Its been an exciting few weeks here at Harlow Carr, the development of the new alpine house is well under way!
Andy and his team of contractors from Houseman and Falshaw have been battling through some really wet weather which has made the heavy clay soil really sticky to work with. First they carefully dismantled the original display houses, their brick walls were then demolished and the site cleared. This included a huge crane lifting the titan mess hut portakabin to its new home in the nursery.
The contractors then worked on the levels of the site and mapped out the position of the new alpine house, which is at 45 degrees and faces towards the woodland on the other side of the garden. The foundations were dug and we could really begin to see the size of the new house, much bigger than the old ones which will give us great scope for new plantings and displays.
The foundations have had concrete laid and the locations of the pins which link up to the glass and metal section of the glasshouse have been marked out on them. These have to be millimetre perfect, as otherwise the frame will not fit! A lot of deep channels have been dug through the site the last few days and drainage pipes have been threaded through to link up with the irrigation system in the glasshouse foundations. I'll update as things develop..
In the meantime there is a temporary display of alpine plants in the Study Centre glasshouse. As it is summer (!) there are quite a lot of Campanulas in flower at the moment including the lovely Campanula raineri, trogerae, cochlearifolia and carpatica hybrids. Arisaema candidissimum is also looking good with pink striped spathes and a pleasant fragrance unlike most Arisaemas which smell of rotting flesh.
Another exciting aspect of working in a greenhouse is all the interesting insects that fly in and get stuck inside, bouncing against the glass. I had a close encounter with a huge wood wasp on Monday, it was stuck inside the alpine growing house and I caught it in a jar to release it. These are a kind of sawfly and look like a very large wasp, 3-5cm long they are black and yellow and have a large spiky ovipositor which looks like a huge sting. This is used to insert their eggs into tree trunks and they are often found near pinewoods, they are completely harmless and just look fierce!
We also have visits from potter bees which use the sand in the plunge beds to make pots on the frame of the greenhouse for their eggs to hatch in, these are really well cemented on. I have put bee boxes with hollow tubes up in the greenhouse for some other of these solitary bees to lay their eggs in.
There has been an abundance of caterpillars in the garden too, a huge population of Peacock butterfly larvae have appeared in patches of nettles in the nursery. They are quite big and are velvety black with white spots with spikes on their backs and orange legs. They seem to squabble with each other quite a bit but are voraciously reducing the stinging nettles, a great way of no effort weeding!
Kaye, Senior Gardener Alpines