Wisley Alpine Log
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Wisley's Alpine Log
By Paul Cumbleton

Log 2 16 August 2007

Alitex vans

We were all excited last week when on Monday the arrival of these vans signalled the delivery of our new Alpine Display House. The Alitex team soon had all the bits and pieces unloaded and laid around the site ready to start construction.

Unloaded parts

Everything was arranged neatly and in order which I'm sure made the subsequent construction much easier.

Orderly nuts and bolts

By the end of the first day some parts of the frame were already assembled. You will notice that we have chosen a dark green colour for the house which we felt would look best and be appropriate in the surrounding landscape.

First frame parts positioned

We were surprised at just how quickly things progressed and by the end of day two much of the main frame was already in place and we began to get a feel for what the house was going to be like. We know that many visitors loved the old wooden display house and will be keen to see what this replacement will actually look like. I hope the following pictures will assure everyone that the new house will be a worthy and beautiful replacement.

Day 2 of construction

Day 3 saw the main frame complete and the first of the glass being fitted. The glass is toughened safety glass, a must these days in public buildings where we have to consider health and safety issues.

Day 3 of construction

The remaining 2 days saw the house completed with all the vents, doors, shading and other bits and pieces in place. Walking inside, the most noticeable difference is that the house feels much more spacious than the old one, even though it fits on the same base. This is due to it being much taller than the previous house, and to the slight extension to the side that gives it a "T" shape. The extra height will also be good for the plants as it will raise the heat ceiling and keep them cooler.

Construction completed

The next two weeks will occupy us getting the insides ready for opening to the public. Hopefully by the time of my next log it will all be ready.

With all the excitement of the new house, it would be easy to forget that there that is much to do elsewhere in the department. Outside, the Rock Garden has looked particularly lush this year with all the rain we have had. Right next to the Rock Garden is the Alpine Meadow, famous for its Spring displays of Narcissus bulbocodium. However, there are other things in the meadow with many wild native flowers including orchids (Dactylorhizas) and it is a haven for wildlife too. Our management regime is simple - once the Narcissus have flowered in Spring we leave the grass to grow long, through into the summer before cutting it in August. The timing of the cut is governed by environmental considerations. Conservation organisations, such as English Nature and Butterfly Conservation, recommend leaving meadows uncut until August or early September in order to give meadow grasses and a wide range of meadow wild flowers an opportunity to flower and seed. Cutting at this time also benefits meadow butterflies that have gr
ass-feeding caterpillars, such as meadow brown, gatekeeper, small skipper, large skipper, Essex skipper, small heath and ringlet, all of which occur at Wisley. Other insects also benefit from an extended period of long grass, including grasshoppers and plant bugs.

So we took advantage of a nice dry and warm spell last week to do the meadow cutting. First the long grass is cut with a reciprocating blade mower

Initial cutting of meadow

The grass is raked into piles, loaded onto a trailer and taken out to the arboretum where it is spread as mulch around the trees. Many hands make light work and this was a big team effort, ably assisted by the Woody side of the team.

Clearing the meadow

I should explain the "Woody" reference above! The Alpine Department here used to be one of several major departments that the garden is divided into, each with its own Superintendent and staff. Last year, when our previous Superintendent Trevor Wiltshire retired, it was decided to merge the Alpine Department with the Woody Ornamental Department, under one Superintendent, Colin Crosbie. The merged Department is officially known as The Woody Ornamental and Alpine Plants Department. But for brevity we still tend to call our part of the team just the Alpine Department.

Finally for this log I should get at least one plant picture in! Last time I showed an Aptosimum species flowering and mentioned that it was one of two species that had successfully germinated (neither of these came with a specific name). This week the other species started flowering. The blooms are a little paler blue and the white markings almost form a star shape on the flower. The leaves of this species are tough and almost spiny to touch.

Aptosimum sp.

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