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As Autumn Approaches - A trainee's alpine experience at RHS Garden Wisley

Posted by Sara Draycott on 11 Sep 2012 at 04:23 PM

I would like to introduce you to Rohanna Heyes, a second year trainee at Wisley. She has been inspired to blog about her experience in the Alpine Department... 


Over to you, Rohanna.

Autumn approaches quietly (there's no denying that scent on the breeze, that look on those leaves, that sound in the trees) and with it I mark a year for myself here at Wisley. Prior to arriving at Wisley for the two year RHS Wisley Diploma in Horticulture I was working at Woottens a plant nursery in Suffolk, before that studying in New Zealand for a BSc in Botany and even before that travelling Europe working on organic farms. Something like that anyway, there are many ways to tell a story, and that's what I want to do, tell stories about plants, so here I begin with this blog, I hope you find something of interest.........



I have only one week left working on the Alpine Department at RHS Garden Wisley as part of my Wisley Trainee Diploma (we spend approximately 3 months in 8 areas of the gardens). A highlight of working on the Alpine Department for me was the quiet sanctuary of the Display House, where potted plants are displayed in their prime. There was something of a lull in flowering interest in the Display House post the show of Sempervivum (S. arachnoideum AGM pictured above). However the pace seems to be picking up now, with something new blooming nearly every day. Notable are the Cyclamen, Sternbergia and two genera I had not heard of before today: Brunsvigia and Haemanthus.



The elegant and unusual looking flowers of Brunsvigia bosmaniae are something of a celebrity of the plant world after they featured on the nature documentary series: BBC Life (Plants). They take a long time to flower from seed (usually around 12 years) and as such are not often seen in cultivation. In the wild when these beauties bloom they do so in profusion - imagine a whole valley full of football size blooms protruding nakedly from seemingly a sandpit. On drying, the ball-shaped seed heads are snapped cleanly from their peduncles to roll about the sandy terrain they inhabit, scattering seeds as they go. Apparently the blooming is triggered by a brief heavy autumn downpour, with the onset of flowering occurring precisely 3 weeks there after. The plant pictured above is just beginning to open, so there is plenty of time to come and have a look!




Equally dramatic is the blood flower or paintbrush lily (Haemanthus coccineus AGM, pictured above) named for its striking vermillion red bracts and brush-like form. It has a wide habitat range from coastal southern Africa to the top of Table Mountain, an altitudinal range of around 1200m! Like other members of the Amaryllidaceae family it has an underground resting stage during seasonally drier months where leaves die back, returning energy to the bulb. The leaves, which generally appear after the flowers, were once used as a wound dressing and a vinegar-based infusion of the bulb as an asthma treatment. However like many other amaryllids, it is now considered highly toxic and lethal if consumed in quantity. On the plus side bulbs are unlikely to fall victim to rodent predation.


So while autumn approaches slowly, gently insisting its presence be felt, the Display House in the Rock and Alpine Department at RHS Garden Wisley shelters a treasure trove of unusual plants waiting to be admired.


If you'd like to know more about these, and similar, plants, I have chosen a few of my favourite other websites that you can click on where the text is highlighted above.  Click here to see a blog about our Alpine Display House from 2008.


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