Sunday, June 30, 2013

Glimpses of a master's garden: Cyril Lafong

Cyril Lafong next to one of his rock gardens
 One of the things that Great Britain does extraordinarily well is Plant Shows: I know, I know--there are terrific Orchid Shows in America, and the better Flower Shows around the country often have competitive displays. Trust me: there is nothing like a British flower show on Planet Earth, and shows sponsored by the Alpine Garden Society and the Scottish Rock Garden Club are truly mind boggling. Just Google "Farrer Medal" or "Forrest Medal" if you want confirmation of just how astonishing plants at these shows can be. There are a handful of exhibitors who are chronic winners of these awards, and leading the pack in the Forrest Medal department is Cyril Lafong, who kindly hosted me a week ago along with Carole and Ian Bainbridge for lunch and a visit to his garden. The end of June is usually a rather quiet time in rock gardens...but not in Cyril's which was bursting with color and choice plants. I took a ridiculous number of pictures there, and enough of them turned out that you may get a taste of what the garden of an alpine plant connoisseur is like. It's awesome!

Showy ladyslipper (Cypridpedium reginae)
Of course, I had to go to Scotland this year in order to see the Minnesota state flower grown to perfection! It does help to have a few blue poppies in the distance for contrast, you know.

Blue poppies
Perhaps a reader will know if this is Meconopsis grandis or M. betonicifolia or one of their Scotland everyone seems to know the difference...we Coloradoans are in the dark, alas. Though they grow well here at altitude......(Cyril has added this comment to this picture: "foreground is Mec. betonicifolia (now Mec. baileyi according to Kit Grey-Wilson.), background is Mec grandis hybrid."--I was right about those Scottish connoisseurs, you see!

A glimpse of a few of Cyril's alpine houses in the distance..and lots of goodies on the way!
Every plant along the way here is a gemm beginning with that monster clump of orchids on the right!

Crevice garden looking towards a gazebo--with chairs in it! Just for pleasure..
I was pleased to see a structure there just for fun: this gazebo was designed for enjoying the garden when it rains....the crevice garden has many little alpine gems as you shall see....

Koenigia forrestii
I was sure this was a saxifrage and startled to discover that in fact it's in the knotweed family, closely related to our Colorado native Koenigia islandica (the only annual endemic to alpine heights in Colorado). Named for George Forrest--for whom the SRGC has named the medal awarded to the "best in show": Cyril has thus far earned 45 Forrest medals--far more than anyone else--and judging by what I saw in his greenhouses, I suspect there will be more in the future.

Edraianthus pumilio
Usually photographed with flowers wide open--I rather like them this way too~

Silene elizabethae
One doesn't often see this rare Alpine endemic--one of the most outlandish Silene. Here it is growing in his crevice garden.

Another view of the crevice garden

Lilium Mackliniae
What ill fortune, the choice lily is blooming simultaneously with the magnificent clump of Dactylorhiza elata: which does one move? Or do you simply enjoy the juxtaposition of two concolorous gems? I go with the latter strategy!

Primula sikkimensis
Often grown in vast swarms, what a treat to see this elegant (and very fragrant) primrose set off with rocks, as it often is in nature...and easily reached for a heavenly sniff of the alpine heights..

There! I've blown the picture up a bit--if you get close and sniff I wonder if you might even smell its incredible perfume?
Those pots in front are filled with Medal winning clumps of Jeffersonia dubia and Glaucidum palmatum....
In Colorado we would not get away with growing these wonderful plants in pots year around as you can in Perth near the Ocean...Scotland's climate is really ideal for many of these classic alpines.

Calceolaria uniflora
Grown from wild collected seed, and obviously enjoying Cyril's crevice garden--Darwin's little treasure always delights.

Nemophila menziesii 'Penny Black'
Like all great plantsman, Cyril is interested in all plants. Of course, I had to go to Scotland to see this amazing American annual grown to perfection! Needless to say, I will be looking for seed this winter!

Another view of the back garden

Calanthe tricarinata
More orchids...(high altitude form collected by Henry and Margaret Taylor according to Cyril),

Caltha scaposa
I was very taken with this miniature, late blooming Cowslip (or Marsh Marigold) from southern China...I would love to grow this (or try to)...They had a vast colony of this at Botanics as well...

Caltha scaposa
Another individual with very different tepals: you have to grow more than just one of a plant!

Dianthus arpadianus
I was taken with this wonderful cushion pink...

Aster sp. ex China (Cyril: "I received as Aster cf. flaccida (cannot verify this one)"  
And this outlandish aster...

Asperula arcadiensis alba
There were many woodruffs in Cyril's rock garden--I'd never seen this pure white miniature before.

Iris kerneriana
You rarely see this miniature Spuria in gardens--and it is even rarer in nature. I love its spidery flowers.

A glimpse into the treasure trove
What can one say about Cyril's alpine houses? Except that any botanic garden would be proud to have something along these lines--and very few do...

Even out of bloom the cushions beckon....

A greenhouse with smaller treasures growing on...

Something strange and unique everywhere you look...
What is that saxifrage? And that blue corydalis? tucked in small beds between the greenhouse, no place is too small for something special to be tucked into it...

Silene hookeri subsp. bolanderi---Cyril's famous compact white form that has won many an award...
Another American made good!

Daphne jasminea
Did I mention he has lots of daphnes? This one was in full bloom still...

Saxifraga llonakhensis
A charming saxifrage in the Ciliatae section of the genus, recently introduced from China was in full bloom during my visit. Apparently not hard to grow--one to put high on the wish list! The androsace to the lower right ain't bad either...

Nototriche macleanii
Cyril could have staged his very own show with all the treasures in his garden that day--and if he did, I suspect this would have won the Forrest Medal: how lucky to visit when this was in full bloom!

More buns (ho hum)...

Yet another greenhouse...

Pimelia ferruginea
A wonderful daphne relative from Australia was in full bloom for my visit...alas, not likely to be hardy for me. Although I did grow a prostrate Pimelia from New Zealand for years...

Eriogonum ovalifolium
A wonderful specimen of our native buckwheat--possibly variety depressum. Is there anything Cyril does NOT grow?

Dactylorhiza 'Eskimo Nell'  (Cyril believes it is a fuchsia var.)
A pretty stunning clump of one of the European orchids. I suspect this will be self-sowing around before long!

View of raised beds

More plants in pots growing on...

Allium oreophilum 'Kusalvi Curl'
Most of this legion of bulbs were dormant--I wish I'd photographed the label on this late onion (Cyril kindly supplied the name)...

Rosulate violets
Many pots full of rosulate violets--Forrest Medals in the making!

Crinodendron hookerianum
Cyril had a huge specimen of this very special South American liliaceous shrub in full, glorious bloom. In retrospect, I realize I didn't notice this in any of the many gardens we visited...I wonder why?

Callianthemum anemonoides...
I was mystified by this, but Cyril revealed it was just an out of season flower on this Alpine classic...

Another glimpse of the master with his panoply of frames

A rhody and fetching columbine...
Lovely plants everywhere you look...

Erigeron sp.
FINALLY, something we grow well too: one of our Rocky Mountain fleabanes!

Delphinium sp.
A ghostly larkspur...
R. humeana SBLE 636 ( in palest pink...)
And a mighty ghostly Roscoea as well...

Lilium philadelphicum?
Morphologically, it looks just like our native wood lily--but in a very orangy form that looks superficially like Lilium croceum--perhaps a hybrid between these two lilies from different continents? Anything is possible at Cyril's!

Dicentra 'Tsuneshigo Rokujo' (D. nevadensis × D. peregrina)' and more ladyslippers (ho hum!)

Paris japonica
A fine specimen of the showiest Paris...

And more...

Another Dactylorhiza...

Corydalis calcicola
Cyril had lots of this, and was very proud of it (he was ready to share it...but thanks to our draconian immigration laws, America will be protected from this Chinese treasure for a while...

Lilium Macklinae and Dactylorhiza elata
Yes, I do like those two together--I just had to revisit them...

Meconopsis (double)
 Cyril disapproved of this...but I noticed he hadn't yanked it out yet...

Dancing with orchids...
And MORE Dactylorhiza
Cyril's garden reminded me forcefully how horticulture is often practiced better and with greater integrity by "amateurs" was both humbling and exhilarating to spend a few hours with a master...
A last glimpse with Dicentra 'King of Hearts' (D. peregrina hybrid).in foreground)


  1. Absolutely stunning ... anyone who visits or reads about the shows in Scotland will know the name; Cyril Lafong - few will fully appreciate the dedication, physical effort, time and knowledge that it takes to maintain so many rare and exquisite plants in such a state of absolute perfection. The weeding and top dressing alone of all those pots would be a full time job for any normal human being!!! ... Cyril, you are the unrivalled master of the alpine scene in Great Britain ... and that's before you even get to the shows!!! 59 Forest Medals ... have a heart!!!!!

    Cliff Booker

  2. Hear, hear, Cliff! And you should know!

  3. spectacular collection of plants

  4. OMG! I'm salivating!!!! Wowsa! Wish I could grow the Nototriche sp., however our summers in Toronto, Ontario are too hot.

  5. Panayoti,

    Would you please explain to me why people find the blue poppies so alluring? I realize blue is a rare color in the garden and they hail from an exotic location. Are these the reason people love the plant or am I missing something. The attraction cannot be because they are hard to grow. There are lots of things that are hard to grow that gardeners ignore altogether.


  6. What an interesting use of a slope, and with the architecture nearby, the rocks and plant bones / hedges, this is amazing. Your travels sound perfect for this time of year. Think of us poor folks back in the US!

  7. It's not just the blue Meconopsis, James: all Meconopsis are dazzling. You know how oriental poppies have a wonderful sheen--and some have perfected orange and red?--well, Meconopsis have taken that satiny sheen to a new level: pictures do not depict how much the flowers shine--and how massive they can be: some are called lampshade poppies because of their size. And the foliage is pleasing (unlike many other poppies which tend to crisp)0--few plants have the majesty and subtlety and massive show of a well grown Meconopsis--no matter what species. In reality, they exceed the hype!

  8. What a rare glimpse into the hort. equivalent of a rock star's alpine garden. The name "Lafong" used to always bring to mind the old W.C. Fields' skit, but now it will be this exquisite garden with plants like that Corydalis calcicola and that buckwheat and pimelias...

  9. I've long viewed Cyril's entries (and successful wins) on the SRGC archives and always wondered if he had a tiny quintessentially British garden with too many pots stacked every which way filled with treasures galore. Thank you for this post which dashed my expectations and proved that Cyril is practically cheating with all that gorgeous greenhouse space and talent! I must admit that even from half a world away I turned a blinding chartreuse, that may have even stood out in Cyril's garden, as I drooled over your photos. Cyril: If ever you decide to give up gardening for knitting, I'd be happy to raid your garden to lighten your load. Cheers from Oregon.


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