High society: the expert’s guide to alpines

You don’t need to head to the mountains to enjoy these tiny jewels

What Kew’s resident expert, Richard Wilford, doesn’t know about alpines isn’t worth knowing. “We’ve got a very tall house to grow some very small plants,” he jokes. Wilford is an alpine lover and head of design and collection support at the Royal Botanic Gardens; its alpine house is a revolving door for alpines from around the world. Its soaring roof and graceful curves create a stack effect: as the air heats up, it rises, drawing cool air from the vents at the base of the greenhouse, so those tiny alpines believe they are in the high elevations of the mountains rather than on the alluvial plains of the Thames. Year-round, there’s always some tiny jewel to see: the plants don’t tend to live permanently in display houses, so it’s more have-your-turn-on-the-catwalk and then go backstage.

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