07 April 2014 By Billy Hawkins
I had been looking forward to our event at Wisley for some time – it was to be a unique opportunity to get behind the scenes with Cara Smith, leader of the Alpine House team, accompanied by Lucie, a team member.
After finding our way to Wisley through the Saharan dust cloud, and a quick cuppa, we made a party of twenty guests, some alpine enthusiasts, but generally all wanting to find out more. I consider ourselves incredibly lucky to have been in the Alpine House at this time of year, accompanied by such enthusiastic, passionate and knowledgeable guides.
We were inspired to try creating alpine environments in a variety of attractive ways – in imitation of the Crevice garden, built in 2011 by ZeeZee, a Czech landscaper who employs this method frequently in his native country where this style of gardening is very popular. Within each crevice, small micro climates are created for different types of plants, but it is very much trial and error to see what the possibilities are. The only maintenance required is watering, weeding and replanting where gaps appear. The Daphne in particular has been a nice surprise for the team – providing a good display and delicious scent.
Cara’s special area of interest are the South African flowers whilst Lucie had a wealth of knowledge about Hepatica’s - many of which have been donated to Wisley by a private collector - are rare and therefore especially valuable. (Lucie takes us to non-public access areas to see the valuable hepatica's - one of which was recently stolen.)
It is always flattering for us when someone with the alpine plant authority and knowledge of Cara (on behalf of Wisley), says that she reserves the very best plants, at the height of their fabulousness, for the Alitex greenhouse (which is the Wisley Alpine house). They pick out the best looking plants from behind the scenes to display to the public – without doubt the plants we saw were all magnificent so it is amazing how selections are made!
It is not just about floral display either, leaves can provide a focal point of interest, be they marbled, hairy, tiny or the larger leaved plants typical of Japan. I liked the drama of this leaf grouping.
Top tips include: Control the water your alpine plants intake through their terracotta pots by removing them from their wet sand surround and soaking them thoroughly. Don’t rely on watering in situ as the water will leach by osmosis to the drier surrounding area.
No misting was necessary as alpine plants would develop fungal disease. The plants were kept at an optimum cool temperature of 5/6 degrees centigrade, replicating the harsh conditions of the Alps.
Learn more about Alpines from this dedicated book (Kew Books) recommended by Cara.
Thank you to the Alpine Team for a great day and to our guests for making the event so enjoyable.