Gloria Londinii (Part one): a glimpse at the Alpinehouse (and a peek behind the scenes) at RHS Wisley's Alpine collection..

Lewisia cotyledon forms in one of several alpine houses at Wisley

I have visited both RBG Kew and RHS Wisley many times: but never back to back as we did two weeks ago: it's of course comparing apples to oranges: Kew has a greater emphasis on Science and RHS more on the Art of Horticulture: in the world of Alpines, however, they both quite simply have two of the most extraordinary, really VAST collections of alpines and bulbs--and both have built large new facilities to house and show these off (some time ago now, perhaps: I've been doing this so long twenty years ago feels like yesterday)! Visiting them in quick succession made me realize that these two institutions constitute an enormous and complementary reservoirs of knowledge and experience: Edinburgh, Gothenburg, Wurzburg and Munich are all likewise shining constellations in the firmament of Alpines--but London is the only city I know of that can boast TWO such best of class collections in its greater metropolitan area. What a  treat to see them both! Check back in a few days and you'll be able to catch a glimpse of Kew's Alpine section as well!

A closer look at Lewisia cotyledon and a few bulbs
Of course, the floral splash of lewisias is essential (not only for color--but for their long season of color!)--mixed in various bulbs--here and Acis and flashy Leucocoryne in the background (both of which we shall see at Kew as well!)


A South African Ledebouria sneaking in lower right...

A lst glimpse of the colorful show and then on to a whole new palette...

Saxifraga arco-valleyi 'Labe'

A few white flowered alpines all in different families--notice how everything is meticulously labeled.


Some woodlanders on the shady side...Spotty Dotty being especially flashy!


This massive Aeonium nobile is pushing the "alpine" envelope, perhaps...but horticultural alpines are not limited by altitude: and a large percentage of rock garden classics are Mediterranean. The succulent gems of the Canary Islands are claimed both by alpinists and Succulent fanciers: and why not? This does reputedly grow to nearly 3000' in altitude in nature!


The variety of form and the perfection of every pot was inspiring. It was difficult to take pictures--the houses were quite crowded with visitors on a Friday morning! I can't imagine how busy they must have been the next day (and we're talking 240 acres of gardens at Wisley alone! R.H.S. has another THREE Gardens (albeit not quite so large perhaps...).

A yellow Tulipa linifolia--new one for me!
I wish I'd had the time to take a proper picture of each of the hundreds of plants. I didn't have time and I didn't take all the pix I wanted to (much to your relief no doubt)...


The labels are just big enough you should be able to read them--but it's mostly the colors, textures and layout I wanted to capture: of course right now all the plants will have been swapped out! We'll take a look at the "backup" space in a minute...

And a fine assortment of bulbs...

Helichrysum "orientale" looks suspiciously like H. sibthorpii at Kew...
Part of the fun for visitors like me is to compare the names one finds at different gardens: there were whole MOUNTAINS of Helichrysum sibthorpii (which I knew as H. virgineum for ages!) at Kew, and this taxon looks identical. Makes you crack out the books! Are the plants at Kew and Wisley the same? Are these two similar looking taxa that merit the different names--or (I begin to suspect)  has my old H. virgineum (once thought enedemic to Mt. Athos) been lumped into more widespread Greek H. sibthorpii, and that in turn been subsumed by the more widespread H. orientale (which grows in Africa as well)? The botanists job is never done!

A mysterious "Mukdenia sp."
The ovate leaves are utterly different from M. rossii that took Horticulture by storm a decade ago when 'Crimson Fans' (or 'Karasuba' to use it's PROPER cultivar name) emerged from the shadows... is this an undescribed species from a Chinese collection? It certainly resembles Bergenia more than the standard M. rossii--which helps explain how "x Mukgenia" came about in the diabolical laboratories of Terra Nova! The flower on this is undeniably Aceriphylloid, to coin an adjective. Only card carrying Plant Nerds will "get" this paragraph and actually read through it.

Bukiniczia cabulica
Introduced to horticulture by the Swedish Expedition to Pakistan, Dan Johnson and I re-collected it near Skardu in 2001: judging by the pattern, this is the SEP form. I believe I am responsible for disseminating this: I got plants from seed from Jeanne Anderson in Idaho, who got it from Sonia Lowzow Collins in Arizona who in turn got it from Zetterlund: we finally grew an abundant crop and shared the plant that had meanwhile disappeared in gardens widely (I don't think it set as viable seed in Europe)...a tangled tale to explain why I took this picture, I know, but I believe it's true! (One cannot help but note the sometimes subtle watermark of one's own influence--if you will forgive me).


A rather unsual pot outside the alpine house! Wisley is quite experimental in various ways..this one is a tad lonely here, alas.

Hypericum aegypticum
An enormous and spectacular mound of hypericum outside one of the Alpine Houses. I grew this once. They still do!


We visited this rock garden in another Blog--but showing it again to show the expansive yard...


And there are extensive areas tucked away from the Madding crowd full of treasures...


Although I'd dropped in unannounced on a Friday, several staff took time to show me around behind the scenes. Such are the benefits of having worked decades in the field! These magicians' quarters are especially fascinating for visiting horticulturists who like to see how the magic is performed...


Beds with Primula sieboldii varieties...


Several houses with large plunge beds--the plants whisked off if needed for public view. All meticulously clean and cared for. Really: it's almost annoying from someone from a Botanic Garden without a proper alpine house at all. Not that I'm grumbling or anything...



You can see the holes where the missing show plants came out of. You can see that they have lots more to pick from--like a museum, not every worthy accession is on public view!


Numerous large cushions that require decades of tender care...

Some random closeups

More--some succulents here--to tantalize us...

And more...

And more...


An area dedicated to bulbs

And a Lewisia bed blazing color: and color matters!


More choice bulbs in spades.

More lewisias

A closer look

Nothollirion thompsonianum
I have struggled to grow this Himalayan lily cousin for many years. Somewhat aghast at their lush clumps...


And I finish with a bench featuring many pulsatillas...I could go on like this forever, but take pity on you, the reader and myself: I must get back to my own life and garden! Thanks for joining me on this re-visit to one of the many Horticultural wonderlands of Britain. Near the top of my list too!

Comments

  1. Thanks for taking us along. These are places I will probably never get to see. So I am doing some virtual travel and botanizing with you.

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