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Visiting Wrightman Alpines


By John Beaulieu (Bowl-you)

I had been wanting to get down to visit Wrightman Alpines for several years. They were one of the stops on a garden tour of the Ontario Rock Garden and Hardy Plant Society and I did get to one of the ORG&HPS meetings to hear Harvey Wrightman talk about the latest inovations in building alpine troughs. The trouble has been that their nursery, west of London (Ontario), is about a four hour drive from Midhurst. However, Brenda wanted to go to London to see an International Quilt Show featuring quilts from Africa, and we were going to stay overnight in London…. My perfect chance to get to Wrightmans! They were one of the only places offering Geranium argenteum (which I wanted) and they also had Geranium sessiliflorum ‘Nigricans’. My ‘Nigricans’ was almost lost last year with our fickle spring, it recovered slightly but I wanted a backup plant, as no seeds were produced last year.

When we pulled in to Wrightman Alpines I quickly noticed several large mounds that were covered with limestone rock and a great variety of alpine (rock garden) plants. These were their own rockery gardens, used as display gardens. The rockery mounds and scree gardens surrounded their house and over by the greenhouses I could see the tufa troughs that they are famous for.

Irene Wrightman was busy working in the rockery. After greeting us she took us on an informative tour of these rockeries. As we got close to the plants, I was like a kid in a candy store… I saw all kinds of Erodium, varieties that I had only seen photos of. I grew Erodium manescavii and E. chrysanthum, which I thought were the only ones hardy in Canada (I also grow ‘William Bishop’ (previously known as ‘Bishop’s Form’) and E. trifolium (often misnamed as pelargoniflorum) but those come inside for the winter). Now I am looking at other varieties that over-winter in the Wrightman’s garden!

Irene identified and explained about all the alpines. I must admit that I am a little uni-focused on gerainiaceae and know very little about other alpine plants. Irene would scramble up the rocks and through the garden to show off interesting plants. I had to follow, but it felt strange walking right in someones garden, I had to be very careful!

At times I seemed stranded on the mound as I was not as quick as Irene who knew the rocks well! It was Erodium heaven among all these plants that I had only dreamed of. They are not readily available at Ontario garden centres, all of which simply resell plants purchased from wholesalers. Wrightman’s is a rare true specialist nursery, propagating their own plants.

Erodium cheilanthifolium ‘Bidderi’
(sold as ‘Natasha’)

Erodium cheilanthifolium ‘Album’
(often wrongly called E. petraeum ssp. crispum)

Erodium carvifolium

Our wonderful tour continued by the tufa troughs, many of which are pre-planted with alpines and more rock, making them look like a section right off a mountain in Europe. Irene explained about the truckload of rock that they bring in and how Harvey and their son hand carve the troughs.

We eventually got to the greenhouses, and now the hard part… I had to select the few plants to purchase. The selection of alpine plants for sale was amazing! I did get the two geraniums I had wanted, plus four new Erodiums, a hardy Pelargonium, another new geranium for me – a white form of G. dalmaticum, a strange horned poppy, and an Asphodeline taurica.

Here I am back home with my tray of little treasures. At a London area garden centre, I found a tin planter that will be perfect for some of my new plants (the Erodiums) that I may move to an unheated porch in the winter. Although they did fine at Wrightman’s, they are into zone 6 and we are only zone 4 here in Midhurst. Eventually, when I have propagated some plants, I will try them out doors over the winter, but as long as I have only one of each, they will come in to a protected area.

EDIT 2016: As it turned out, most of those erodiums did not like coming in for the winter… I almost lost them!
The next year, they stayed out in the ground, and E. acaule, E. cheilanthifolium ‘Album’ did fine. I lost E. carvifolium and E. cheilanthifolium ‘Bidderi’ (Natasha). The survivors have survived two winters now. Replacing the others is not easy, as they are not readily available, and I keep a close eye on the seed exchanges.

Some Erodiums already has seeds forming.

The horned poppy.

Just a peak at one of the amazing quilts from the show that got us to London, allowing me to have that fantastic visit with Harvey and Irene Wrightman.

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Thankyou John for the amazing tour.

18 Jun, 2013


What a wonderful place! I didn't know what tufa troughs were and the first result of a google search took me the Wrightman Alpines! Did you buy a quilt too? It looks lovely!

18 Jun, 2013


Wonderful. Sounds and looks like a very worthwhile trip.
Those gardens are superb. Good luck with your plants.

18 Jun, 2013


Your enthusiasm was infectious - what a wonderful happy smile you have with your arms full of treasures! I hope you have no trouble getting them through customs and that they all flourish for you.

18 Jun, 2013


Seems as if Midhurst is in Canada Stera. London Ontario certainly is.
Lovely blog, and most interesting.

19 Jun, 2013


Anujag - No, we did not buy a quilt, but we are hoping to perhaps win the draw quilt. Many were for sale and were selling good. Brenda bought lots of African pattern fabric, so now has to figure out a project to use it on!

As Diane said.... All in Canada (We have a London too), so no customs are involved.

Thanks for the comments,

19 Jun, 2013


That explains it - I wondered how you were going to carry that lot trans Atlantic!

19 Jun, 2013


I think alpines are interesting and I am fascinated by them. I hope you enjoy your new plants :o)

20 Jun, 2013


An amazing place and you looked to be in seventh heaven, how on earth does one choose out of such a vast selection, hoping your plants do well for you and thankyou for sharing what was obviously a very enjoyable trip......

25 Jun, 2013


i've visited wrightman's, and concur with everything you said. it's a destination for those of us who love alpines and good people. i drove 1000 miles from northern minnesota to take a 1/2 day trough planting class from harvey and joseph halda, and have to say it was worth every mile...what a TREAT! thanks for the post and the photos! best of luck with the erodiums!

8 Jan, 2014


Bejoubum - I came across mention of an alpine nursery in Michigan, called Arrowhead. Have you been there? I guess that is still a long distance for you! They appear to have some different varieties, but unfortunately do not ship to Canada and I have no passport to cross the border.

17 Jan, 2014

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