Plant Hunting In Siberia – Fran Clifton (Head Gardener at Sir Harold Hillier Gardens)

Twenty years ago Fran joined a group of botanists from the Czech Republic studying plants in an area of lakes, mountains, glaciers, forests, valleys and wide open spaces, many of them wheat fields. We saw slides depicting dramatic landscapes, remote, vast, and far removed from habitation. It was Summer, with the daytime temperature reaching 30 degrees, and the group found many plants, thriving in the clear, clean air, even in inhospitable conditions between the rocks and scree, several of them yellow or pink or red cushion plants.

Many plants from Fran’s lists of those growing in the Alpine Meadows, River Valleys, Forests and Scree sound familiar eg.
Anemone crinita, Saxifraga oppositifolia, Rhodiola rosea, Gentiana altaica, Aquilegia sibirica, Potentilla fruticosa, Lonicera attaica, Berberis sibirica, Nepeta sibirica.

It was the season for fungi and rosehips. Bergenia, familiar to us, was growing prolifically, covering the whole forest floor, and the Climbing Aconite was scrambling everywhere.

This was a physically demanding experience, as food and equipment were carried in the group’s backpacks over difficult terrain, and for long distances between three prearranged meetings with guides with mules and horses bearing supplies. Clearly however, it was rewarding, as the scenery was stunning and the plants so varied, and indeed a revelation to us, the audience, as Fran shared it with such clarity and enthusiasm.