Wisley Alpine Log
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Wisley's Alpine Log
By Paul Cumbleton

Log 4 13 September 2007

By the end of August the construction phase of our new Alpine Display House was over and the completed building was handed over to us.

Construction completed

We are extremely happy with the new house - you can see it has oodles of ventilation on both sides and ridge and shading provided by roll-down 'aluminet' type shading cloth. When you walk in, the extra height gives the house a feeling of being larger and more spacious than the old one and helps too with keeping the house cool. We soon set about making good the plunges and moving in the plants for our first display. We have a few slightly raised areas contained by stones in which we try and plant in a thematic way. The very first plants put in were in such an area and had a 'Cyclamen and fern' theme.

First plants in the new house

Kathryn Hart is the one who arranges and tends the displays and once the first few plants were in, she carried on with help from other staff and trainees to fill up the rest of the plunges.

Preparing the first display

It took about a week to complete and we aimed to open the doors on Wednesday 5th September. On that morning it remained but to smarten the sand with a brush….

Brushing the sand

…. give a final watering…


… pose for a celebratory photo…

Celebrating completion

… and were ready to fling open the doors!

Open for business

The very first visitors who happened to walk through the doors were a Mr. & Mrs Millington, with their daughter, from nearby Woking.

First visitors

They seemed impressed and we hope that all our garden visitors will get a huge amount of pleasure from this new house. Here for you all to enjoy is a taster of what they saw:

Opening Day Display 1

Opening Day Display 2

Opening Day Display 3

At this time of year we are a little pushed to find a lot of things in flower but the autumn flowering Cyclamen come to our rescue and we used a lot in the first display. One of the best of these is Cyclamen mirabile

Cyclamen mirabile

Some forms of this species produce leaves with a beautiful pink colouration, at its brightest on first opening. Two of the best of these are C. mirabile 'Tilebarn Nicholas' and C. mirabile 'Tilebarn Anne'

Cyclamen mirabile 'Tilebarn Nicholas'

Cyclamen mirabile 'Tilebarn Anne'

Among various bulbs on display were the delightful Narcissus serotinus (which looks so unlike a daffodil!), Empodium plicatum and Bessera elegans:

Narcissus serotinus

Bessera elegans

Empodium plicatum

Empodium comes from South Africa and is a small genus of just a few species. The flowers, as in the picture, often appear before the leaves. Most species are not scented, but in those that are the scent can be very strong. At home I grow Empodium flexile and a single flower can fill a large greenhouse with an overpowering scent of coconut. Wondeful! The Empodium plicatum on the other hand has a scent which I find unpleasant - a bit like a bathroom cleaner! - but not everyone agrees with me.

A couple of late flowering alpines we managed to include in the display were Gentiana paradoxa and Townsendia mensana.

Gentiana paradoxa

Townsendia mensana

I'm rather fond of the Townsendias and have from seed added about a dozen species to our collection in the past couple of years. My favourite, beautiful in or out of flower is T. condensata that has a lovely hairy rosette.

Townsendia condensata

Plants with good form like this do help us out regarding the display in the house at times of year when flowers are a bit lacking. So we use plants with interesting texture, form or coloured leaves to add interest - things like ferns, Sempervivums and various cushion plants. A couple of such things on display on our opening day were these:

Petrocosmea rosettifolia

Rosularia platyphylla

The small sideways extension to the house creates a bed too wide for us to reach to plunge pots at the back. We decided to use this space to create a permanent display. We have made it as a sand bed (encouraged by the success of our new sand beds outside) and have used tufa for some rockwork. Kathryn decided she would like to mainly show Saxifrages in here. So we have planted it with many of the Porphyrion group (Kabschias) and a few silvery encrusted types. To give a bit more interest when these are not in flower, about a quarter of the planting is not saxifrages but a mix of other alpines. This was the result:

Permanent planting

So the new house is open. We hope many of you may get a chance at some time to come and see it for yourselves. For those who can't, keep reading the logs and I'll show things from it that are of interest on a regular basis.

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