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Spring is here – March 2023

April 20, 2023
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Spring has arrived!

After the brilliant experience of spending three weeks working at the RBG Kew, I headed back to Edinburgh, where I was greeted by the spectacular start of the spring bulb season. Much of the collection was starting to flower and it was a great joy to see many alpine beauties in bloom.

During March the alpine shows are in full swing and we attended the joint AGS/SRGC show at Kendal where I had the chance to help the alpine team from RBGE build a display of alpines in pots. The following weekend I went to visit Glenn Shapiro’s National Collection of Hepaticas.  I also went on a trek in the Yorkshire Dales, to see Saxifraga oppositifolia growing in the wild.

Let’s look at some of these things in more detail.

Pulsatilla grandis in the alpine yard at RBGE

Arriving back to Edinburgh

Returning to Edinburgh after being at Kew for three weeks, I found that the plants had really started into growth. It was great to see the extensive collection of Primula allionii in flower. A number of these were collected in the wild during a John Mitchell and Harry Jans expedition in 2005. The large collection of bulbs were coming to life day by day. There’s a huge choice of plants to display in the alpine house for the general public to enjoy and I took so many photos that I had to buy a new SD card for my camera.

One evening, I had a walk around the rock garden to see what was flowering and was mesmerised by the large drifts of Narcissus cyclamineus happily seeding around. The weather has been quite pleasant in Scotland which meant lots of watering to do in the Alpine Department. The sand plunge beds need to be watered quite often to keep the pots moist and cool. Potted plants are now given a potash feed using a Dosatron dosing pump set at 1% for a weak solution.  Later that evening, I attended a lecture at the Edinburgh and Lothian group at RBGE, where Harry Jans talked about his travels in Armenia.

Propagation of Saxifrages

In some instances, RBGE have limited numbers of particular species or cultivars, in which case we need to propagate them to ensure their survival. This month we have been propagating many Saxifrages. We used the same method of taking cuttings as Adrian Young at Waterperry gardens.

Seed trays are filled with sterilised river sand which is tamped down firmly to be sure there are no air gaps and then watered thoroughly. We then collected cutting material from parent plants by removing lower rosettes. Back in the potting shed the work area and tools were sterilised.

We worked carefully to separate the rosettes and remove dead material. Using a sharp sterilized blade, a cut was made to reduce the stems to around 1cm to 1.5cm in length. Any old roots were cut off, using the blade. This encourages the plant to grow fresh roots. Using a square ended chopstick, a hole was created in the sand. Cuttings were then inserted and the sand was firmed hard around each plant. This is important as it ensures the stem has full contact with the sand into which new roots will grow.

The trays were moved into a semi-shaded greenhouse on a sand plunge bed which will be kept moist and checked regularly. As soon as cuttings have formed roots, they will be potted up. I look forward to doing this in the near future when many of the new plants will be planted straight into tufa.

On the hunt for Saxifraga oppositifolia in the Yorkshire Dales

I was invited by David Morris (AGS President), to join Tom Freeth (AGS trustee) and his friend Joe Clements on a trek to Pen-y-ghent in the Yorkshire Dales. Our main aim was to see Saxifraga oppositifolia growing on the limestone cliffs. I seized the chance to see this beauty as I had never seen it growing in the wild, only in cultivation. I think it is important to see plants growing in the wild and learn about the conditions they prefer.

As we reached the location and started the walk up to Pen-y-ghent, we noticed in the distance dark clouds were forming. Very soon the heavens opened and we were in for a rather wet day. Despite the conditions, we soon found Saxifraga oppostifolia growing on the limestone rocks. Our worries about the weather disappeared and we were very excited to see the plants.  We noticed the saxifrage flowers came in varying shades of purple. David Morris pointed out to me the location where Saxifraga oppositfolia ‘Theoden’ was found, which is a variety which is grown in gardens by many people, including myself. I thoroughly enjoyed the day out and look forward to going back to Pen-y-ghent again in the future.

A Visit to the National Collection of Hepaticas

After spending a day in the Yorkshire Dales, I went on to Hazelwood Farm in Silverdale, the home of Glenn Shapiro. She is the holder of the National Collection of Hepatica species and cultivars. Her garden has amazing limestone cliffs which surround the house and outbuildings.

I have visited Glenn on numerous occasions before, however, this was perfect timing to see the collection of Hepaticas in full flower. I was especially interested to see that Glenn is trialling different varieties of Hepatica in the open garden. Walking around the garden it was wonderful to see many of them thriving and flowering well, including H. japonica forms. Growing under a tree and flowering very well was Hepatica x schlyteri ‘Red Max’. The garden can be observed from its many paths on various levels and there is always something interesting to see.

Kendal Show

I visited the joint AGS and SRGC show at Kendal, and helped the RBGE team put on a display of alpine plants from its collection.

It was an enjoyable experience for me and I got to help throughout the process.  This involved picking plants to take on the day, preparing pots and creating a mock display. We drew a diagram to see where to place the plants in the display before storing them in crates and heading down to Kendal. There is much time, effort and dedication put into exhibiting, organising and making these shows possible, and it is always a pleasure to attend the shows as it gives you the chance to meet many growers and gain hints and tips, as well as buying plants from the specialist nurseries.

I had the chance to shadow the judges as they walked through the plant exhibits that had been brought to the show benches. The judges pointed out how to inspect the plants and what attributes they are looking for in award winners. After an enjoyable day we headed back to RBGE with a gold medal which we were awarded for the display.

Plants of interest

Fritillaria yuminensis

A Chinese species which grows to around 40cm in height. It has scented, bell-shaped blueish flowers. This is a particularly interesting species, as there are only a handful of Fritillaria species which have a scent.

Fritillaria yuminensis

Scoliopus hallii

Native to coastal areas and the Cascade ranges in Oregon, USA. The pleasantly fragrant, small flowers have a colour similar to caramel. A hardy species, grown outside in semi-shade here at RBGE in Scotland.

Scoliopus hallii

Fritillaria aurea

Reaching 4-15cm in height this fritillaria has large bell-shaped flowers which are yellow, chequered with reddish markings. Fritillaria aurea comes from central Turkey, where it is found on limestone rocks at altitudes of around 1800-3000 metres.

Fritillaria aurea

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.