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Reviews of past meetings
Our speaker this month was John Page who has a special interest in the history of rock gardens and particularly bulbs (he serves on the RHS Bulb Committee). He told us all about Alpines in Botanic Garden all around the world, starting with the oldest botanic gardens in Italy, then moving to more modern gardens in Denver in the USA and Dunedin in New Zealand, and many in between.
May was our member's evening, and we had an "Alpine Gardener's Question Time" this year. The panel was Tony Hale who specialises in Saxifrages, Peter Jones a Cyclamen enthusiast and John Spokes who runs Little Heath Farm Nursery. This was very popular with member and revealed that it wasn't just the panel who were expert alpine growers.
At April's meeting, Maren Talbot from Buckinghamshire gave a very interesting and comprehensive talk about Pleiones, a genus of lovely dwarf orchids. Although they come from Asia, they are quite easy to grow in Britain as long as you keep them dry in their dormant period.
This month Arthur Nicholls gave us a very interesting talk on the flowers of Armenia. This small country squeezed between Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan has a remarkably diverse flora. Alpine flowers in the Caucasu in the north and woodland, marsh and even sub-tropical plants further south. If you like bulbs, particularly tulips and irises, Armenia is the place you must visit.
This month our secretary, David Livermore, gave us a talk on a trip he made to the Drakensburg Mountains in South Africa, including a trip into Lesotho up the spectacular Sani Pass. Not only were there lovely flowers, but beautiful scenery and some of the wildlife Africa is famous for. Certainly a place worth visiting if you want to escape from the January cold.
This month we had a very interesting talk with stunning photographs by National Collection holder Tony Goode from Norwich on the genus Crocus. Tony explained how to get the best out of these lovely flowers and how with careful choice of species, you should get flowers from late Summer through to Spring - eight months of the year.
And if you're growing them in pots, why not enter them in the monthly competition in February - there's a class especially for bulbous plants.
A bumper turnout for a first rate talk by John Mitchell from RBGE on "The Stans" - Afghanistan, Tajikstan, Uzbeckistan and Kyrgystan - officially known as "In the Footsteps of the Snow Leopard"! It had it all - interesting and unusual flowers, amazing scenery, a look at the people and culture of the area and eventually a snow leopard.
And a very well supported monthly competition. Thank you to everyone who brought plants or photographs and congratulations to the winners - full details in the newsletter
The October meeting is always our AGM, where we review the past years events, accept the accounts, elect the Officers and Committee for the next year and present the monthly competition awards. Debby Horsman stepped down from the Committee due to other commitments but will continue to support the Group and attend meetings when she can. Thanks were given to Debby for all the hard work she has done over the years. This leaves the Committee a little thin on the ground, so please think hard about volunteering.
Cups were awarded for the aggregate points for the monthly competitions over the 2015 / 16 season. The winners were as follows:
Open section: Sue and Colin Buxton, Novice Section: Debby Horsman and Artistic Section: David Livermore
After the meeting there was a plant sale and, as 2016 is the Group's thirtieth birthday year, some delicious party food instead of the usual biscuits.
Martin Sheader gave an excellent talk on the AGS Trip to Northern Peru. It is always nice to see and hear about plants from areas most of us will never get to. In this case, most of the plants are especially interesting as they are not in general commerce
Christine and Jim McGregor entertained us with a description of some of the many plants to be found in their own garden in Worcestershire, including alpine bulbs as well as larger hardy plants
This month Doug Joyce made a return visit to the Group with a talk about the plants of southern Sweden - including the islands of Oland and Gotland. This was an area well known to Carl Linnaeus and listening to Doug's talk we really felt we were following in the footsteps of the great man.
This month we were treated to an amusing and highly informative talk by that ever popular speaker Vic Aspland. He gave some very practical advice on how he solved those problems that all alpine gardeners have - moving house and moving your whole garden at the same time and how to go away on a three week holiday in the height of the growing season and still win a Farrer medal a few days after you come back!
We had two speakers at our members evening - Rob Amos talking about Plant Conservation and Liz Livermore with another talk on Japan - this time the temple gardens of Kyoto.
This month Clive Daws and Stephen Waters gave us a talk on the Burren, that remarkable area of limestone pavement in Ireland where Mediterranean and alpine plants grow side by side. The monthly competition was extremely well supported - possibly a record number of entries.
This month we had a talk by Chris Birchall of Tale Valley Nurseries focusing on the genus Rhodohypoxis. Not only did he describe the cultivation of the various species and cultivars, he took us on a tour of the Drakensburg mountains and the Sani Pass in Lesotho where Rhodohypoxis and some other lovely alpines grow in the wild.
At our first meeting of the new calendar year, the speakers were two of our own members, Roger and Penny Gray with a talk entitled "Primulas, Pedicularis, Prayer Flags and much more in Sichuan & Quinghai ". Fortunately the weather was much better than this time last year and there was a good turnout for this very interesting talk.
At our last meeting of the calendar year we welcomed back Peter Sheasby, who gave us a tour of the Caucasus mountains, both the Russian and Georgian sides. This is an area very rich in botany and has a range of habitats from steppe and grassland at low levels, through forest, to the high alpine areas. As always Peter's slides were superb and his encyclopedic knowledge of the plants, without referring to a single note!, was astounding. We were much luckier with the weather this month - in fact unseasonably mild for December - so many more of our members were able to enjoy Peter's talk.
We were unfortunate that the weather was very foggy which impacted on attendance, but those who did venture out were rewarded with a superb talk from Tim Lever of Aberconwy Nursery about his travels in the mountains of the Arunachal Pradesh in North East India. We were introduced to a wide range of woodland and high alpine plants as Tim took us from the relatively low forests up to above the tree line at 4000 metres or so. As well as the plants there were breathtaking views of the Himalayan scenery and we learnt something about the people who live in that harsh environment.
This month was our AGM, where we review the past years events, accept the accounts and elect the Officers and Committee for the next year. Colin and Sue Buxton stepped down from the Committee and Jasmine Dorricott joined it. Thank you to Colin and Sue for all the work they have done over the past few years, especially for the Group outings which Sue will still continue to organise.
Cups were awarded for the aggregate points for the monthly competitions over the 2014 / 15 season. The winners were as follows:
Open section: Sue and Colin Buxton, Novice Section: Jasmine Dorricott and Artistic Section: Elsie Willett
After the meeting there was a bulb sale and a short talk from Liz Livermore on the Gardens of Tokyo - some "rock" gardens with a difference.
We welcomed back Kit Strange from Kew as our guest speaker. Kit has given us several practical demonstrations in the past but this time it was a presentation about a project she has been working on in the Falkland Islands. She was working alongside local horticulturalists to collect and propagate native plants. These were then used to repopulate the areas cleared of mines and also sold to local people to encourage them to grow local species rather than introduced aliens. Kit has also helped establish a collection of Falkland Island plants at Kew.
Diane Clement was our speaker in August with an extremely informative talk on Cyclamen and Hepaticas - two genera she is particularly passionate about. As well as comprehensively covering the major species and their habitats, she described their cultivation in great depth and delighted us all with some stunning photography.
In July, Stephen Cotton gave us a very interesting talk based around several trips he has made to the South Tyrol. This area of Northern Italy, dominated by the rugged and beautiful Dolomites, was the scene of some fierce battles between Italy and the crumbling Austro-Hungarian Empire a hundred years ago. Hard to believe it now, seeing the tranquil mountains and valleys covered in flowers.
Our June speaker was Corinne Price, manager of the Shuttleworth Trust's Swiss Garden, talking about this historical Regency garden which has recently undergone major restoration.
In May we enjoyed a fascinating talk by Rick Lambert describing a visit he made to China, giving us insights not just into the wonderful plants, but also the culture and people of this vast country.
In April we had our annual Members evening, featuring short talks from Debby, Liz and David. We discovered Debby is a passionate Galanthophile - growing a staggering number of these little beauties in her garden. Then, Liz told us about her travels around Europe to see her favourite alpine (the gentian) in the wild and her not too successful attempts to grow them back home. Finally, David showed us some of the lovely wild orchids which can be seen in Anglesey in June, ranging from some reasonably common Marsh Orchids to the exquisite and rarer Dune Helleborine.
For our March meeting we welcomed back Jim Almond with a talk on his Juno Iris collection. The alternative title of his talk was "Growing Junos with pots, grit and a hammer!" Well, we found out what the hammer was for - the Junos grow such big roots that it's sometimes the only way to get them out of the pot at repotting time. Jim gave us a very detailed and comprehensive guide to how to succeed with these irises, which are often considered a difficult group. His photographs were superb and certainly inspired us to try to grow some of these beautiful flowers.
At our first meeting of the New Year our speaker was Alan Outen with the subject "Orchids can be Alpines too". As well as being a member of the Group, Alan is a professional botanist and ecologist and leads wildlife tours for Naturetrek. His superb slides illustrated orchids from all over the world, some living in cold high altitude locations and others preferring warmer habitats. He explained which ones can be classified as Alpines and highlighted some of the recent nomenclature changes within the various genera. Alan has built up quite a collection of orchids himself, both hardy and more tender varieties, so even more impressive that many of the photos were of his own plants.
After a feast of these exotic beauties it was quite a shock to step out and find that several centimetres of snow had fallen during our meeting. Not a nice drive home for our members.
Despite the weather we had a reasonable number of entries for the monthly competition.
At our last meeting of the year we welcomed David Charlton from Derbyshire with a talk on some of his favourite plants: mats, cushions and carpets. But these weren't ones from his own collection or close to where he lives - they were from two very different places at opposite ends of the planet! New Zealand - which we had all heard of and some of us had been to; and Svalbard - which few of us had heard of and none of us had been to! David was fortunate to visit both these places in the space of 6 months and so it enabled him to compare and contrast the plants he found there. Although so far apart there are great similarities in the habitats and consequently the plants have used the same methods to adapt to and survive in the harsh conditions. The scenery was spectacular, especially the mountains in the South Island of New Zealand, and in Svalbard we discovered a new hazard to botanising in the field - polar bears!
For the first meeting of the new season, Bob and Rannveig Wallis treated us to an amazing pictorial tour of their own lovely hillside garden in South Wales. They experience a wet, windy and sometimes very cold environment, but have expertly adapted the site to provide a range of habitats to extend the range of plants they can grow. This talk featured just the outside planting, but many of their slides showed a tantalising glimpse of some seriously large greenhouses. Perhaps the subject of a future talk?
As expected, these very popular speakers attracted a large audience, so large we seriously thought we might run out of chairs and cups and saucers!