Rock gardens provide a variety of habitats, not just rocky slopes and cliffs. Many rock gardens have a stream or waterfall and Kew’s Rock Garden, with its pools, streams and seven waterfalls, is no exception. The conditions are perfect for a range of moisture-loving plants.
The photo below shows part of the Asian section of Kew’s Rock Garden.
A stream and waterfall in the Asian Section of Kew's Rock Garden
The orange flowers belong to Primula bulleyana, a Chinese primrose named after Arthur Kilpin Bulley, who set up Ness Gardens in Liverpool and the seed firm Bees Ltd at the beginning of the 20th century. He employed collectors, such as George Forrest, to find new plants and send back seeds. Forrest found this primula in north-west Yunnan in 1904. It first flowered in cultivation in 1909.
The plumes of creamy-white flowers below, are those of Rodgersia podophylla, an herbaceous perennial from Japan and Korea. The leaves are attractive on their own, reaching over 30cm wide and divided into 5 or 6 deeply veined leaflets.
Many irises do well in damp soil including the Siberian irises, such as Iris sibirica and I. sanguinea. Iris chrysographes has flowers in shades of deep velvety purple, with delicate golden yellow lines on the lower petals.
A word of warning!
The huge leaves on the left of the first photo belong to Lysichiton camtschatcense, an Asian version of the American skunk cabbage, L. americanum. The white spathes appear in early spring near ground level but the leaves soon follow and they are massive. This is worth remembering if you intend to plant this next to your garden pond! The other plants mentioned here do not need such boggy ground to grow in. They do best in moist soil and can also be grown in the lightly dappled shade of a woodland garden.
The waterfalls and streams on a rock garden replicate the conditions found in the wild, where melt water from glaciers and high altitude snow fields rushes down the mountainsides, dropping into steep-sided valleys and forming raging torrents through rocky meadows and woodland. Here you can find plants that grow in permanently moist soil. The water features in a rock garden mimic this habitat.
A river in the Pyrenees, near Pont D'Espagne
- Richard -
Several people contribute to the Alpine and Rock Garden Team blog. Richard Wilford is the Collections Manager in the Hardy Display Section at Kew. His responsibilities include all the areas where alpines are grown at Kew Gardens. The three team leaders, Joanne Everson, Graham Walters and Katie Price, each have their own particular parts of the Gardens to look after. Between them, these four experts have over 55 years experience of growing alpines.
Alpines at Kew Gardens are not only grown to create colourful and informative displays, they also play an important role in the research Kew carries out around plant naming, classification, biodiversity and conservation.
Mountains are found on every continent and each range has its own unique alpine flora, but these plants are under threat from climate change. As temperatures rise, alpines are forced higher and will eventually have nowhere to go. The alpine collections at Kew are studied to help us all understand the mountain flora better and make informed decisions about protecting its future.
"Probably the most beautiful glasshouse in the world is the Davies Alpine House at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew", John Hoyland, Gardens Illustrated, April 2011
Richard Wilford has written a book on alpines, 'Alpines from Mountain to Garden', published by Kew Publishing. You can buy it in the Kew shops or from Kewbooks.com.
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