Alpine success at Chelsea

By: Richard Wilford - 26/05/2011

Kew's Alpine Nursery sent plants to the Chelsea Flower Show to be shown to the RHS Rock Garden Plant Committee - and three out of four received an award! Read on to see the what caught the Committee's eye.

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Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Committees meet several times a year, including on the Monday of the Chelsea Flower Show. At these meetings growers can submit new or interesting plants to be considered for awards. The Alpine Nursery at Kew usually shows plants to the Rock Garden Plant Committee and this year we sent four species to the meeting at Chelsea: Arisaema fargesii, Dianthus haematocalyx subspecies pindicola, Conanthera trimaculata and Cyrtanthus brachyscyphus.


Kew's alpine plants ready to be taken to the Chelsea Flower Show

The plants ready to be taken to the Chelsea Flower Show early on Monday morning


About the awards

RHS Committees can give several awards to plants for exhibition. A Preliminary Commendation is awarded to a plant 'of promise for exhibition', an Award of Merit is given to a plant 'of great merit for exhibition' (not to be confused with the Award of Garden Merit, which is awarded to plants that have undergone a trial to assess their garden worthiness), and a First Class Certificate is given to a plant 'of outstanding excellence'. Two other awards are the Botanical Certificate for plants 'of exceptional botanical interest' and a Cultural Commendation awarded to the exhibitor of a plant showing 'evidence of great cultural skill'.

So how did our plants do?

The Arisaema didn't win anything this time but the other three all received awards. Dianthus haematocalyx subsp. pindicola is a small, low-growing alpine pink from the mountains of south east Europe. It received a Preliminary Commendation and also a recommendation to be considered for an Award of Garden Merit.


Pink flowers of Dianthus haematocalyx

Flowers of the award winning Dianthus haematocalyx subsp. pindicola


The South African bulb, Cyrtanthus brachyscyphus, also received a Preliminary Commendation. This plant grows in Eastern Cape, the summer rainfall part of South Africa. It has fantastic bright orange, tubular flowers and has great potential as a plant for a cool glasshouse.


The plant of Cyrtanthus brachyscyphus  Orange flowers of Cyrtanthus brachyscyphus

Left, the plant of Cyrtanthus brachyscyphus shown to the Committee,
and right, the flowers close up


The third plant from Kew's Alpine Nursery to win an award was the South American Conanthera trimaculata. This Chilean bulb is in the same family as the Chilean blue crocus, Tecophilaea cyanocrocus, and received a Preliminary Commendation in 2001. This year it was looking particularly good, with several flower stems displaying many violet-blue, bell-shaped flowers. The name trimaculata means three-spotted and refers to the three dark spots on the back of each bloom. This year it gained an Award of Merit and also a Cultural Commendation. The second is especially pleasing as it is awarded to the grower of the plant and is recognition of the horticultural skill of the staff in the Alpine Nursery at Kew.


Blue flowers of Conanthera trimaculata

The flowers of Conanthera trimaculata


So a good Chelsea Flower Show for Kew's Alpine Nursery!

While on the subject of alpines at Chelsea, mention must be made of the wonderful display put on by the Alpine Garden Society, which received a Gold Medal. A few Kew staff helped out in their own time with staging this stand, including fellow bloggers Joanne Everson and Katie Price.


The Alpine Garden Society stand at Chelsea

The Gold Medal winning, Alpine Garden Society stand at Chelsea this year


- Richard -


1 comment on 'Alpine success at Chelsea'

Dr.Tim Ingram says

26/05/2011 4:15:35 PM | Report abuse

Really nice to see the Chelsea images as I didn't have an opportunity to go this year. Dianthus haematocalyx in the same form grows in a sand bed in my garden and I can echo the comments of what a fine plant it is. The AGS stand is always exciting and it looks more wonderful than ever this year! Time for a television programme on alpine plants!

About us

Looking north towards the Davies Alpine House from the Rock Garden

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

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