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The rock garden is stirring – February 2024

February 28, 2024
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The joint spring cyclamen and iris show took place on 10 February

The combined efforts of the Cyclamen and Iris Societies were on show, on Saturday 10 February. The alpine team here at Wisley, also put on an attractive display table with some cyclamen, iris and other spring plants in flower.

I could have composed a whole diary entry just about this show, but I’m sure both societies have or will cover it fully elsewhere.

Iris reticulata 'Harmony'

I liked both of these irises shown by John Mullen; I could have included so many more.

Iris reticulata 'Alida'

Not a competitive display from the alpine team this year, perhaps next year? Theirs was a mix of spring flowering plants with some cyclamen and iris.

Wisley alpine team display

The rock garden and fern glade are shaking off their winter slumber

I took all these pictures between 10 – 19 February. When I was contemplating starting this diary, I thought that finding or selecting material might be difficult in the winter months. The reality is, I have to select the material to leave out. It is a nice dilemma to have.

A number of log piles were added this month to several of the borders in the fern glade, as work on redesigning this area continues during the winter months. There are plans for additional large rocks to be added. This will help to link the fern glade to the main part of the rock garden. I will talk about this in future diary entries.

All the paths in the rock garden were covered in Cedec (crushed silvery grey granite) last year. It is already blending in. This has been popular with visitors who noticed it is much easier to walk on. The scale of the paths is greater than you would have at home; given the footfall the paths have to be quite substantial.

This seat in the fern glade has been enjoyed a little too much by the wildlife

We are fortunate to have a number of beetles in the fern glade. Their grubs have enjoyed this seat as much as the visitors. It is on the list to be replaced as the current state is deterring people from sitting on it. Good clumps of Galanthus nivalis ‘Magnet’ are surrounding the seat now and other flowering bulbs will take over later in the year.

The second picture is of Cardimine quinquefolia, the five leaved cuckoo flower . It can have white, pale pink, lilac or purple flowers.  It will tolerate dry shade and if planted under trees, as it is at Wisley, it goes dormant by May as the leaf canopy develops. The species was first described by Friedrich August Marshall von Bieberstein (1768 – 1826). It is a native of Romania and Iran.

The Cyclamen coum bed is starting to flower

There used to be many more Cyclamen coum under the acer trees.  I have heard a number of explanations as to why the numbers decreased several years ago. Whatever the reason, their numbers are starting to recover. The flowers come in many shades of pink, and the leaf patterns and colours also seem to vary between plants. I can see why these are so popular with cyclamen enthusiasts.

Fritillaries are not just for the alpine house at this time of year

The top terrace border, just below the cushion house, is another great planting opportunity.

There are many plants that enjoy the cooler, north facing aspect, with its well-drained soil. Currently Fritilaria raddeana is in full flower. In the wild, this fritillaria species can be found across north eastern Iran, Turkmenistan and Kashmir including the western Himalayas. It grows in rocky ground in half sun / shade. The high level of grit that has been incorporated into the soil prevents the bulbs from rotting. The specific epithet was chosen in honour of  Gustav Ferdinand Richard Radde (1831 – 1903); a German naturalist and Siberian explorer. He also founded the Natural History Museum of the Caucasus.

Snowdrops are in full flower in various parts of the rock garden as well as the fern glade

I’ve included pictures of snowdrops in the Alpine Display House over the last few entries. They are also planted outside, from the fern glade to the main rock garden.

Galanthus nivalis f. pleniflorus ‘Flore Pleno’ AGM is shown on the left. It gets its name when you let scientists name plants rather than gardeners. New York, New York, so good they named it twice, is the line in the song from the 1977 film. The Latin pleniflorus translates as double flowered, while the translation of flore pleno is double-flowered / full flowered. I can confirm it is doubled flowered and is also scented.

Galanthus ‘Hippolyta’ is a Greatorex double, which often produces two flowering stems per bulb. It was raised by Heyrick Greatorex (d.1954). He had been a Cavalry officer in the Great War. He made many crosses of G. nivalis ‘Flore Pleno’ x plicatus. He named his selected crosses for female Shakespearean characters. Hippolyta appears in Midsummer Nights Dream; in Greek mythology she was Queen of the Amazons (nothing to do with the popular shopping site). Heyrick lived in Brundell, Norfolk. In later life he was a recluse, living in a converted railway carriage at the bottom of his garden. I would have loved to have known him.

Narcissum cyclamineus and Primula ‘Theodora’

I like the colour combination of the yellow / purple planting. Narcissus cyclamineus appears to grow better outside than it does in pots in the collection, at Wisley at least. The specific epithet is from the Latin  for cyclamen – like a cyclamen flower with its reflexed petals.

Primula ‘Theodora’ is a sport of Primula vulgaris, found growing in Norfolk in the 1940’s. The common name primrose comes from the Latin names, prima – first and rosa – rose. It is so named for being the first rose-like flower in the spring. It is not at all related to the rose family, Rosaceae, perhaps this is why you shouldn’t let gardeners name plants and leave it to the scientists.

Cyclamen cyclamineus

The refurbished cushion house is experiencing its first spring

Before moving inside, it’s important to remember the cushion house has outdoor tufa walls as well which are planted with alpines. The two pictures show the difference between the south facing (hot and dry) and north facing (cool and shady) external tufa walls. These provide a range of very contrasting planting opportunities. The two pictures show the contrast in planting even at this time of year. There are already some saxifrages in flower with primulas not far behind. I’m not exactly sure of the name of the saxifrage so it will remain un-named for this diary entry.

Dionysia aretiodes ‘Bevere’

This species forms lax to fairly dense cushions. It grows on shaded limestone cliffs in the Elburz Mountains of Iran. It was a selected and named by Ron Beeton, after his alpine plant nursery near Worcester.

Dionysia aretiodes 'Bevere'

Oxalis obtusa

Oxalis obtusa ‘Sunset’ and O.obtusa peach-flowered have also settled into their new home in the cushion house. O. obtusa are common and widespread across Namaqualand to Knysna, growing in sandy or clay soils. There is a great deal of variation in both flower colour as well as size and shapes of the leaves.

In flower in the Alpine Display House this week

Here are some of the plants that you can see in flower, in mid-February, in the display house at Wisley. Ipheions are found growing in the upland areas across Uruguay, Argentina and South Brazil. Ipheion uniflorum ‘Charlotte Bishop’ AGM was raised from a chance seedling from I. uniflorum ’Wisley Blue’ in the garden of John Clare.

I. uniflorum ‘Froyle Mill’ was raised by Mrs O. Taylor-Smith and was discovered growing at Froyle Mill at Alton.

Ipheion sellowianum was named for Friedrich Sellow (1789 – 1831), a German botanist and one of the earliest European scientific explorers in Brazil.

Finally in this section, Ipheion ‘Jessie’ which was raised by Tony Hall from seed of Ipheion ‘Rolf Fielder’ grown at Kew. It was named for his late sister. The next time someone tells you that raising plants from named cultivars is a waste of time, as they don’t come true, you might get something that is even better, or at least different. Be prepared to discard many inferior plants along the way.

Corydalis are also represented

Corydalis henriki is found growing in deciduous woodlands in Turkey. Its flowers can vary from pale pink to white and have dark or purple tips on the inner petals. It was named for Herik Zetterlund, a Swedish botanist. For once, this is not a person from the dusty, distant past. Henrik was born in 1953, a mere youngster. Corydalis solida subsp. solida ‘Munich Sunrise was featured in one of Paul Cumbleton’s Wisley logs and I particularly like the colour.

There were several Muscari in flower

There are more grape hyacinths coming into flower. Muscari armeniacum can be found growing throughout southeastern Europe including Armenia (as implied by the specific epithet). The first picture is of M. armeniacum ‘Christmas Pearl’.

The second picture is M. armeniacum ‘Big Smile’; this has particularly large flower spikes and puts a big smile on the faces of gardeners. It did on mine.

Cyclamen persicum

Sadly this species is not frost hardy. At Wisley they are overwintered (when not in flower) in the South African House which is kept frost free. The specific epithet comes from the Latin for Persia. It grows in north Africa, eastern Aegean and north eastern corner of the Mediterranean including Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan. There is great variability in leaf and petal colour, as seen here. The first being C. persicum and the second being C.persicum var. persicum f. puniceum. Pink in Latin being puniceum, which is where the colour puce is also derived from. Given the colours of both plants you would be forgiven thinking that I had muddled up the pictures. The first is very puce.

Hepatica nobilis var. japonica

The first of the hepaticas are coming into flower. These have the names Wisley selection No. 20 and Wisley selection No. 17. The specific epithet is from the Latin – famous / grand / noble. I like the pink and green combination in No. 20 and the spotted petals of No. 17.