A trip to Sikkim
Arisaema griffithii dark form
For me, one of the exciting things about traveling is seeing plants that I grow in my garden grown in the wild. Recently I had the opportunity to travel to the Sikkim region of India with 20 like minded individuals. Sikkim is an area of legend. Plant explorers have been traveling there for over a hundred years. At first these exotic plants were taken to prestigious gardens such as Kew in England but in more recent years plant hunters have taken them back to smaller gardens and even specialty nurseries for propagation and to sell to the public.
One of these small nurseries, Heronswood, is where I became enamored with Himalayan plants. Over the last 20 years I have grown many plants from this area of the world. They add an exotic richness to my garden. To see them grown in their natural environment gives me an added understanding of how the plant thrives and what conditions it is best suited for.
To travel with a group of 20, I thought would make it hard to fully appreciate what I was seeing. Quite to the contrary, seeing this beautiful country-side and plants and talking about it with others added to the experience. It was like having 20 sets of eyes. Everyone had a different experience. Riding in our cars and discussing what we were seeing altered and opened my eyes to my own preconceived notions.
Field of Primula dentata
When I first stepped out of the car and into a field of Primula dentata, I was stopped in my tracks. I grow a drift of 3 of these primroses at home. To see thousands of these little lavender flowers, not just in this field but throughout the trip along the road in any open area showed me just how wide spread they were. In another few weeks they would be replaced by Primula sikkimensis, a little yellow primrose. As we moved into the woods several species of Arisaema, Jack in the Pulpit, would show themselves. The group would rush from one to the other to check them out. It felt a little like being a kid on Christmas morning with one surprise after another. Not knowing what you would find next added to the excitement.
On a larger scale, experiencing being in a Rhododendron forest was almost surreal. At home these are medium sized shrubs but here, where they are native, they have become trees and cover large areas of forest. In one area there had recently been a mammoth rock-slide. The rocks had dropped thousands of feet and with such force that it blew the foliage off all the trees on the other side of the valley up hundreds of feet. It had also created a new lake where water was dammed up. Within a few weeks the local people had built a new road through the area. Some of the rocks were the size of houses so making the road was a real challenge. It will be years before plant life returns to this area but for now Rhododendrons surround it.
The trip wasn’t all just about plants. We had the opportunity to experience the people and culture of this little corner of the world. It is an area where several religions, Buddhism, Muslim, Hinduism and Christian, have co-existed for years. This melding of cultures has created a unique environment. The chaos of traffic in the city seems to just blend into the peaceful life in the hill towns.
I have travelled a lot but this was truly a unique experience. I am very grateful to my fellow adventurers for adding to my experience and I hope to travel with many of them again. In the mean time I think I will go out and plant larger drifts of primroses and Arisaemas.
Dendrobium nobile – Sikkim state flower
Making rugs at the Tibetan refugee center
Spinning wool at the Tibetan refugee center
Valley of the flowers
Big leaf Rhododendron