Sunday, 29 May 2011

A Walk Around Kew Gardens with Richard Wilford

Tropaeolum tricolor in the Davies Alpine House

I recently met up with Richard Wilford, Collections Manager of the Hardy Display at The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew for a walk around the areas he manages and a behind the scenes look at the Alpine nursery.  

Looking up to the Temple of Aeolus

Meeting at the imposing Victoria Gate, a grade II listed structure formally opened in 1889, we made our way to the woodland garden that lies just below the Temple of Aeolus.  The woodland garden, full of Trilliums, Meconopsis, Hostas and other herbaceous and woody perennial plants, was lush and green and although many of the very early woodland plants had finished flowering the garden was entering its next phase and bristled with interest.  The relatively hot and dry Spring that has been widespread across Britian has not gone unnoticed at Kew and the plants appear to be ahead of themselves with early flowering across the board.  As you may imagine a lack of rain coupled with hot daytime temperatures could really make an impact on this wooded area but determined and in superb defiance this area appeared in tip-top condition.  As we walked up the small hill to the temple a beautiful view opened up allowing us to see over the order beds, where each plant order is grouped together, and down to the rock garden.  On looking over this area the colour from the climbing roses on the pergola that divides the order beds really had me hankering to go and investigate further but alas we were on the move. 

The Rock Garden

A quick walk down the hill and the landscape had changed, we were in the rock garden.  I’m in no way fanatical about such spaces and I’ve even advised friends in the past not to install such a feature but I was blown away by the amount of colour and the high level of interest such a space could offer. This was much more than your typical rock garden and on this scale it was divine.  For once in my life I viewed Saxifrages as beautiful and I also fell in love with Arum dioscoridis var. dioscoridis and a late flowering Tulip, Tulipa sprengeri to be exact. Richard extolled the virtues of this bulb and sold it to me with talk of it being happy in our generally damp climate.  It doesn’t require lifting, it self seeds and it flowers year in, year out.  Aside from this, it’s also beautiful and has great form.  No longer had I decided that this is the tulip for me but we were moving through Europe, the Mediterranean, Asia, Africa, North America, Australia and New Zealand, and every section was awash with beautiful plants.  As we meandered through the rock garden I was fixated on one dominant feature throughout and eventually we reached it – the Davies Alpine House.  
The Davies Alpine House
 Caceolaria uniflora, Sprekelia formosissima & Dactylorhiza foliosa (Left to Right)

One of the most striking features in this section of the gardens; the Alpine house is the third version of it’s kind at Kew since 1887.  It measures in at 16 metres long and 10 metres high at its apex and is by no means your typical alpine house.  With automatically operated blinds and low iron glass attached by high tension steel cables, the house is not only striking but functional as it ensures maximum light transmission whilst also providing shade if needed.  It also boasts a very clever ventilation system that draws air in from around the house, cools it via an underground concrete labyrinth and then pumps it in to the house maintaining the air temperature and air flow at an optimum level for its Alpine inhabitants.  The house itself houses around 200 plants that are rotated regularly to create a display brimming with interest.  When discussing past alpine houses at Kew Richard has said that plants would look straggly from the reduced light after a two-week stint on display.  Now, they thrive in the more favorable conditions and return to the Alpine Nursery looking as healthy as when they left.  A tribute to it’s excellent design.  The Alpine house is also home to some of Richards most loved plants – Dionysias.  Interesting plants closely related to Primulas, Dionysias are difficult to maintain in cultivation due to their propensity to rot in our climate but with protection from the alpine house and some professional care Kew has a great collection and this is only set to grow in future years.  Many accessions of Dionysia are quite old and arrived at Kew well before Richard was employed and they have been propagated from cuttings since.  The team continue to look for new additions, especially if they come with information about where they were collected in the wild.  Species plants are of more interest to Richard than hybrids as he says “this makes the collection more useful to researchers working on natural habitats and the plants that grow there”. Richard and his team have obtained Dionysia seed in recent years from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and Gothenburg Botanical Garden, such as Dionysia mozaffarianii - a relatively new species, only described in 2000.

Continuing our walk through the gardens we passed the Jodrell Laboratory and a sculpture by Charles Jencks entitled ‘Bootstrapping DNA’.   We entered the Alpine Nursery where I was privileged to have a look at what goes on behind the scenes. The nursery itself is a mixture of glasshouses, poly-tunnels, raised beds and mobile benches, each with its own individual purpose and plant collections.  Two national plant collections are held in this section, Juno irises (Iris subgenus Scorpiris) and Tulipa species, see Richards book on the latter here, and these sat under a structure giving protection from the elements ahead of their dormancy. 
Behind the scenes: Dyonisia inside the nursery glasshouse

The largest of the nursery glasshouses is separated in to five zones and houses a wide variety of plants and bulbs that are largely destined to go on display in the Davies Alpine House when at their very best.  All the plants here are grown in clay pots and plunged in to sand beds or placed on benches, which allows for easy transportation and enables the gardeners to grow each plant in the soil specific to its requirements. The Arisaemas housed here were exquisite and as when walking through other areas of the garden, I was making a mental wish-list of plants, however unachievable this may be but that’s what wish-lists are for I guess?  Dionysias had a couple of dedicated benches all to themselves and it was really interesting to learn more about them and how they are propagated.  The seemingly sturdy cushion-like plants are in fact rather delicate and easily damaged through touch or from moisture, which causes plants to rot.  This is understandable when you think that these plants originate in Iran and Afghanistan growing on limestone, often vertically under rock overhangs.  Some of the larger plants in the nursery were beautiful perfect mounds and when I discovered that it takes around three or four years to grow plants to the size of a golf ball I began to learn that this is a serious labour of love. Dionysias are at their best in early Spring and bloom in various colours producing large cushions of individual blooms.  I for one can’t wait to come back and visit again to see them in bloom.

If you didn’t know already, Kew has been peat free for nearly 15 years and whilst visiting the potting sheds it was great to see what growing mediums were used.  The plants at Kew are exquisite and act to reinforce that growing plants without peat does not compromise growth or flower quality. The main alternative used by the team is coir mixed with loam, sand and grit or leaf mould, depending on the requirements of the plant with some plants, such as the Dyonisias, requiring a 50% grit mix.
A view over the order beds up to the Temple of Aeolus

We finished our walk around the garden at the Bonsai house at the far end of the order beds.  As I made my way down the beds under the rose covered pergola I sat for a moment underneath a heavily scented climbing rose taking stock of the information and gorgeous sights I’d been privy to. 

Kew is a great day out and I would urge anyone to visit.   Right now several Cardiocrinum giganteum are in bloom in the woodland garden, followed by Roscoeas in splendid white, yellow, purple and red blooming in the Davies Alpine House and the rock garden is punctuated with clumps of Himilayan Primulas (P. belleyana and P. secundiflora).  For more information about what’s on at Kew please visit the homepage here and you can also follow Richard Wilford and his team on their regularly updated blog here.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Book Launch: The Bad Tempered Gardener

On Wednesday I made my way to London for the official launch of ‘The Bad Tempered Gardener’ written by the ever challenging and thought provoking Anne Wareham of Veddw House Garden and founder of  

The day started with a long train journey and I immediately grabbed the opportunity to read a few more chapters of Anne’s book. I’d started to read it at home but as usual life, animals and other commitments soon took over. As it all too often happens, it found a home with the many others and simply sat staring at me from the coffee table stealing glances as I passed it day in, day out.  But as I alighted the train my seemingly daunting journey suddenly changed in to something much needed and I have to say The Bad Tempered Gardener kept me thoroughly entertained throughout my commute.  

It didn’t take long for me to realise, but I guess it was always going to be the case, that Anne’s book is much more than an entertaining read. I was jolted in to thinking, disagreeing, pondering how to implement some of the things Anne discussed, and at times it even made me giggle, which to my amusement and to the discomfort of other passengers gave me that air of crazy man on a train.  I read many a chapter on my journey but no sooner had the journey begun I found myself at Paddington Station and it was time to hit the tube.  

After a day spent in London, a couple of tube journeys and a short but brisk walk I found myself stood outside headquarters in beautiful Chelsea.  I made my way past antique shops and pubs and then in to the venue where I was immediately greeted by Anne and the delightful Emma who offered a much-needed glass of something fizzy.  I quickly met up with some familiar twitter folk (I have no idea what the official term is) and no sooner had I arrived but Anne had taken to the stage and as always she was on great form.  With a small, folded note to hand decorated with various scribbles and crossed out paragraphs Anne welcomed her guests.  It turned out that this note was not really needed.  Anne spoke about the process of writing and how at times it has been quite a lonely place. She thanked many of the people in the room who contributed to the book and those who supported her during her time writing it.  She also praised the role that social media has played in promoting and progressing views that were once either unavailable to the mainstream or found little support in small disparate circles.  Anne described how Twitter and other enterprises have allowed us to discuss issues such as garden criticism and gardens as art in such a public and accessible way that we have opened new dialogue, which is something Anne wished could have happened 20 years ago at a time where she found solitude.  Nowadays, if an individual doesn’t agree with something they see on television, read in a book or come across in a gardening magazine then they can find a voice and challenge it often with the support of others with similar views.  Previously that view went unnoticed, unaired and have almost certainly passively perpetuated a multitude of bad advice, attitudes and an ideology that we have come to accept over the years and still see today.  A new dialogue that challenges such views is not something Anne said she expected to see in her own life time, but with the advent of social media it has been possible to open up such discussions and aid progression in how we view gardens and gardening as a whole.  

As quickly as it began it was all too quickly over for me and I found myself rushing to get to the tube station for fear of missing my train.  Slightly drunk, but safe in the knowledge that I hadn’t bought a new sofa, I dashed across London accompanied by a fellow twitterer with an excellent sense of direction and I finally found my train home.

I’m yet to finish reading Anne’s book as I want to give it my full attention but I’m sure I’ll have finished it by the end of the weekend.  It’s already attracted a lot of comment and you may want to read reviews by Jane Perrone, Graham Rice and Victoria Summerley.  

Based on what I’ve read already I can most certainly recommend this book and I’m sure that there are many others out there that would say the same also.  I’m almost certain that I’ve forgotten to mention or missed much of what Anne spoke of at the launch but if you are even the slightest bit interested in what was said or Anne’s views about gardens and gardening then I would urge you to read more from The Bad Tempered Gardener, and at least venture in to the land of twitter.  Who knows, you may find a voice too.

Anne will also be interviewed on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour this coming Tuesday 10 - 11:00am.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Ryan's Garden Competition: Win a Hammock

This competition is now closed.  The winner is @KrisDelAgua (Twitter Username).  Congratulations and enjoy the hammock!

Would you like to win a Hammock?  With Summer stepping ever closer I thought that having somewhere to relax, read, snooze or maybe enjoy a cocktail would be the perfect prize for one lucky winner.  The Kingdom Hammock (worth £99.99) is a gorgeous garden accessory from The Garden Furniture Centre and would look great in most gardens.  The prize does not come with the pictured stand but could easily be attached to existing garden structures.

To enter the competition and for your chance to win this great prize simply leave the answer the question below in the comments box and let us know that you've commented by tweeting us: @ryansgarden to @gfcuk or add a comment to facebook using the link:

Question: What durable material is the hammock made from?

Good luck and thanks for reading!

Terms and conditions: Entrants must be UK residents aged 18 years or older to enter. The winner will be chosen at random and you agree that by entering your name may be published. Prizes will be delivered by courier within 28 days. The competition is not open to employees or affiliates of The Garden Furniture Centre Ltd. Entries for this competition will close at midnight on 6th June 2011.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Ryan's Garden: Made from toilet tubes and council compost

It’s been a little while since I posted something here but I guess that’s just a nod to the fact it’s Spring.  Everything wants to get growing and the allotment is dictating how I spend most of my spare time at the moment, well that and life in general.  Everything is bursting in to action and plants, with weeds included, are keen to get growing.  Of course, this is no hardship.  In truth, this is utter unadulterated enjoyment.

This year, much like the last, I’ve taken to growing most of my vegetables and flowers in toilet roll tubes.  It seems like perfect logic to save what we already have but what’s more is that it works fantastically well.   Beans and sweet peas are big fans of this treatment and I know that later in the year the sweet corn will also be equally appreciative.  I’ve managed to rope my family in to saving these for me and despite thinking that I’m mad at the start they’ve now come round to the idea.  The tubes are planted directly in to the soil when the plants are ready to go out in to the garden and they then decompose gradually.  In addition to this I’m sowing all of my seed in to compost that I receive free from the council as a result of our food and garden waste disposal.  There seems to be a lot of wincing about this when I talk with other gardeners and allotmenteers but in truth it’s worked really well so far.  I’d imagine there would be some trouble sowing very fine seed but the compost I’ve picked up has sieved easily and actually makes a nice medium to sow in to.  So far I’ve sown broad beans, runner beans, sunflowers, oriental spinach, Nero di Toscana, cabbage, sweet peas, Siberian onions, parsnips and beetroot and everything has grown very well.  The Cabbage seedling above is an example of many of the seedlings currently sitting in my front garden grown using the compost mentioned.

Today it was time to plant the runner beans.   This year I’ve decided to make a feature of the runner beans and I’m growing a cultivar called ‘St George’, which has beautiful red and white flowers, with Ipomoea lobata, commonly known as Spanish Flag.  Over the course of the year I’ll be updating you all on the progress of my beans and if you would like to know more about growing them for yourself, or maybe want some new ideas for preparing them, then the tastes of summer website will have a wealth of information for you to find more inspiration.  I was surprised to find out that only 12% of households bought Runner Beans during the 2010 season, a decline of 22.7%.  Surely they are one of the best tastes our British Summer provides?  If you’ve decided against growing these plants or are unsure about them then I’d urge you to give them a try.  

In other news, the chickens appear to be enjoying the increase in daylight and recent cooler temperatures.  This has been reflected in the number and size of the eggs they’re laying and today I collected my first 80g egg.  They’re also enjoying eating lots of comfrey, weeds and the last of the winter veg.  The latter I find left by other plot holders in piles and bags by the coop.  The girls are very grateful for this and adore eating their greens and rummaging through the leaves for bugs and other tit-bits.

I found that two of my Gooseberry bushes had fallen prey to Gooseberry sawfly larvae so do keep an eye out for this.  These were swiftly removed and look set to contribute well to tomorrows eggs.

Oh yes!  It’s also raining so no watering for me for a while then. . . I hope.
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