If we were having tea right now…..


If we were having a cup of tea right now I would be telling you about my fab weekend at the Alpine Garden Society annual conference. I learnt all sorts of things, many of them not to do with plants.  For example I learnt that New Zealand’s only native mammals are bats (is that right Yvonne?) which makes it strange that the Speargrass (Aciphylla), a native, is a very prickly thing when there is no need for it to be as there were no browsing natives!!

If we were having a cup of tea right now I would tell you that I am very weary as I didn’t get to bed until 1am due to gossiping in the bar last night, I am getting too old for such outrageous behaviour

If we were having a cup of tea right now I will admit to buying two more books today: Autumn Bulbs by Rod Leeds and The Well-Designed Mixed Garden by Tracy DiSabato-Aust. Manning the second hand book stall this morning was quite reassuring as it appears my book purchasing addiction is not unusual.  It occurred to me that us plantaholics seem to often also be book mad and if we aren’t buying some plant to shoe-horn into our garden, we are buying a book to shoe-horn on to a bookshelf.  We are just collectors looking for things to collect.

If we were having a cup of tea right now I would tell you how pleased I am that I got to buy some fresh Hepatica japonica seed as well as some narcissus and lily bulbils.  Last year I didn’t notice that certain seeds sent into the AGS seed exchange which have to be sown fresh or bulbils which won’t travel well in the usual packaging were available so I was determined this year not to miss out on this one day opportunity.  I will have to make sure I get sowing next weekend.

If we were having a cup of tea right now I would tell you that I am wondering what possessed me to sign up to the NaBloMoPo challenge this month.  I have two days this week where I won’t be home from work until probably 8:00/8:30.  On top of this as I was away for the weekend I have had little opportunity to take photographs in the garden and I didn’t take any at the conference so I don’t have many prompts or ideas for posts – oh dear, I will have to get my thinking hat on.

If we were having a cup of tea right now (and you were into plants) I would be asking you why you don’t join the AGS.  You don’t have to be interested in the ubiquitous cushion plants or those you might associate with rockeries.  ‘Alpine’ covers all sorts of bulbs, in fact most bulbs that aren’t tender (and even that isn’t always stuck to) as well as those plants that grow in the wooded foothills so things like Peonies, Aquilegia, Primulas, some delphiniums, and my favourite, ferns.  But more importantly as well as having access to the wonderful AGS seed distribution scheme you can go to events like this weekend and meet all sorts of passionate plants people and hear fascinating talks which continue over lunch or dinner – such a nice change to work.

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.


Green and white

Galanthus 'Fly Fishing'
Galanthus ‘Fly Fishing’

“The world isn’t all green and white” said Bob Wallis, our first speaker at the AGS Snowdrop Conference this weekend.  He, and his wife Rannveig, then went on to show us snowdrops in the wild particularly Turkey and Iran, where they grow and what with.  It is quite amazing how many species of snowdrop there actually are and the environment they grow in.  For many, including me until recently, snowdrop (Galanthus) grew in English churchyards – how wrong could I be.  There is Galanthus peshmenii which comes from Greece (I think) and grows on rocks and cliffs not the conditions we would expect for our spring favourites.  Then you have Galanthus fosterii with its shiny green leaves and long outer  petals, Galanthus woronowii which has broad  leaves and a small flower, and Galanthus krasnovii with claw like outer petals.  These were just my favourites of a long list and also my favourite talk of the four we had. The biggest lesson is that the differences aren’t just in the flower markings but in the leaves and size of the plant; something the magazines never really cover.


I am a novice to the world of snowdrops and am as far away from calling myself a Galanthophile as I am from claiming to be a Professor because I read an academic tome but I find the subject fascinating.  For me, an amateur gardener who didn’t have the chance to study Botany and probably never will but has a deep-seated interest in learning as much as possible about plants this sort of event is wonderful.

Galanthus Kencot Ripple
Galanthus Kencot Ripple

Around 150 people, some of them very respected Galanthophiles assembled in Stratford.  Of  course no snowdrop event would be complete without the opportunity to  buy some treasure. On Bob’s advice I stuck to cheap but even that meant £12 a plant – that’s one bulb – so two snowdrops were purchased which to me were distinctly different.  Another snowdrop keen friend at my HPS group’s advice was that she only bought snowdrops that were obviously different to her, whilst some I think like to tick them off a list a bit like twitchers who collect birds they have seen.  At the other end of the spectrum there was one snowdrop – ‘Kencot Ripple’ for sale at £500! I don’t think anyone bought it.


The rest of the day was taken up with four talks.  The first I have mentioned  above and was my favourite.  Then we were treated to some very artistic photos of new snowdrops  many of which weren’t yet available but all that had very distinctive  green or yellow markings.   This talk was by  leading galanthophile Matt Bishop, who despite his modest claims at not being very good at lectures, delivered a very well received talk.

Poor Jim Almond had to contend with an audience who had just finished a substantial lunch and were somewhat dozey but he did a sterling job talking to us about snowdrops that have a Shropshire connection.  I hadn’t realised that there was such a strong focus on snowdrops in this part of the country.  Margaret  Owens, a much revered galanthophile is based there, and she and some of her like-minded friends have discovered and breed a number of popular cultivars including of course ‘Godfrey Owen’.  There was also a display table which featured snowdrops from this area.

Galanthus 'Big Bertha'
Galanthus ‘Big Bertha’

Our final talk of the day was by Alan Street of Avon Bulbs who is at his wit’s end with the weather and trying to have enough snowdrops to show at the RHS London Show at the end of February.  The mild weather has meant  his snowdrops are all flowering early, and along with the rain which is making life very difficult in his part of the world, are causing him a lot of angst.  However, his talk was lively and amusing and focussed on his time with Avon Bulbs and the snowdrops he has introduced.

Between the talks there were opportunities to buy more snowdrops  and snowdrop related books and a whole range of other things you didn’t know you needed as well as the chance to talk snowdrops to like-minded people and in my case gain advice on how to grow them and the best ones for me to try.

I had a lovely and fascinating day.  I don’t think I will ever be a galanthophile or feel the lure of those snowy white delicate flowers like some I know but I really enjoyed the opportunity to spend a day learning about a plant and seeing it from several different aspects; which is lucky as I am booked to attend the HPS Snowdrop Day in two weeks time!

My garden this weekend – 22/12/13


As a child I had a proclivity for making mud pies and generally messing around in the garden –  as a small child I even came in with a slug in my mouth!!  This proclivity has stayed with me through my life, the mud pies not the slug eating, and I am never happier than when I am wielding a fork and turning the soil or up to the elbows in compost sowing seeds and potting up. This weekend I have had the luxury of indulging all aspects of my enthusiasm.


I have sown the first batch of seeds for the coming year.  These are seeds are from the Alpine Garden Society seed distribution scheme, which I helped with on Thursday.  I was pleased to get the majority of my first choices although because I compiled my order in a hurry I seem to have requested seed for three different varieties of peony.  I sowed the peony seeds and other seeds, such as Ranunculus and Anemone, that need a cold special to help with their germination and have left them on the patio table ready for the cold spell that is forecast.


Today I really indulged my mudlark tendencies and started to dig up the plants that I have decided to remove from the bog garden that was.  I have said before that the bog garden (above), formerly the pond, just doesn’t retain enough moisture to be a successful bog garden so it is being redesigned to make a woodland border and to give my two camellias a new home.  We have also decided to use some of this area, which is next to the workshop, to create a small seating area. While I was digging around working out what was going where I found an area of old pond liner under the wood chip path which probably explains why it is so sodden and slippery.  After much hefting of gravel and stones and mud that had accumulated on top of the liner I managed to pull it out and re-level the area.  Hopefully it will dry out now, although it still doesn’t explain why the bog garden is so unbog-like!


I have also planted three new roses which arrived this week from Peter Beales.  Two of these, Anna Pavord and Ophelia, were planted in the Rose/Cottage Garden Border along the top of the wall.  The third, Eden Rose, has been planted under the obelisk which was relocated to the Big Border back in April.  I am hopefully for many beautiful roses in early summer.

The weather has been cold and windy so the gardening efforts have been short and sharp and I have had to dodge the rain on a number of occasions by ducking into the greenhouse and checking up on my over winter succulents such as the Aloe aristata ‘Cathedral Peak’ above and peering at the Cyclamen persicum which I grew from seed probably 4 years ago to see if they will finally flower this year.  I have been feeding them diligently and I do believe I can detect a few flower buds forming which is rather exciting. I have also moved a pot of Iris reticulata ‘Cantab’ into the greenhouse to bring them into flower early.

I’m not sure how much I will be able to do in the garden before the end of the year as the forecast indicates more rain and lowering temperatures but at this time of the year, for me, every opportunity to spend time outside playing in the garden is a bonus.

Stunning alpines

Dionysia 'Tess'
Dionysia ‘Tess’

On Easter Monday I popped along to the local Alpine Garden Society’s plant show.  This was an annual show organised by the group I go to and not part of the national circuit but the standard of entries were still very high and I think many are entered into the national shows.  Above is Dionysia ‘Tess’, this is a plant I have only discovered since I joined the Alpine Garden Society and apparently it is very hard to grow to the standard above.  It needs to be grown in an alpine house and the growers that exhibit turn them every 4 hours, or so I am told, in order to get such a uniform flowering across the plant.  I did like this Dionysia but generally the cushion plants, as they are called, don’t appeal to me; they are too perfect, too neat – I prefer my plants to look more natural!

An entry of 3 pans of Dioynsia
An entry of 3 pans of Dioynsia
Ipheion dialystemon
Ipheion dialystemon

My attention was taken more with the bulbs which given the time of year were much in evidence.  I particularly liked the crocus I showed in my wordless Wednesday post but found the markings on this Ipheoin quite striking.

Asplenium fontanum
Asplenium fontanum

I have learnt two major things since I joined the Alpine Garden Society last year.  Firstly, that there are masses of plants out there that I have never heard of and secondly, and more importantly, alpine plants are not all the cushion plants shown above.  Ferns are alpines, as are Peonies, Lupins, Delphinium, Aquilegia, Azaleas, Rhododendrons – in fact anything which grows in mountainous conditions but that doesn’t have to be dry mountainous  conditions and it includes lots of the woodland plants I love.  So my new interest in ferns and my continuing and growing passion for Primula are well fed.

Primula marginata 'Dwarf Form'
Primula marginata ‘Dwarf Form’

Being the end of March there were certainly lots of Primulas on show.  I was annoyed with myself for not having more courage and entering my Primula marginata into the novice section as the one I have is rather good although not as large as the one above.  In fact the entries in the Novice section, whilst good have made me think that I could have a go.  So I have set myself a goal of having something to enter into the show in a year’s time.  I am covering my bets and have ordered a range of miniature bulbs which I will grow on in pots in the hope of being able to enter them as well as my primulas.  I have also decided to start of with specialising in Primula marginatas; there are so many different Primulas that I needed some sort of focus. This meant that I came home with another two in my bag.


Who knows in 20 years time I might be able to achieve prize-winning Primula allionii like the ones above.

Education of a Gardener

Primula marginata laciniata
Primula marginata laciniata

I cancelled my RHS membership this week, well I cancelled the renewal of it.  This hasn’t been an easy decision which is ridiculous given that it is just an annual subscription to something.

Just after having made the decision I read an article by Frank Ronan in a copy of Gardens Illustrated from 2008 which talked about whether membership of the RHS was necessary to be a good gardener.  In the article he captures all the things I had been musing about and questions whether the membership, about £50 for a single member, is worth it.  Like Frank I leave in the West Midlands, near the Welsh borders so I am at least 3 hours drive from any of the RHS gardens which means that to make any visit worthwhile an overnight stay is needed.  The monthly magazine, The Garden, is alright but there are far too many advertisements and it is trying to please all its members so there is a bit on vegetables, a bit on ornamentals, a bit on a gardening technique and quite a large section on events around the country.  The cover price for the magazine is £4.25 more than Gardens Illustrated which has similar content but it seems with less adverts.  I don’t feel that The Garden is worth £4.25.

I prefer the seed distribution schemes run by the Hardy Plant Society and Alpine Garden Society to the RHS’s.  I have used the RHS advice centre a couple of times, once getting no response at all.  Living where I do the London Shows and Chelsea are a 3.5 hour train journey each way and having been to Chelsea a couple of times I am no longer in a rush to go again – it’s too crowded and there is too much focus on the showgardens for me. A view shared by many keen gardeners I have met in this area.

I know the RHS is a charity and that it carries out research into horticulture etc and this is important but I’m not a charity and I can’t afford to pay for something which I don’t feel is adding anything to my life.  When I really got the gardening bug some 6-7 years ago I felt that I had to join the RHS, it was something that good gardeners did.  I also subscribed to the two main glossy gardening magazines – Gardens Illustrated and The English Garden.  However, after about 3 years I cancelled these subscriptions as the magazines had become repetitive, which in their defence is hardly surprising given the seasonal nature of gardening.  The pile of unread magazines had reached a ridiculous height and has only now been read through and disposed off – hence reading a 2008 edition  of GI.  As well as being repetitive the magazines no longer fulfilled my need for information and knowledge.

As I blogged about earlier this year I have now found and joined a number of specialist societies: The Alpine Garden Society, the Hardy Plant Society (including their Galanthus, Geranium and Ranunculus groups) and my localish horticultural society.  More importantly I have gone to the monthly meetings of the local groups and through these I have listened to fascinating talks about plants I had never heard of and met interesting and knowledgeable people who are happy to share their experience with someone who has realised how little she knows.  I have learnt more in the last 6 months than I have from 4 or 5 years membership of the RHS or reading the glossy magazines. Finally in the last month I have discovered the Scottish Rock Garden Society Forum which is fantastic – busy, friendly, international and not all about those tiny domes of plants people associate with alpines.

This is what works for me.  I think all of these resources, societies, magazines have their own place and all give something to gardeners.  When I  was on twitter I used to get tired of people moaning about Gardeners World dumming down etc but people forget that gardeners are a vast and varied group of people.  They all want something different.  Some are into growing edibles, some ornamental, some love plants, some design, some have acres and a gardener, some a window box.  To try to be everything to all gardeners only results in the offering being weakened and diluted.  I also know that in the UK we are very lucky to have the magazines and television programmes that we have and others in the US and Europe aren’t so lucky.

For me I have had my interest grabbed and held by the beautiful gardens in the magazines and the RHS has encouraged me with practical skills and to visit shows and gardens but now I have moved on to wanting to learn far more about particular plants than they can offer.  So I have  cancelled my RHS membership although I will continue with the Plantsman that I love.  I also get Hortus and the journals from the societies and when I need a sumptuous fix of beautiful gardens I will treat myself to one of the glossies.

I  feel like my horticultural education is really underway but there is an incredible amount to learn – it is very exciting.