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Cornucopia - Himalayan plants from wild collected seed

Himalayan plants from wild collected seed
Eric Lee

My first introduction to Himalayan plants occurred shortly after I joined the Friends of the Botanical Gardens (FOBS) when I visited the garden of a member. She showed me a small group of plants which she had grown from seed collected in the Himalaya. She had purchased a shareholding in an expedition led by Chris Chadwell, one of the present day plant hunters. (He is featured in a recent book The Plant Hunter’s Garden - The New Explorers and Their Discoveries.)

I decided to have a go myself and bought a shareholding in the 1996 expedition. I subsequently received some 60 or 70 packets of seed, but I was disappointed when only about 60 germinated. However, Chris told me that this was a good result for seeds collected in the wild. I potted on most of them and eventually established a Himalayan bed in my garden with three dozen different species. I was also able to give surplus plants to FOBS members. I think I had a good return on my investment.

The Sino-Himalayan Plant Association (SHPA)

Over the next few years I became more and more interested in Himalayan plants and so I joined the SHPA which was co-founded by Chris. In addition to leading expeditions (now numbering in excess of twenty) to the Himalaya, cleaning and issuing seed, maintaining a herbarium of his introductions and lecturing in various parts of the world, he acts as secretary to the SHPA and issues a twice-yearly journal. This covers various horticultural topics, but of particular interest for me are the descriptions of the problems he sometimes experiences whilst travelling to the collecting sites and during the collecting. These have involved illness, atrocious weather, appalling travel and accommodation conditions and, on occasions, danger. Plant hunting can still be quite arduous.

The Sheffield Botanical Gardens Project

During the restoration of the Botanical Gardens I was told that a Himalayan bed was to be established in an area not included in the original plan. I offered to grow plants for this and the then curator accepted. I bought a shareholding in the 2005 expedition.

However no progress was made in the site development until a new curator, Ian Turner, was appointed. He arranged for the clearing of a large area adjacent to the bearpit, and I have been growing plants from each expedition since then. So far I have supplied over 500 plants, but there have been more losses than I had expected. A comment frequently made is ‘if they will grow in the Himalaya they will grow here’. This is definitely not correct. The Himalaya has a wide range of micro-climates and plants requiring a variety of growing conditions. It is difficult (or not possible) to meet every plant’s needs. Another factor influencing the success is that I am in the Gardens for only two hours each week and cannot give plants the attention they would get in my own garden. Unfortunately, some 200 were planted in the Gardens two weeks before the pre-Christmas cold spell, and there may be significant losses. I know that I have lost about 150 bulbs / corms from the propagated stock in my garden due to the cold weather.

Why do I do it?

I have a garden which is very labour intensive and my horticultural and gardening interests are wide ranging but, without a doubt, the best part for me is growing plants from seed. The interest is greatly increased when the resulting seedlings are new to me. Some of them are not in my reference books, which include The Plant Finder and the RHS Index of Garden Plants containing, I believe, descriptions of 60,000 species.

If anyone has similar interests to mine and would like to take out a shareholding in an expedition, I can assure you that the results can be very rewarding.

An updated version of an article first published in the South Pennine Group Newsletter, Spring 2011
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 30.
© Copyright for this article: Eric Lee

This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2012. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.


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