Alpine Garden Society

Ulster Group

                      Plant of the Month - November 2014
                                Sempervivum montanum v stiriacum "Lloyd Praeger"  - by George Gordon
Despite being one of Ireland’s foremost botanists, there are few plants now readily available to gardeners that have been named after Robert Lloyd Praeger. Born in Holywood Co Down in 1865 he spent much of his life in Dublin where he had a garden in Rathgar. Of particular interest to Praeger was the Family Crassulaceae and he travelled extensively to see them in the wild, including the Canary Islands, Madeira, The Alps and The Balkans. This culminated in the publication in 1932 of “An Account of the Sempervivum Group”. The copyright of this lies with a German publisher and is still available today, although there has been much revision in the nomenclature.
Plants he collected, or was given, were grown in his own garden or given to Glasnevin Botanic Garden in Dublin, and Charles Nelson in “A Heritage of Beauty” describes a full list.

 Although none of the plants mentioned there can be traced directly to Praeger, Nelson considered some at Glasnevin might well be survivors of the original collections.

Sempervivum montanum v stiriacum comes from the Eastern Alps and I have had it for many years. “Lloyd Praeger” has larger, flatter rosettes than the type and has red/brown tips to the leaves in summer. Like most Sempervivums it is easy to grow and propagate and (coming from The Alps) is totally hardy in Ireland. If it has a fault it is that the stout stems leave spaces between the rosettes.
The National Collection of Sempervivums is held by Fernwood Nursery in Devon. They list a Sempervivum montanum v stiriacum “Lloyd Praeger” as above and also a montanum v stiriacum x cantabricum “Lloyd Praeger” of garden origin. Perhaps they refer to the same plant, the origin of which was at Praeger’s garden in Rathgar.
Praeger was also a prolific writer and his best-known work, “The Way that I Went” has been continuously in print since 1937. It is worth looking out for any of the others. He describes, for instance, botanising in the Canary Islands in the 1920’s “when there were few roads and fewer hotels”. Travel was by camel and donkey. There have been some changes since !
Praeger also collected many varieties of ferns in Co. Down and Co. Antrim, principally Soft Shield-ferns (Polystichum setiferum). I wonder if any of those have survived?  Dabeoica cantabrica “Praegerae”, a heath discovered at Errisbeg in Connemara,  is named after his wife Hedi and seems to be getting rarer now. There is only a single supplier listed in the RHS Plantfinder.
There is a direct link between Robert Lloyd Praeger and the Ulster Group of the Alpine Garden Society through one of our members, Margaret Kennedy, as she had the privilege of meeting him when she was a child.