Surprises and Expectations

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What a surprise! 5th December and the first snowdrop is flowering in my garden.  Even more surprising is that it isn’t Galanthus Ding Dong which I know I have and thought was my earliest snowdrop.  I can’t find a label with it and I have been very careful in labelling snowdrops with substantial black labels which will stand out but there is nothing here at all.  I am completely mystified as to what it is.  I will have to wait until the flower opens properly and then maybe someone can id it for me.  I will also do some rummaging through my label box to see if there are any clues there.

Primula palinuri
Primula palinuri

I am not completely inept when it comes to labels and plant names.  I know that this is Primula palinuri grown from AGS seed probably 3 years ago.  It flowered for the first time last year in time for the Boxing Day Flower Count but then it was living in the greenhouse cosseted and pampered.  It has spent the summer out on the patio amongst the various pots and for some reason was overlooked when I moved all the tenders back under cover but it seems to be doing very well despite the buffeting it has received in recent days.

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This out of focus photo represents expectations.  It shows one of three emerging flower heads on my Edgeworthia.  I am very hopeful that this year, year 2, there will be good flowers.  It is planted within sight of my living room window so hopefully it will be something to cheer me through the winter.

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And adding to my expectations of a floriferous spring is this unknown Camellia.  It is positively groaning with flower buds given its size and I have noticed that the rhododendrons and, very exciting, the witch hazel are full of flower buds which I think is as a result of the mild and damp summer we have had.

Whatever the reason it gives you something to look forward to in the New Year, which is always good.

A horticultural weekend away


A quick post today as I am away for the weekend in Stratford upon Avon attending the annual Alpine Garden Society AGM and conference.

The theme of the conference is Reaching for the Heights and so far today we have explored the mountain heights of Turkey and also Nepal.  The Turkey talk was by the Wallis, well known for growing amazing bulbs so this talk was very appealing to me – lots of crocus and the talk on Nepal started in the lower wooded slopes so my fascination with woodland plants was satisfied. Before that the E B Anderson Memorial Lecture was on the plants of New Zealand which I enjoyed as I really don’t know much about that part of the world.

Of course there were opportunities for plant buying and me being me I bought two ferns from Keith Wiley.  I also bought some bulbs and seeds from the distribution scheme which need sowing ASAP which is exciting as I missed out last year.

So now I have to dash to dinner and the plant auction which is always a laugh and at times very competitive.

Why I love the world of alpines

Cyrtanthus epiphyticus
Cyrtanthus epiphyticus

I had an enjoyable, although warm, day today at the local national Alpine Garden Society show.  Long term readers will know that I have a growing fascination with alpines and have started showing myself in the Novice section.  Today I added a first, two seconds and three thirds to my tally; however I have a way together before I can exhibit the quality of plants I am going to share in this post.  I thought I would show you why I love the world of alpine showing.

Androcymbium striatum
Androcymbium striatum

Whilst there are the cushion plants that many of us associate with the term alpines and plants such as the many campanulas and hardy succulents it is the other categories that draw my attention.  Firstly I have a passion for bulbs.  I think this is  progression of my enjoyment of growing plants from seed.  I get excited to see plants germinated and I get the same thrill when a bulb first appears above the soil.  Also I think bulbs are more suited to my lifestyle as I can store them away in their dormant period and this makes life more manageable for me.  But to be honest it is the beauty and exotic nature of the flowers that really appeal – who couldn’t resist the amazing orange of the Cyrtanthus epiphyticus above.

Allium kurtzianum
Allium kurtzianum

Take this amazing pot of Allium kurtzianum – the flowers remind me of some mad fluorescent ’70s outfit.  I do like the small Alliums and won a first today with Allium sikkimense which has vibrant blue flowers. I am now on a quest to source the Allium kurtzianum.

Ledebouria ovatifolia
Ledebouria ovatifolia

Another bulb I have never heard of and how pretty is this.  I love the broad leaves with the flowers nestling in them.  Yet another one for the very long list.

Pinus mugo 'Sea Urchin'
Pinus mugo ‘Sea Urchin’

Moving on from my first love bulbs we have the conifers which are creeping into my affections and interest.  My friend Brenda and I were particularly taken with this Pinus mugo ‘Sea urchin’ which we felt really lived up to its name.  I bought some dwarf shrubs today as this is the second group of plants I want to focus on.  They are very slow growing and tend to look after themselves most of the year so again should work well for me.

Cheilanthes tomentosa
Cheilanthes tomentosa

My third group to focus on should come as no surprise – ferns.  The more I look at ferns the more I am amazed at the variety not just of leaf form, colour but also growing environment.  I have bought so many this year that I made a conscious effort not to buy any more today.  However, I have identified some of this year’s purchases which might do well in pots and be acceptable for showing.

Saxifraga longifolia
Saxifraga longifolia

Finally Brenda’s Saxifraga with which she won her first First in the Open section (that’s as the top class).  Like me she has been exhibiting in the novice section but today has earned enough firsts to move up.  However, there is nothing stopping any one entering a plant into any of the categories or levels if they think it is good enough and her gamble paid off.  She was beaming all afternoon, even more so when she won a lovely shiny trophy for the most points in the Novice section.

So this is why I love the world of alpines – there is so much variety, exquisite plants you will probably struggle to find outside of the alpine showing world and great passionate people who are only too happy to pass on tips and encourage you to have a go.

Taking the Plunge


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.


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!


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.


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.

The Greenhouse Year – June 2014


This side of the greenhouse looks quite good.  I have spent an hour or so this evening moving the last of the succulents out onto the outside staging and moving all the pots of bulbs into the greenhouse.  They are stored under the staging and on the back shelves with the intention they will dry out in the summer.


This side is slightly more disorganised.  There are seedlings which need looking after, young aloes that need potting up and other pots that need a new home.

They need a new home as I have decided to replace the slatted staging with some plunge propagation staging.  I will then fill this with sand and use it for my alpines and bulbs.  I have been umming and arhing about this for months thinking there was no way I could accommodate all my interests and where would I sow seeds etc.  However, I have realised this year that my interest in growing annuals is more or less non-existent and most of the plants I grow from seed need the cold to germinate.


It will take some careful organising and balancing of the needs of different types of plants but I think it will work.  I should also have room to overwinter my pelargoniums and other tender plants.  Hopefully by the time I write the July Greenhouse Year post the new staging will be in place.


The tall bulbous plants are Peruvian daffodils (Hymenocallis festalis).  This is their second year and I am hoping that the flowers are as wonderful as last year.  I only saw them as they were going over as they flowered when I was away in San Francisco.

So that’s my greenhouse mid June still full and busy and not a tomato plant in sight!



A Trophy and too many Camassias


I have never ever won any trophy for anything so you can imagine how thrilled I am at winning the trophy above.  It is  even better given that the trophy is a wooden bowl when you consider my eldest son is a wood turner so we have a passion for wood in my house.


I won the trophy at the Alpine Garden Society Malvern show which was held today at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival.  Like the other AGS shows it is a one day competition with competitors entering from around the country.  The plants above are in the Open section which a mere novice such as myself can only dream of aspiring to.  Many of the plants have been grown and cosseted for many years so the amount of commitment and dedication from the top exhibitors is to be admired.  This is my second national AGS show; I entered my first one last July when I got the bug for showing alpines.


I entered six classes in the novice section and I have to admit some of the plants I nearly didn’t bother entering but then I am my own worst critic.  I achieved three firsts – 3 pans of rock plants (Semiaquilegia, Saxifraga fortunei and Arisarum proboscideum); 1 rock plant grown from seed (Erinus alpinus); and 1 Sempervivum as well as a second for a Saxifraga and two thirds for a Rhodohypoxis and the other for a Primula marginata in the foliage category. Having staged my plant at 7:30 this morning I returned just before 10 to get the results. Thrilled at my awards I went off to spend the day working for Avon Bulbs at their stand.

Grevillea Mount Tamboritha
Grevillea Mount Tamboritha

I knew we would be busy in the floral marquee; Avon Bulbs are always popular and I have queued many a time to buy one of their treasures, but the stream of customers for the six hours I was on duty seemed endless. I sold so many Camassias and Gladiolus byzantinus that I will be happy not to see any for some time as well as Scilla peruviana which we  ran out of around lunchtime.  We also had regular demands for Lunaria annua Chedglow which had been featured on Gardeners World yesterday evening.  I loved every minute of it. I learnt lots of stuff from Chris (the boss) and also the customers themselves. I enjoyed sharing the excitement of customers at finding a plant they had been looking for, their indecision as to whether or not to splash out on another plant and the general sense of fun they were having.

Cypripedium calceolus
Cypripedium calceolus

Suddenly during the middle of the afternoon one of my fellow AGS members, Pauline, appeared in front of me.  She had come over especially to tell me I had won the Hartside Trophy for the most points in the novice section but I had missed the trophy presentation.  I have to say it hadn’t occurred to me to even look to see when the trophy presentation was as I didn’t think I would do that well.  But at least I missed having to go up in front of lots of people to receive the award!

Androsace bulleyana
Androsace bulleyana

As I said I have never won a trophy and I have to admit to feeling quite excited at the prospect as I made my way back to the AGS show at the end of my shift for Avon Bulbs.  It is a rather lovely trophy I think you will agree and is on my mantlepiece in pride of place.

Sadly, my camera is over exposing pictures at the moment so the photos on this post were taken with my son’s phone when he came to help me collect up my plants.  The plants I have featured are ones that caught my eye in the last 15 minutes which I would like to acquire – my love of red shows.

So I will now be seeing what I have that might be up to show standard for the next show I can get to in July.  I think I need 10 firsts before I can go up to intermediate but I’m not in a rush.  Talking to Pauline who was a novice last year she found the step up challenging as her plants had not yet bulked up enough and the number of exhibitors was greater.

All in all a full on, tiring but satisfying day.

London Alpine Show

Pleione formosana 'Snow Bunting
Pleione formosana ‘Snow Bunting

There is no ‘My Garden This Weekend’ post this week as I have spent the weekend in London helping at the Alpine Garden Society/RHS Alpine Show.  This is a new show and was held on a Sunday which means it is a nuisance for me to get to as there seem to be no trains to London from Malvern on a Sunday morning.  So I offered to help out at the show in return for a lift and overnight accommodation.  To be honest I find it easier to meet people if I am doing a job and I also find that people are more chatty towards you if you are helping out.


We arrived around 2pm on Saturday and set too set up the book stall and also the artistic display which you can see in the background.  This display was all around the hall and features photographs, botanical art and embroidery. I was particularly pleased to help with setting this up as I am taking on Artistic Show Secretary role for the AGS show at the Malvern Spring Show in a couple of weeks and will have to stage the same entries.  I have taken many photographs to crib from!


We left at 7:30pm, returning at 8:30 the next morning ready for the judging.  Exhibitors had started to arrive from 8:00am and this year as the show was on a Sunday as opposed to two days mid-week exhibitors who don’t normally show at London attended traveling from as far away as Newcastle and Carmarthen.  All in all there were 350 plants on the show benches, an increase from the 280 last year. Judging started around 9:30 and I was roped into stewarding which basically means you follow the judges noting who has won what and putting the award stickers on the entry cards.  Then the RHS opened the doors to the general public and we were rushed off our feet until around 3:30.

Sanguiana canadensis forma multiplex
Sanguiana canadensis forma multiplex

There were four nurseries in attendance, Wildside, Evolution Plants, Trewidden and Jacques Armand and their stock was positively flying out of the door.  We sold lots and lots of books and other merchandising and signed up a handful of new members to the AGS.  Whilst there were the usual AGS show visitors there was also a very good turnout from other visitors and it was clear that many were impressed with the plants on show and wanted to know more. Exhibitors and AGS volunteers were very busy answering questions on plants, cultivation, the AGS and showing.  We sold out of the book Alpines in Containers which is a primer for those starting out and could have sold many more copies.

Primula sieboldii kotunosirabe
Primula sieboldii kotunosirabe

I did find time on my break to buy some plants and luckily there was room in the van to get them back home.  For those interested I bought the following:

Epimedium wushanese ‘Caramel’
Anemone nemorosa ‘Buckland’
Thaspum barbinode
Asphodeline turica
Ranunculus x arendsii ‘Moonlight’
Erica cerinthoides

Dionsysia 'Gothenburg White' involucrata alba
Dionsysia ‘Gothenburg White’ involucrata alba


As I have said on previous posts alpines aren’t all cushion plants. The term relates to any plant growing above a certain altitude.  This obviously caused some bewilderment for some visitors when presented with a wide variety of woodlanders such as the Sanguiana above and ferns.  I spent some time persuading one lady that there were indeed blue poppies and another that a Meconopsis Poppy was an alpine.  I think these

Androsace vandellii
Androsace vandellii

misconceptions are part of the reason why the AGS struggles to recruit members and attract visitors to show.  Its something that was discussed at the AGM back in November and whether we should consider a new name for the society.  Personally I think we need to educate gardeners more and show them the vast variety of plants that our members grow and in some cases show.

Whilst my preference in alpines is more for the woodland varieties and bulbs who cannot not be smitten by this Androsace displayed in a mini crevice garden which unsurprising won a first in its class and is something for me to aspire to.

Having packed everything away we left central London at 5:30pm yesterday, getting home at 10:00pm completely shattered so I am pleased I have had today off work.  I have spent the day pottering in the garden and planning my entries for the AGS show at Malvern in a couple of weeks time.


Easter Show


Last year I posted about attending my local Alpine Garden Society’s annual show and it was attending this show that made me decide to have a go at entering plants into shows.

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It’s interesting how different the plants exhibited this year are from last year.  The show is always on Easter Monday so we were a week later but it was plain to see how the milder temperatures had resulted in the season being much more advanced.  The number of narcissus and tulips was significantly reduced, last year there were even crocus on display.  Many experienced exhibitors were saying they had struggled to find plants to show due to the advanced season.

Benthamiella patagonica
Benthamiella patagonica

Looking back at my photographs it is interesting that the plants that appeal to me aren’t the traditional alpine cushions such as the Bentamiella patagonica above but more foliage plants and/or woodland plants.

Podophyllum 'Spotty Dotty'
Podophyllum ‘Spotty Dotty’
Uncinia rubra
Uncinia rubra

Yes the Podophyllum is classed as an alpine, as are many other favourites such as Aquilegia, Peonies, Trilliums and Arisaema, it’s not all cushion plants.  I was rather taken by the grass above which is now on my wish list – I love the blood-red of the foliage.

Saxifraga longifolia
Saxifraga longifolia

But then again who can resist this Saxifraga longifolia which I think is just stunning.

Daphne gemmata
Daphne gemmata

This Daphne was quite stunning but I suspect it will be sometime before I can aspire to such a plant especially as they are quite hard to come by.


I am starting off in the Novice Section which as you can see attracts far fewer entries than the other classes.  However, we all have to start somewhere and the beauty is that you are fairly guaranteed to win something which is what you need to spur you on to progressing.  I had a bit of a dither earlier in the week about whether to enter or not.  The flowers on my narcissus were determiningly remaining shut and the primulas I had anticipated entering had no signs of flowers at all.  However, with some persuasion from my son,  I decided to bite the bullet and enter whatever I had on the basis you never know.  I was glad I did as I came away with three 1sts, two 2nds, one 3rd and one unplaced.  I know that my firsts were really because my plants were the only entries but its still a thrill and overall due to the number of entries I made I won Overall Winner in the Novice section.


The other nice thing is that regular exhibitors are so pleased to see new people entering and there were a number of comments that the novice section the show had a better novice display than many of the national shows because a couple of us had entered a good number of plants.

This is the fourth show I have entered – each one slightly different from the other – and I think I am hooked on showing now.