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Kew's Rock Garden bursts into life

From all views, the Rock Garden looks fabulous in the May sunshine.

Kew's Rock Garden

The Rock Garden displays a range of mountain plants, Mediterranean plants and moisture-loving species from around the world. The Europe section includes British native plants plus those from mountainous parts of Europe. Some examples are the purple saxifrage (Saxifraga oppositifolia) and the rare Cheddar pink (Dianthus gratianopolitanus).

The Africa and Mediterranean section shows species from the Mediterranean basin, including southern Europe and North Africa, as well as plants from the mountains of southern Africa that are hardy enough to grow outside. The Asian section showcases alpine plants from the Himalayas, Caucasus, China and Japan. These range from the ornamental zebra grass Miscanthus sinensis to the red winged spindle tree (Euonymus alatus).

The Australia and New Zealand area includes plants from the Southern Alps of New Zealand and southeast Australia, while the South America section features alpines from the Andes and Patagonia. The North America section displays a large waterfall that tumbles into a boggy area planted with moisture-loving plants. It also displays alpine plants from the Rocky and Appalachian mountains.


There has been a Rock Garden at Kew since 1882, but it has been radically altered over the last 130 years, with even the rocks being changed. Initially built to accomodate a bequest of nearly 3,000 plants from George Curling Joad, owner of one of the largest collections of alpines in the country, it was hastily built from limestone, building rubble and even tree roots. In 1929, the project to replace the limestone with Sussex sandstone began, but didn’t really get going until after the Second World War, continuing until 1969.

The Sussex sandstone, quarried from West Hoathly, holds more water than the hard limestone, so in dry spells in summer the plants still have access to moisture reserves behind and beneath the rocks. Alpines need plenty of water when in growth; it’s in winter when they’re dormant that good drainage is vital. More work was undertaken with the construction of the Princess of Wales Conservatory, and since the completion of the Davies Alpine House yet another stage has been underway, overseen by Chas Shine, manager of the Herbaceous Unit and Team Leader Joanne Everson.

From its early flush of spring bulbs, bursts of flowers appear in May, including Rock Garden peonies, like the rare Turkish Paeonia turcica and P. cambessedesii from the Balearic Islands, with an assortment of geraniums, alpine phloxes, irises, saxifrages, columbines, rock roses and penstemons all contributing to the stunning show.

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2 June 2010
That picture really doesn't do this fabulous garden justice!