulous S. oppositifolia growing on the limestone cliffs there. Despite the snow forecast, we still went and no snow was to be seen!

Yet again I was blown away by the sheer numbers of S. oppositifolia. We were nearly blown away when the wind picked up tremendously. As we walked over to the north side of Pen-y-ghent, all across the limestone cliffs you were greeted by saxifrages in full flower. I took a close look at many of the plants, and it was interesting to see how variable they were. Some plants were much more compact than others, and many flowers were of different shades of purple. Half way around we sheltered from the rain and high winds and had our lunch surrounded by S. oppostifolia; what more could you ask for!

This was a great day out with keen plants people, and I can see this trip becoming an annual event for me.

Garden visit to Margret Taylor

Aaron Marshall and I were invited by Jim Jermyn to go visit Margret Taylor’s garden. Margaret and her late husband created the garden over many years in a village west of Dundee in Scotland. I was blown away by her amazing collection of alpine plants, all grown in a small garden. This really is a treasure of a place for everyone keen on alpines.

While showing us around the garden, she recounted many stories connected with the plants she grows. Margaret and her late husband Henry, spent a lot of time abroad trekking up and down mountains on the hunt for alpines. The two of them are known for the plant introductions they have made over the years. They were also keen to cross plants. Many fabulous introductions have been made because of their passion for hybridising and making even better plants.

It was an enjoyable, inspiring visit. Hopefully we will visit again later in the season, to see the meconopsis in flower.

Plants of interest

Ranunculus crithmifolius

A wonderful plant spotted on the show benches at the Kendal alpine show. From New Zealand, in subalpine screes on the South Island.

Ranunculus crithmifolius

Ranunculus crithmifolius

Hepatica pubescens

One of my all time favourite hepaticas. In the wild, it can be found growing in central Japan at altitudes of around 300 – 800m. This particular form is rather attractive having dark red pistils.

Hepatica pubescens

Hepatica pubescens

Celmisia semicordata ‘David Shackleton’

Celmsias come from New Zealand. I photographed this fantastic and rare clone in Margret Owens Garden. She said she has managed to successfully root a couple of plants. It is a joy to see this cultivar in the flesh.

Celmisia semicordata 'David Shackleton'

Celmisia semicordata 'David Shackleton'