An invitation to speak to the Dutch Alpine Society, was always going to be met with the reply - "yes please!" Despite the earliness of the season, it was also a great a chance also to see how our Dutch friends grow plants.
My host was Eric Breed and I became a 'new member of the family' in Lisse for a couple of nights. The Saturday was quite busy with lectures to the group both in the morning and then after lunch. I think they enjoyed - they certainly made me most welcome!
The meeting was held at the University of Utrecht. With the Botanic Gardens on the campus and the Curator, Wiert Nieuman in the audience, as a fitting conclusion to the meeting - a small group adjourned to the gardens for a look around.
The highest mountain in Holland!!
The 'alpine balls' are the first things to attract your attention and these have featured in several garden related publications. Carefully layered and shaped slivers of rock have created a striking and functional home for a good range of crevice lovers. Following construction over ten years ago, the North side was planted with Haberlea rhodopensis, which has seeded around and established a huge colony. Daphne arbuscula was also growing well on teh sunny side.
We may have witnessed the finding of a few selected Crocus tomassinianus forms, the location of which was duly marked. A bank of naturalised Crocus had seeded about giving rise to some fantastic variation including this superb striped form.
There were some delightful drifts of snowdrops but the one which caught my eye in the rock garden was a well established stand of G. gracilis, at the peak of it's display.
The use of strata in both paths and walls was imaginative. It was both functional with wall based plantings and highly decorative.
I left Wiert becoming intoxicated by the scent of various flowers collected during our stroll.
Next, it was a short drive to the bulb-field and glasshouse of Sjaak and Aad de Groot. There were many many years of bulb growing in that car and Wim Lemmers waxed lyrical about his years of bulb growing and field study (and to think I had the temerity to include 'twin scaling' of single bulbs in my talk) - these guys propagate by the thousand.
It certainly is a culture shock and eye-opener to see the fantastic range of rare and desirable bulbs being grown outside. The light sandy soil, straw top dressing and careful maintenance of water levels in the surrounding ditch combining to provide perfectly managed conditions for bulb growing.
Here we had Iris hyrcana, bakeriana plus many more reticulata type hybrids in flower - totally unprotected.
A plastic cloche covered area was home for various juno Irises (now my eyes did light up). There were only two in flower: Iris rosenbachiana and I. stenophylla ssp allisonii. A traditional frame was also used to protect the junos and other more temperamental bulbs.
A final mouth watering treat of the non-alpine variety was in store. A huge glass house full of Cymbidium orchids - all peaking for the seasonal Valentine trade. I had only a few seconds before the camera lens misted up, this was hot stuff.....
Professional bulb growers can also enjoy their garden. Sjaak and Aad had created a mini mountain complete with gushing torrent which meandered down to a woodland setting where a collection of 80 odd named Snowdrop varieties were growing. You can tell from the motion effect of the water, light was now fading fast!
I left with many memories, mainly the people and plants, but also samples of the local spirits: Beerenberger and Koornwyn, both served straight from the freezer and madking for interesting nightcap sessions (the alcohol content ensures they never freeze). No wonder I slept so well!
There were also birds! I discovered that Eric shared my passion for birds and even though our quest for White-tailed Eagle drew a blank, I did come away with shots of the local White Stork pair......
The Eagle can wait until next time, as Eric advised me - we shall dig in!!