The Rock Garden in full bloom

By: Richard Wilford - 21/04/2011

The recent warm, sunny weather here in London has brought a whole range of plants into flower on the Rock Garden at Kew. Read on to see some of the highlights.

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The Rock Garden at Kew Gardens is home to alpines and Mediterranean climate plants from around the world. It usually reaches its glorious peak in May but the weather we have had recently has brought the flowering season forward by a week or two so there is already plenty to see.

A view of Kew's rock garden this week

A view of Kew's Rock Garden this week

Among the flowering plants you can find here are several peony species. Most do well in a free draining soil and sunny position like the following species, Paeonia anomala subsp. veitchii, sometimes called just P. veitchii. This specimen was collected as seed on a Kew expedition to Sichuan, China, in 2003.

A peony flowering on the rock garden at Kew

Paeonia anomala subsp. veitchii on the Rock Garden

There are plenty of irises in flower too, especially the 'bearded irises', which have a tuft or beard of hairs down the centre of their lower petals. They grow from thick rhizomes that are planted near the soil surface. The next photo shows the dark purple Iris sabina, a little known species from central Italy, near the town of Palombana Sabina, from which it takes its name. In front is a pale form of Scilla peruviana, collected as seed in Tunisia in 1989. This scilla is not uncommon in cultivation but normally has deep blue flowers.

Scilla and iris flowering on the rock garden

Iris sabina behind a group of Scilla peruviana

One more highlight for now is the showy blooms of a monkey flower, Mimulus naiandinus, endemic to central Chile. This has seeded itself into rocky cracks and is in full flower now. It has been in cultivation in the UK since the 1970s but usually under the name 'Andean Nymph'. Only in 2000 was it given a species name, and was described in Curtis's Botanical Magazine.

A monkey flower on the rock garden

Mimulus naiandinus flowering on the Rock Garden

These are just a few of the wonderful plants you can see now on the Rock Garden at Kew. Over the next few weeks more and more will bloom so come along and explore the twisting paths and rocky ledges of this spring garden highlight.

A general view of the rock garden

A general view of Kew's Rock Garden

- Richard -

1 comment on 'The Rock Garden in full bloom'

Dr. Tim Ingram says

09/05/2011 1:17:00 PM | Report abuse

It is a fantastic time of year for a lot of alpines. I have only a small sand bed in our front garden but it contains over 200 plants! Amongst them flowering at the moment are several gentians, species of Campanula and the related Edraianthus, the amazing Silene hookeri from the Rocky Mtns., and Lupinus albifrons from the western USA. The bed is dominated by a majestic plant of Yucca whipplei and several Dasylirion sp. Very different from Kew (!) but equally exciting, and very easy to make in the garden - simply dig a hole and fill with sand and give overhead winter protection.

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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