If your garden contains a rockery, trough, old Butler’s sink or containers, chances are they’ll be home to an alpine plant or two. Alpines are enjoying a surge in popularity as gardeners realise how tough these often delicate-looking plants are. In fact, many alpines will happily shrug off the UK’s chilly winters and put on a spectacular show when the weather warms up in spring.
For expert advice on the best alpine plants to grow in gardens, our Master Grower, D’Arcy & Everest, were on-hand at the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show to advise visitors.
About the RHS Chatsworth 2018 Master Grower – D’Arcy & Everest
D’Arcy & Everest, based near Pidley in Cambridgeshire, first put down roots in 1992, when owner Angela Whiting decided to launch a retail arm of her family-run wholesale nursery, which had been in operation since the 1970s.
The business focuses on the family’s passion for British home-grown alpines and sempervivums from around the world. All of its plants are grown on-site from seeds, cuttings and by separation. Nothing is bought in and, at peak periods, it is not uncommon for about 50,000 plants spanning 15,000 varieties to be in stock at the nursery, which is just over an acre in size.
From its first display at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 1993, D’Arcy & Everest has established itself as a leading specialist in alpines, propagating varieties aimed at both beginner gardeners as well as experienced collectors. In 2013 Angela’s son Luke and his wife Laura took over running much of the business, which holds a prestigious collection of RHS Gold medals won at shows.
Luke explains how the nursery has been at the forefront of alpine plant breeding: “We average 10 new varieties each year from own breeding programme or via acquired seeds. New varieties are tested for a four or five-year period prior to sale. Out of 100 new varieties, it’s likely that just 5% will come to fruition.
“We grow in six open polytunnels with netted ends. All the tunnels are cold, but the open ends limit the moisture content inside. This ensures that all plants are suitably hardened off before being sold,” Luke adds.
This year (2018) the nursery has increased growing space by 30%, with a 50% expansion in bed space outdoors. It took on a full-time staff member, Ross Bailey, a family friend, to help meet demand from customers. But Luke points out: “We want to stay small to concentrate on the quality of the plants we grow.”
The RHS Chatsworth Master Grower display at Chatsworth
D’Arcy & Everest often gives talks at gardening clubs and societies, as well as conducting tours at its nursery. For its special RHS Chatsworth Master Grower display, it staged a version of its entire operation at the show – a mini-demonstration of how its nursery runs.
Featuring at the show was a propagation house, propagation tunnels, area of seedlings and stock beds of mature plants, leading up to a full display. With this journey from seed germination and cuttings, visitors were able to see what the nursey does.
The centrepiece was a Gabriel Ash cedar glasshouse, containing around 150 terracotta pots of alpines, while the entire display housed between 500 and 1,000 plants. There was also a focus on alpine bowls, with each one containing around 20 plants.
Darcy & Everest’s top five plants
The nursery’s Luke Whiting, highlights five star plants that are likely to feature in the RHS Chatsworth Master Grower display.
Calceolaria 'Kentish Hero'
A striking calceolaria with deep flame-red buds that open into bright orange flowers from late April until October. Plants will reward gardeners with a long flowering period, provided that spent blooms are removed. Plants are hardy enough to be kept in cold polytunnels over winter.
Originating from dry, rocky slopes in Siberia, this unusual alpine puts on a show of grey foliage and white flowers. It’s a good choice to grow in an alpine house, but is tough enough to be grown outdoors from March onwards.
Diascia 'Denim Blue'
A bushy alpine bearing soft-purple flowers that turn to rich denim blue as they mature. Hardy and suitable for rockeries and borders, flowers are borne from May until September. After their first flush of flowers, plants should be cut back hard. They’ll be back in bloom three to four weeks later.
Calceolaria arachnoidea 'Darcies Velvet'
A hybrid that emerged from Darcy & Everest’s breeding programme. Its rich purple flowers are unusual for calceolaria and contrast with its lighter foliage, with blooms borne from mid-April until September. It’s hardy and forms a large clump.
Lewisia longipetala 'Darcies Sunrise'
Another triumph from the nursery’s breeding programme, it “sold out instantly” when plants first went on sale in 2017. Set to be released again shortly, flowers come in shades of deep orange between May and September.
What is an RHS Master Grower?
The RHS Master Grower scheme launched at the RHS Tatton Park Flower Show in July 2016 and continues to shine the spotlight on the UK’s finest specialist nurseries. Master Grower nurseries must offer excellent customer service and propagate a high percentage of plant material at their own nursery. They are focused on ethical and sustainable plant production and breed their own varieties. Master Growers produce unusual plants that thrive in UK gardens and have a proven track record of supporting RHS shows – with a proud collection of awards and medals. They’ll inspire visitors at shows by sharing expert gardening advice and offering practical demonstrations.