Taking the Plunge

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I decided finally the other week that I wanted to use the greenhouse more for my alpine and bulbs.  I have lots of pots of bulbs and they are currently stored under the staging in the greenhouse with the aim of them drying out over the summer.  However, I have read that plunging the pots in sand is very beneficial.  It is particularly good for plants that don’t like their roots too wet.

The new staging arrived the other day sooner than I expected which meant a chaotic couple of hours which the staging was assembled and plants moved around.  I hadn’t really thought about such simple things as how you fill the plunges but strangely it turned out to be more involved than I had thought.

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If you just tip the sand into the plunge it really doesn’t work and you don’t get the neat appearance you see in alpine houses.  It turns out you have to fill the plunge with a few inches of sand and then compact it with something like a brick.  Then you carry on doing this layer by layer until the plunge is full. This makes the sand bind together and means that when you cut the holes out for the pots the sand doesn’t collapse.  Having typed this it does sound a little OCD but it does work and it is strangely satisfying!

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I have struggled to find information about setting up a plunge bed; no doubt the audience is a little limited.  However, I came across a wonderful resource on the Alpine Garden Society website – The Wisley Diary.  This was written from 2007 – 2012 by Paul Cumbleton the head of the Alpine section at Wisley.  Of course reading such articles is like signing up to the council of perfection but I suppose it’s a starting point.  Paul advocated laying out your pots in advance so they aren’t crowded and it looks neat.  Anyway, it was quite entertaining a bit like making sand castles but in reverse.

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Of course having filled the plunge with my alpines I realised that part of the plan was to accommodate the pots of bulbs! So these are still in the trays under the staging but the plan is now to move them into the plunge as they are coming into flower.

I have no idea if I am doing things right but it seems to me that the only way to learn is to have a go and see what happens.  Seeing the plunge full of alpines makes me smile and I have a suspicion that this is the beginning of a slippery slope.  The only obstacle is space for more frames, although there is a plan fermenting in my mind.

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16 Comments Add yours

  1. Jean says:

    They look beautiful, Helen. I’ve never heard of doing that but then, I don’t have a greenhouse (though I so wish I did!).

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Jean
      I think it is peculiar to alpines

  2. Adam D says:

    It looks great Helen.

    The new staging reminds me of the Alpine greenhouse at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh

    Ps. This is my first post on your blog although I have been lurking for a wee while and very muvh enjoying your blog.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Welcome Adam. I am glad you like the blog and thanks for commenting

  3. You can read more from Paul Cumbleton about sand plunges in the Wisley Log feedback pages of the SRGC website : http://www.srgc.net/forum/index.php?topic=768.msg17928#msg17928
    There is lots more about sand plunges and their usefulness via a search of the forum and the Bulb Log – the experiences of a great many alpine gardeners in one place.

  4. Great idea, I am going to play with the concept and see if I can make something like that work for me. My climate is similar to yours and I have a lot of the same issues.

  5. Sigrun says:

    Very interesting – I taught at Barnsdale, when I saw your pictures.
    Sigrun

  6. Linda says:

    Wow! It looks lovely!!

  7. jv says:

    Thank you – I have been inspired to do this myself!

  8. I am very impressed Helen! I have never heard of a plunge bed nor this method. I love the way it looks (I probably have OCD). Now I’m off to research more. P. x

  9. bittster says:

    Who would have thought filling a tray with sand would be so complicated! I love the finished look, and I like how your alpines are taking over! Good for you, it’s such an interesting area to explore.

  10. Pauline says:

    You certainly are a committed Alpine grower, it looks so good and professional, I’m sure you will have lots of fun arranging all your plants when they come into flower.

  11. Shirley says:

    Hi again Helen – I like, a lot 🙂

    Very interested in this deep staging (especially as I have the same size of greenhouse). If you don’t mind me asking – where did you get it? I’ve toyed doing this myself many times over the years. Like Adam above, I am very familiar with this through Edin Botanics

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Shirley
      I got it from Two Wests Elliott. They do different sizes and I believe will even make to your specifications. look at the Bulb Log on Scottish Rock Society and you will get all sorts of advice

  12. Shirley says:

    Thanks Helen, much food for thought now… an interesting website, I’m enjoying browsing 🙂

  13. Mandy Jones says:

    Hi Helen
    I’m really interested in how your alpine house goes. I too have just bought a West/Elliott plunge bench just like yours. My greenhouse seems about the same size as yours in the photo too. I haven’t bought the sand (or the plants yet!!), but I will do over the next few months. Yes, I know it’s the wrong time of year, but that’s life. Everything I’ve read suggests that the greenhouse will be too warm and that it’s even worth taking out some glass in the greenhouse. Since it took two days for me to set up the greenhouse I’m certainly not now going to take any glass out, so I’ll be very interested to see how you get on. I’m guessing you’ll be a couple of months in front of me throughout, so do keep blogging and I can see how you get on and follow on in your footsteps. Your photos are excellent and your alpines look so pretty that I’m really inspired by your photos.

Please feel free to leave comments as its always lovely to get feedback. I try to respond to comments as much as possible but sometimes life and work get in the way but I will do my best to respond especially if your comment is a question.

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