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My second placement was at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. My time was divided between the Arboretum and Glasshouse teams, spending four weeks in the former and three in the latter. From mid-November to mid-January I mulched, tree-planted, set up events, and studied with the thirty odd students of the Kew Diploma. Living and working with the students under the supervision of the extremely knowledgeable staff of the gardens made these seven weeks extraordinarily enlightening botanically.

The last two weeks of November I was with one of the Arboretum teams made up of four staff (all RBG trained, three Kew and one Edinburgh) as well as two first year students. For a couple of days in this team we planted a few thousand mixed tulips in a lawn near the Mediterranean garden. However, I spent the vast majority of this placement in the natural area of Kew, an area long ago deeded to the gardens by Queen Charlotte on the assumption that it would be maintained in as native a setting as possible. The forty acres or so along the Thames included an ancient oak and beech woodland with vast swaths of English bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta). However, brambles (Rubus spp.) also grew in these woods and if left alone would smother the diminutive bluebells every spring. A good portion of each autumn therefore was devoted to “brambling”, or the removing of these blackberries from the colonies of bluebells. Armed with one flail mower, landscape rakes, and very thick gloves, we removed what seemed like an impossible amount of brambles in two weeks. It was amazing how much of a difference we had made so quickly on the natural area, and after my placement had finished I was quite sad that I would not be there in the spring to see the fruits of my labor.


It was very quiet and peaceful in the natural area. Alessio rakes leaves and brambles in the distance.s and brambles into rows to be removed.


The daily morning traffic jam at the tool shed in the yard.


Golden pheasants were a rare treat to see in the edges of the arboretum.


I soon lost count of the number of tarps of rubbish we removed.


Students disperse tulip bulbs in a naturalistic pattern near the Mediterranean garden.


One of the many vistas at Kew, with the Pagoda in the distance as viewed from the waterlily pond.

When December arrived I moved to the other team in the Arboretum, also made up of mostly Kew trained staff and two first year students. As Christmas approached set up for the annual at Christmas at Kew took up most of our time. For us, this meant clearing leaves from the main lit walks and burying light cables throughout the front of the arboretum near the palm house. While not the most exciting tasks, it was a good opportunity to observe the vast collection of trees that the botanic gardens had been amassing over its more than two hundred and fifty years.


The Palm House illuminated over the Pond for the Christmas at Kew celebration.

For three days in this team, I worked with two other team members on cleaning the waterlily pond of debris. This pond, unlike most other areas of Kew, didn’t have a botanical theme and was filled with plants of all different families and geographical origins. We cut common European reed, Japanese irises, South American gunnera, South African Kniphofia, and many others as the plants were going into winter dormancy. It was quite an educational task seeing how the many different plants were treated individually to best prepare them for a clean and tidy appearance come spring.


Jake and I remove old leaves of Gunnera manicata before placing them over the buds as protection from frost and the winter wet.


I waded into the pond to cut back rushes and some deciduous water lilies.


Keegan spreads grass seed on the cedar vista early in the morning.

One of the most fun tasks I got to take part in with the Arboretum was tree planting. I was no stranger to planting coming from Wisley, but seeing how it was done at one of the most historic arboreta in the botanic world was a treat. Also, quite unsurprisingly, I had heard of none of the trees we planted before we planted them. I kept a watchful eye on the mature trees that surrounded us as the students and myself left our marks on Kew together. After each tree was planted, I tried to imagine how the garden would look once they themselves had become mature. I don’t think I’ll ever forget planting out junipers in the heather garden in the shadow of the pagoda.


Tom and Andy, both veteran tree planters, demonstrate the Kew method to the students and I. Each tree is planted and caged identically across Kew.


Air pots allow for the formation of very fibrous root systems, which causes trees to establish more rapidly than those grown in traditional pots.


A map of some trees we planted around the gardens. I learned a new tree every time we planted.


Julia, Tim, and Tom prepare for tree planting early one morning under the pagoda in the heather garden on my last day in the arboretum.


Sometimes, you just have to jump in a pile of leaves! Note the high-tech leaf grabbers on hand.

I also got to spend one day in the Arboretum nursery, which grows out all the hardy woody plants from seed or cuttings before they are planted out in the arboretum. I spent the entire day just walking around realizing how little of the world of plants I knew as I bounced from new plant to new plant. What fascinated me was that many of the plants, mostly from recent collection trips around the world, were themselves only partially labeled. In many cases only the genus was certain, but there were more than a few that simply had the family name attached. It was quite special to be amongst plants that had possibly never been named before.


One of the many plants only identified to family.


I really liked the interesting coloration on the underside of this Rhododendron sino-falconeri.

My last week at Kew before the Christmas break was probably my favorite week of the fellowship so far. For four magical days I got to spend time in what may just be the most biodiverse place on Earth. 18,000 accessions make up the 22 climate zone tropical nursery, which house five ranges of orchids, two fern houses, a Madagascar house, cacti and other succulent houses, moist temperate collections, and moist tropical collections including two carnivorous plant houses, a waterlily house, and an Araceae house. And over all of these unique collections were expert botanists and horticulturists who in addition to caring for the often incredibly rare plants spent time teaching the students like me about the culture of their specific sections. For the plant enthusiast, there was no better place in the world to be.

I spent a day with each of the teams in the Arid, Orchid, Temperate, and Tropical sections. My first day I worked with one of the second year students repotting Melocactus and Aloe in the arid section. It was after we’d been potting for a while that he casually mentioned that more than a few of the plants we’d been working with represented the majority of the known individuals of their species. There were even a few plants in the collection that were the original type specimens of their species. It was a very surreal first day in the nursery.


The Melocactus collection. This was not the most fun plant to pot up.


Aloe gillettii, one of several type specimens found in the tropical nursery.


Potting up Aloe ellenbeckii.

The next day I worked in the Orchid section. The head of the orchid team gave me a tour of the five different climate zones that housed the collection and gave me an overview of the general operations of maintaining such a diverse collection. Like the day before, there was repotting to do. One unique task that I learned that day was potting up epiphytic orchids. Unlike terrestrial orchids, these canopy dwellers cling to tree bark and absorb what moisture they need from the atmosphere. We replicated their natural environment by tying the pseudobulbs and stems to cork oak (Quercus suber) bark pieces with special orchid ties (panty hose). This allowed the orchids to grow without being constricted while holding them firmly onto their “hosts”. After securing them to their new homes, the orchids were hung on the wall and given a good hosing down.


Bala showing off one of her hundreds of orchids blooming just before Christmas.


Seed pods of Gramatophyllum speciosum, Queen of Orchids, which flowered for the first time last fall. This orchid, the largest in the world, had been in the collection for over thirty years before flowering.

Wednesday with the temperate team we focused on moving a new collection of Canary Island plants indoors for the winter. It was my first exposure to what I soon learned to be a very unique flora. Some of the genera I was familiar with, but the species, all new to me as usual in the nursery, often looked positively alien. After this I spent some time with the head of the area talking about the curious way she managed her plants, which in comparison to others in the nursery often looked hungry. She told me that in nature, many of the plants are often found in nutrient poor soils, which prevents them from growing with too much vigor. However, this also makes them not as attractive to pests, particularly common in glasshouse settings. By maintaining a restrictive fertilizer regimen she also was able to much less pesticides on her plants, and had to repot them far less often. It was a new perspective on plant maintenance to me, but one that made a lot of sense.


Petioles of Geranium maderense, which prop up the spindly plant long after the leaves wither away.


A species of Myrmecodia, a curious plant who forms a symbiosis with ants which live in its swollen stem and protect it from herbivores.

My last day in the tropical nursery I spent with the moist temperate team. I watered the Araceae collection until tea break. I have never enjoyed watering more thoroughly. As I walked through and sprayed the leaves of the epiphytic and the terrestrial, the climbing and the ephemeral, the very small and the unbelievably large aroids I gained a new appreciation for this incredibly diverse family. Particularly memorable to me was watering the 200 liter pots that contained the venerable Amorphophallus titanum, the Titan Arum, as its three meter single leaf towered above the rest of the house. After raising the relative humidity of the house to 100%, like a proper jungle, I finished the day potting some truly beautiful Peperomia cuttings to be later used as bedding in the display glasshouses.


A newly emerging leaf of Amorphophallus.


Peperomia ‘Tiny Red’, probably my favorite plant that I potted up in the tropical nursery.

After the Christmas break I returned to work my last two weeks at Kew in the Princess of Wales conservatory. This glasshouse, the newest at Kew, was built as a display house for the vast collections of the tropical nursery, and over its eleven zones an incredible selection of plants were beautifully arranged to make the visitor feel as if they were actually in the rainforest, or the desert, or the scrubland of Australia.


The moist tropical section of the POW was home to many jungle plants from near the equator.


The arid section held old world and new world succulents together to create a landscape that was truly unique in the world.


One of my favorite areas, the Bromedliads of the top ridge in the POW provided a brilliant effect with their various foliage and flower forms.

I was very fortunate to be given an area of responsibility during my two short weeks in the Princess of Wales conservatory (POW for short). On the north end of the POW I spent every morning tending the Australian and hardy fern sections watering and leaf picking each morning to keep it as tidy as possible. It was a good chance to brush up on my Australian plant knowledge and to sample the profusion of Syzygium paniculatum fruit that were abundantly produced by the few trees in the house. I particularly enjoyed watching the Acacia, Grevillea, Callistemon, Calothamnus, and Anigozanthos flower while I was there.


Syzigium fruits tempted me every morning in the Australian section. And I nearly always gave in to temptation. It’s too bad we can’t buy them in grocery stores!


The Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos) were planted throughout the Australian section.


Caltothamnus quadrifidus held its lovely bright anthers on just one side of its stem, distinguishing it from the normal bottle brush Callistemon, another Myrtaceae member from Australia.


Grevillea ‘Coastal Sunset’ were blooming throughout my tenure in Australia.


Me giving a brief drink to some of the larger Eucalyptus species in the section.

The beginning of the year also marked the beginning of the preparation for the annual Orchid Festival in the POW. All of the team members, in addition to caring for their own personal sections, were busy helping build the framework for the upcoming extravaganza. For me, that meant helping to construct a new orchid tree. Many of these trees already existed in the two orchid sections in the POW (temperate and tropical) but the new one was to surpass all previous trees, arching gracefully over the path through the temperate orchid house. It was a very fun process to see through from beginning nearly to the end. We began with cementing in the metal bars that were the bones of the tree across the path, before cutting and shaping polystyrene blocks around the frame to resemble a tree. It was not quickly done, and by the end of my two weeks we had nearly finished the bulk of the work. However, my time at Kew finished before the polystyrene was rendered and painted to resemble an actual tree, but fortunately I returned to Kew a couple of weeks later to see the finished product. When planted with epiphytic orchid species it easily passed as natural, and was worthy addition to the temperate orchid house.


The framework of the orchid tree comes together.


Nick, the head of the POW, gives a brief word to the team ahead of the Orchid Festival set up.


Orchids like this Oncidium began to flood into the POW during my two weeks there.


Rupert prepares a piece of the orchid tree in the early stages of its construction.


Harry walks to prepare another tree, this one holding species of Tillandsia, on the Bromeliad walk.


The invaluable volunteers helped to prepare the ten thousand plus orchids that arrived for the festival.


The first column is bedecked in orchids.


Two weeks later all of the columns had been prepared for the festival.


One of my favorites from the tropical orchid display house, Cavendishia callista, Ericaceae.


On my last day at Kew, Nick brought me right up to the top of the POW to get a truly rare view of the tropical section.


Working in the conservatory was an easy way to forget that it was actually January. Here the Alpine display house and the Princess of Wales Conservatory glisten with early morning frost.


The last day of my placement at Kew , this was the state of the orchid tree.


This was one week later, rendered and painted.


And this was another two weeks later, planted up and looking fabulous!

While working in the different parts of Kew were very beneficial to my horticultural education, spending time with the students studying and discussing botany and horticulture (occasionally over a beer at the nearby pub The Botanist) was one of the best parts of my time in London. As at Wisley, the students were all very keen on their chosen disciplines and they all came from different backgrounds, from the Royal Parks system, to other gardens in England such as the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens or Cambridge Botanics, to gardens abroad in France and Italy. I think spending time with such an international group of students was as educational as spending time under the tutelage of the garden staff. We spent every Monday attending Kew Mutual Improvement Society lectures, where either third year students would share the experiences of their travel scholarships or experienced horticulturists would talk on a variety of subjects. Every two weeks we would be given a new set of forty plants to learn, which included groups of seeds, conifers, glasshouse plants, and more. When we weren’t studying for an upcoming test we would share what we had learned and done during our days in the garden, as we all worked in different parts of the garden every day. Sometimes we would take to the gardens at night on bicycles to see what there was to find in Kew in the dark. The students were very open to sharing their opinions on subjects horticultural and otherwise, and it made my stay at Kew that much more memorable. It was sad to leave, just as it had been at Wisley, but I knew that I had made the most of my time and came away happy with the friends and memories I’d made there.


The students study this pine intently during their conifer walkabout the garden.


Alessio and I took a bike ride through Kew to appreciate the extremely early rhododenrons and magnolias on my last Saturday at Kew.



The South in the Fall

My last four weeks at Wisley were nothing short of incredible. I got to spend four fast paced weeks in the Fruit, Propagation, Alpine, and Glasshouse teams. As I worked through my last month in the garden I also was able to bear witness to my first English autumn, taking the chance to visit many gardens and arboreta nearby. English landscape gardens are comprised of some of the most diverse, mature, hardy collections in the world so the palette of autumn color is truly unrivalled the world over. Getting to share this beautiful time of year with my friends that I’d made in Wisley was very special to me, and made me look forward to the rest of my fellowship with even more excitement.

My first day in the fruit department was October 19th, the day of the annual grape harvest in the orchard. All of the diploma students gathered from across the garden to help in this large task, which was completed by lunch time. The two varieties of white grapes were sent off to be made into wine, which the RHS sells through the Wisley shop. After lunch we helped assemble the Wisley Fall Festival haybale maze, before doing a bit of winter pruning of the Ribes national collection.20151019_074237Bernard Boardman and Jim Arbury share their sage advice as they instruct the students before the harvest.

20151019_105432Probably not the best technique to kneel in the wet grass!20151022_145448The hay maze begins to take shape.

The next morning in the drizzling rain we headed out to the orchard to pick apples. This was my first time picking fruit on a large scale and it turned out to be a lot of fun despite the dreary weather. We picked apples from a list of cultivars that the RHS fruit specialist Jim Arbury had decided were ripe. Every day Jim walks the orchard looking at each cultivar to ensure every apple possible is picked before it has become overripe and has fallen off the tree. Still, there were many apples that we just didn’t get to in time, so they all became destined for cider. It was nice to know that I was helping prepare next year’s batch of the same cider I had enjoyed from the Wisley shop.20151022_14103420151022_091519Most of the year’s quince (Cydonia) harvest from the few trees in the orchard.20151021_135053Who ever let a bit of rain get in the way of a good day of gardening?20151022_075157Fruit mummies like this were uncommon but not absent throughout the trees we harvested.20151022_144658One of two in a million. 20151022_075533Me reaching for the ripest fruit on the quince tree.20151022_075448It was a good year for quince! Jason holds this champion aloft.20151022_075123I gained a new appreciation for the scent of fresh quince after picking them for a morning.

Wednesday I spent with the RHS Seed team, whose job is to collect seed from Wisley to distribute to tens of thousands RHS members across the UK who request them every year. The entire team consists of two very dedicated ladies and a handful of volunteers, so this monumental task keeps them busy every day of the year. We began that morning by cleaning the seedheads of Cynara cardunculus, cardoon. The dried flower head of this Aster had thousands of tiny hairs that quickly began to irritate our throats. Soon we decided was enough was enough, and headed outside to collect seeds in the garden. The beautiful crisp autumn day met us and we had a lovely stroll down the mixed borders, the glasshouse borders, the country garden, and the model gardens, collecting seeds from mainly perennials and annuals along the way. When we got back at the end of the day we put them all in drying racks to be cleaned and stored when dry.20151020_094641The first and last time I ever cleaned cardoon seed heads. The ventilator only helped a little!20151020_110123Nick shows proper technique in harvesting of Poaceae seeds.20151020_111104Bliss! harvesting Calamogrostis brachytricha20151020_110035Tens of thousands of RHS members means collecting millions of seeds20151020_144742Harvesting Lavatera x clementii ‘Bredon Springs’20151020_133720Some seeds are a lot easier to clean than others, like this Veronicastrum whose seeds collected at the bottom of the bag after a good shake20151020_102353Glyccyrhiza yunnanensis, my favorite seed we collected that day.

The rest of the week I harvested apples and quince from the orchard with members of the orchard team, but on Thursday night, a few students and I attended the launch of the RHS Vision, a private event at Lindley Hall, the RHS headquarters in London. This event was also the beginning of the weeklong RHS Fall Show, held at Lindley Hall, which showcased many nurseries and other vendors from around the UK selling their autumn wares. There were also horticultural art and research exhibitions, which all of which we got to see on opening night. The big news of the evening was that RHS Bridgewater, the fifth RHS garden, was officially announced as of that afternoon when the RHS signed the contract on an old Victorian estate near Manchester. Everyone was very excited about the new garden, which would give greater access to an RHS garden to many in the North. It was an honor and a unique experience to attend a formal event with horticulture celebrities from all over the UK, including Alan Titchmarsh, the famous gardener and past presenter of the popular Gardeners’ World TV show, Sir Nicholas Bacon, the president of the RHS, Tim Upson, Director of Horticulture of the RHS, Jim Gardiner, Executive Vice President of the RHS, and many other landscape designers, nurserymen and women, and curators. The youngest horticulturist there, an eight year old boy, gave a moving speech that gave hope to the entire room for the future of horticulture. All in all, it was a very memorable evening and a highlight of my fellowship so far.

20151020_151631We saw this Kubota with a rainbow of color the day I was in Seeds. The next night at the RHS Vision Launch it had been woven into the most beautiful tapestry to back the stage where the fifth RHS garden was announced. Wisley’s Jenny Harris was the mastermind behind this truly stunning display which I was unfortunately unable to photograph.20151022_181247One of the exhibits at the Fall Show, a pot that expands to facilitate root growth. 20151022_181512An art exhibit of orchids on a tiered waterfall system. Imagine this in the center of your living room!

On the weekend was the RHS Fall Festival at Wisley, which included among other things a fruit tasting from all the apple varieties that had been picked in the orchard. I didn’t work the festival, but I did visit some of my co-workers to taste the apples that we’d been secretly snacking on during the week. It was a fun family event where everyone had the opportunity to buy the particular varieties of apple they liked the most. Seeing the public enjoy the literal fruits of our labor was a nice way to end my week with the Fruit department.20151024_144227Second year Maggie Tran (and next year’s GCA Fellow) crushes a mix of varieties to make fresh apple cider. 20151024_142848The fruit team rushes to keep enough samples chopped for the hungry garden visitors.

The next week I moved indoors to help the propagation team. It wasn’t the busiest time of year, but there was still plenty to do including labelling, pruning, pot washing, and pricking out seedlings into larger pots. There was also some general autumn maintenance of the collections held at propagation, so I was never bored during my stay.

I began the week by taking a tour around the propagation facilities with Brendan and Adam, a second year student and an apprentice. They showed me the sandbeds and poly tunnels where plants are held and grown on until being moved out into the garden. The poly tunnels were filled with tender plants which had been cut back and dug out of the garden for winter storage, such as yuccas, aeoniums, cacti, and palms. Also in the poly tunnels was the annual display of mums for the autumn. These were nearly at full bloom and were moved to the display area in the Glasshouse later during the month.

20151026_075327Tender plants from around Wisley being stored for winter20151026_075242The mums almost ready to be put out on display.

After the tour all of the students in prop whipped out our secateurs and began tipping the benches of plants that had been propagated during the summer and autumn. The plants were growing a bit leggy and into other adjacent plants so we cut them back to size. This also encouraged branching so they plants would be fuller when being planted out in the garden next year.20151026_081600Between each species we dipped our secateurs in Virox, a viricide/bactericide to reduce the possible transmission of disease across the house.20151026_094728Team effort was the modus operandi in Propagation, as seen here when we were cutting back tables worth of herbaceous perennials.

The next morning I watered the same plants that we had been cutting back the day before, and after lunch I joined the Trials team to learn about how they operate and make the decision to award the RHS Awards of Garden Merit. I spent an hour or so speaking with Sabatino Urzo, the head of the Trials team at Wisley, about his responsibilities, before heading out to the fields for a brief tour and to help prepare a bed destined to be planted with Cypripedium the following spring.

20151028_082423Me watering the perennials.20151026_140657The Trials field still looking good in late October. 20151026_140653A field planted in mustard. This is biofumigation in action, where the compounds in the mustard suppress weed and pathogen growth in the soil. This is a sustainable alternative to chemical fumigation when dealing with particularly disease-ridden soils.20151026_154130For the Cypripedium beds we removed mulch which had accumulated on the paths over years of Trials operations.

After work the students took a Plant Ident walk as part of their diploma program, and Riccardo and I joined in. It was led by the RHS’ principle botanist James Armitage. He led us around as we looked at a selection of broadleaf evergreens, my favorites including Ugni, Eucalyptus, and Tasmannia, all from the southern hemisphere. I particularly liked Ugni mollinae, the Chilean Guava, whose fruit were said to be a favorite of Queen Victoria.20151027_152915James Armitage leads the Wisley students on their bi-weekly plant identification walk through the garden. 40 plants are taught each week throughout the year, making for an impressive ~1600 plants (Family, Genus, and Species) learned over the two year course.20151027_154205A late afternoon view of the trials field, which we passed by on our plant walk.

The next day I watered again, before helping Paul, a propagation/glasshouse staff member and ex-Wisley student. His responsibilities include growing the display crops such as the chrysanthemum and poinsettia crops, but he also looks after collections including the Streptocarpus, Coleus, and Fuchsia collections. On this particular day we were removing all the flowers and dead leaves from the Streptocarpus collection. Aphids, which are a problem in most glasshouses in the world, had infested the collection and preferred the succulent growth of the flower stalks. We hoped to deter them by removing their source of food. After this, the students and I were given a lecture on pest and disease prevention and general glasshouse sanitation from Iris, a longtime employee of Wisley who specialized in pest and disease control. After lunch the students and I began the never ending task of washing pots. This would become a theme for the rest of the week.20151028_095039Paul makes sure to remove the entire peduncle from each Streptocarpus flower.20151028_095041It was such a beautiful collection, but it was for the best that all the flowers were removed.20151028_143810We never had a boring time when we were pot washing. Normally it was laughs all around!

Thursday morning after watering we put out labels in the pots of the plants we’d tipped earlier in the week. Each accession had anywhere from ten to a hundred plants, all of which had to be labelled. This took most of the morning, and afterwards we were back to washing pots.20151027_105724Again, the entire prop team tackled the task of labelling as a unit.20151030_150349Potting up some Patio Peonies that were being trialed at Wisley next year.

Friday we repotted seedlings that had been grown from seeds collected in the garden. They had begun to get overcrowded in their seed trays so we took these microscopic plants and ever so carefully transplanted them into bigger cells so they could grow with no competition. And that afternoon… we pot washed! It was a really enjoyable week in the propagation unit. The team were very generous in sharing their knowledge and experience and we all had good laughs around the pot washing tub. I was sad to go, but luckily the next week I was back in propagation with the Alpine team rescuing a collection of suffering Primulas.

20151030_110515The team begins the delicate task of transplanting itty bitty plants.20151030_114341A tray full of Crassula seedlings that I transplanted.

My penultimate week at Wisley was spent with the wonderful team in the Alpine and Rock gardens. Located centrally in the garden, the Alpine team is responsible not only for maintaining several different display areas like the massive rock garden and the two alpine display houses, but also take care of the extensive collection of alpine plants from around the world. In the Alpine team, each member of staff is responsible for a specific section of the collection as well as his or her own section of the display garden area. I rotated through the garden and collection throughout the week with the different members of staff.20151020_162215Probably my favorite view of Wisley, looking across the Rock Garden from Weatherhill.

My first day began with a tour of the alpine collections and rock garden, along with Maggie Tran, the second year diploma student who was beginning her Alpine rotation. Chloe, the most senior horticulturist on the rock team took us around showing us the South African collections, the Cyclamen collection, orchid and fern collections, as well as the rock garden, bonsai walk, and alpine display houses.20151102_083327The crevice garden, which thankfully I was able to avoid during my time with Alpine. Imagine weeding this!20151102_073629Some South African alpines such as Daubenya and Massonia in one of the collection houses in the Alpine Nursery20151102_080507Chloe shows Maggie and I the Saxifraga collection. They begin blooming midwinter.

After our tour, Maggie and I split up and I went with Mike to work in the alpine woodland garden. The area was to be replanted with ferns for an upcoming event so we spent the afternoon lifting plants out of the area. I hadn’t spent much time in that area before so it was a good chance to familiarize myself with the plants nearby, such as Ruscus.

20151102_134910Mike bends to remove some Vinca major from the bed while I look to tackle this row of Ruscus. Most of the plants we were able to lift and use elsewhere in the rock garden.20151102_135249I saw more wildlife in the rock garden than anywhere else in the garden, like this toad!

The next day I worked with Sarah, an ex-Edinburgh student who had also worked in the alpine garden at Kew. Our first task was to clear all the waterways running down through the rock garden, which were getting clogged with falling leaves daily. Afterwards we got our weeding buckets and settled in beneath the oldest tree in the rock garden, a dwarf Japanese Larch (Larix kaempferi) who just that week had celebrated its 111th birthday. It was an original planting of the rock garden and was putting on a warming show of orange-golden fall color. Underneath this small ancient tree, hundreds of False Garlic (Nothoscordum spp.) were growing. Removing them was quite difficult, as the leaves were very tender and snapped off easily, leaving the bulb behind. The best method was to remove all the gravel from around each tiny bulb before pulling it out of the ground. However, we undoubtedly left plenty behind which would grow again in a few months. We also tidied the pond adjacent to the larch, and called it a day.

20151103_110123Sarah can’t help but smile as she assists students with an Alpine alphabetical scavenger hunt. We were able to find plants for almost every letter of the alphabet. Talk about a welcome distraction from weeding!20151103_135454Maggie and I finish digging out the rest of the Nothoscordum from under the eleventy-one year old Larix.

Wednesday I went back to Prop with the Alpine team, to try and rescue the collection of Primulas from almost certain death. Some blight had affected nearly all of the plants across several houses, and if we didn’t act fast surely most of them would have been lost. Sam, the head of the propagation team, was unsure at first of our chances of success. By the end of the day, we had repotted the entire collection. All there was to do now was wait with fingers crossed.

20151102_074440The state of the Primula collection was… dire… to say the least. 20151104_075813Head of Propagation Sam inspects the plants when they arrive at the greenhouses.20151104_103504It was a huge job but we were able to finish most of it in one day due to a double team effort between Prop and Alpine.20151104_102619From left to right: Primula before dead leaves removed, Primula before dead stem removed, Primula that will hopefully root and grow into a new plant.

20151104_153552A very small section of all the Primulas that were repotted that day.

The following day I was back with Sarah to help her repot the Hepatica collection, which she looked after. It was a nice job for the rainy weather, and most of the plants were definitely in need of a good cleanup. After removing the plants from their pots, all of the old dead foliage and flowers were removed to prevent disease buildup. The soil was also shaken from the roots and they were replanted in fresh media. It took quite a bit longer than I thought it would. By the end of the day I had only repotted about 30 hepaticas. Sarah said the job usually took a few months every year.

20151105_135140My view for the rainy day. I gained a new appreciation for the diversity of Hepatica foliage shape and color.20151105_130827But I was regularly reminded of the real reason that these are such a coveted garden plant.

On my last day in the Alpine team, I started on the Bonsai walk. The bonsai trees themselves didn’t need much attention, but the gravel underneath their pedestals was looking quite shabby. After weeding the area with Sarah, I took a traditional gravel rake and made designs along both sides of the walk. It was more difficult than I thought it would be. By the end, I was happy with the results but knew it would take lots of practice before I was as proficient at gravel raking as the alpine staff. Afterwards I joined Mike with the daily changeover of the alpine display house. We looked through the nursery for any plants that were coming into full bloom, and traded them out with the plants that were going over in the display house. In the afternoon, Raul gave Maggie and I a tour of the Cyclamen and Lewisia collections in the alpine nursery as well as throughout the rock garden. My last job with the alpine team was tidying the the Cyclamen species that were dropping flowers. It was a relaxing way to end the week with one of my favorite teams at Wisley.20151105_131051The Bonsai Walk, freshly raked for the weekend. It was a very calming morning.20151106_083016Moving new plants into the display house wasn’t always this easy, but occassionally the incoming plant was in the same size pot as the outgoing plant.20151106_083452Sand beds are standard in alpine collections as they allow the roots of the plant to absorb water through the terra cotta from the sand at the rate the plant needs. This makes it harder to overwater the usually delicate plants.20151106_090330A pile of trimmings after tidying a few Cyclamen that remained on display over the weekend.20151106_094309The humble alpine display house is one of the most renowned in all of Europe. This is also a favorite of many students, as it is the one part of the garden that changes every single day.

For my last week at Wisley, I was delighted to head indoors out of the cold to join my good friends Lawrence and Riccardo in the Glasshouse. There we spent the week planting out tropical ground covers and cutting back trees in the display glasshouse, setting up a new Orchid cabinet in the tropical house, and dividing and repotting plants from the service glasshouses.

I began Monday by joining Peter, Petra, Dave, Greg, Marina, Lawrence, and Riccardo in a quick tidy of the display area. We swept all the hard paths and removed the moth traps which were left out every night from the public area. The tropical section was then given a good watering down to keep the humidity levels high. These were always the first tasks of the day in the Wisley glasshouse.20151113_155406These moth traps were set out each night to trap Sugar Cane Moth borers, which damage tender plants like bananas in the tropical display area.

Next I joined Petra, who looked after one half of the tropical display house and the tropical orchid service house. We were assembling a new orchid case to be displayed in the tropical display house. To do this I was given a most exciting job… I got to shop for orchids! Well, sort of; I selected the most decorative orchids of the day from the tropical orchid service house to be used in the new display, and together Petra and I assembled them into a fine display complete with Tillandsia. After this was complete Petra left me to remove a mealy-bug infested Tabernaemontana divaricata from the tropical display house. After replacing it with a young mango, I brought the Tabernaemontana back to the service houses for a cleaning. Armed with just a toothbrush and some SB Plant Invigorator/Insecticide, I removed the mealy bug from the plant before returning it to the tropical house to recover. For the rest of the day Petra showed me around the service houses and we cleaned an aquatic plant tank home to some Nymphaea and Cyperus papyrus. A busy first day overall!

20151109_085103My first Orchid shopping trip ever was a huge success!20151109_095614The mini jungle we created in the old case was a very interesting display, and it received lots of comments from the public during the week.20151109_095537The healthy mango looked much more attractive than the failing Tabernaemontana.20151109_103649But we still did everything possible to restore the Tabernaemontana to its former glory. Trust me, it was more exciting than it looks.20151109_115951The bottom of a Victoria, a type of the famous large water lilies that grow at Longwood. We removed the leaves for winter from this deciduous aquatic plant.

The following morning after we had swept and watered the display house Petra gave me some tropical groundcovers to plant out in the tropical display section. After doing this we began the process of cleaning Thunia orchids for winter storage. Each plant had put most of its energy into the pseudobulb, a storage organ common in many orchids. We trimmed off most of the roots and any remaining leaves and leaf scales before storing them away for winter. In spring they will be potted up and displayed once they bloom.

20151110_090457The Pellionia repens I planted next to an existing Ipomoea batatas. 20151110_153351Me holding a partially cleaned pseudobulb of Thunia alba.20151111_094145Lawrence checks the green fern wall for moisture.

Wednesday I was dividing in the tropical display house, this time working with Calathea zebrina. The patch of it had grown into a thick clump, so we took it out and replaced it with some plants from the Begonia collection. We potted the Calathea up and set it in the tropical service house to be used at a later time. For the rest of the day I watered the tropical service house and explored the dry temperate collection, including some fascinating cacti and Kalanchoes among other succulents.

20151111_113817The freshly repotted Calathea, ready for growing on in the service houses.20151111_115517The service houses were almost as beautiful to me as the display houses. No distractions here, just plants!20151112_105244Some of the succulents I saw in the arid house. This is Echeveria gibbiflora ‘Carunculata’20151112_10501020151112_105913Fenestraria aurantiaca20151112_10522420151112_10553920151112_11014920151112_110334Kalanchoe beharensis20151112_115806I also found Riccardo in the tropical service house “replanting” Tillandsia20151112_115950Greg pruning and propagating Tillandsia20151111_115750Later I found Riccardo and Lawrence cleaning orchids in the cool temperate orchid service house. Here they are removing dead foliage and flowers from the often fetid Masdevallia.20151112_100000Pinguicula, used as a biological control for fungus gnats commonly throughout the UK in glasshouses.

The next day after sweeping and watering, I attempted to stake some Vanda, orchids that were being grown for a display later in the year. Seeing me struggle with the delicate flower spikes, Petra put me on a far less fiddly task. With Greg I attempted to remove the stump of a recently felled Caryota urens, no simple feat. For two days already Greg and Marina had chipped away at the stump and its formidable fibrous root system, and after two more hours I couldn’t tell that we’d made much of a difference. Luckily, after lunch I was back with Petra, along with Peter and Riccardo. Together we tackled the mean Pandanus tectorius ‘Veitchii’, a Southeast Asian plant with some of the most aggressive foliage I’d ever seen. Because it was so well armed, when pruning it we had to wear long sleeves and thick leather gloves so our skin wouldn’t be shredded immediately on contact. In the jungle-like conditions of the tropical house we were sweating just like we were plant explorers of old hacking our way through dense forest. It was a fun group task, but we were all glad when we had finished.20151111_144610I’m quite sure that this Caryota stump remains in this exact spot to this day.20151112_134340Peter and Petra dive in to the Pandanus tectorius ‘Veitchii’.20151112_142748The look on Riccardo’s face is actually disgust from the nest of cockroaches we uncovered when cleaning out the back of the Pandanus.

My last day at Wisley began the same as the rest of the week. However, because there had been some heavy pruning to a Ficus the day before there was quite a mess to clean up before the display house was open to the public. Riccardo and I swept and tidied the area before returning to the service houses to finish watering before the weekend. After this was finished, I was allowed to walk around and take photos of the service and display houses, which I took advantage of. It was bittersweet to be finishing at my first garden, but I was excited for the new opportunities that lay ahead at Kew.

20151112_075754A small portion of the mess that the Ficus pruning caused.20151113_155557Stanhopea, one of my favorite orchids. It flowers from below the leaves, and the flowers smell just like chocolate. 20151113_095027The arid display area on the West side of the glasshouse.20151112_120236Paul from Prop had a very successful crop of Mums for the Autumn display.20151113_153802Sun sets on my last day at my first garden.20151113_221710My going away drinks at the local pub, the Anchor on the River Wey. The Wisley students surprised me with a signed copy of the Wisley guidebook personally signed by each one of them. I haven’t focused much on the students in the blog, but to me they were the biggest part of what made Wisley such a welcoming place and a special garden.

Gardening the Otherside of the Pond

Garden Club of America Fellow Charles Ive

Hi everyone, my name is Charles Ive (Charlie) and it’s my privilege to be the new Garden Club of America Fellow.

I started my horticultural career at sixteen when I enrolled in a horticulture course at a local agricultural college. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture from Pershore College. After University, I spent a year at Tresco Abbey Gardens on the Elizabeth Hess Scholarship. New Zealand beckoned after Tresco Abbey Gardens , where I was very fortunate to spend time working at Christchurch Botanic Gardens, Dunedin Botanic Garden and Larnach Castle. During the last twelve months I worked at Royal Horticultural Society Rosemoor gaining a certificate in practical horticulture.007

Top terrace of Tresco Abbey Garden


Royal Horticultural Society Rosemoor Cottage Garden

I arrived to a warm and very humid Philadelphia in September. When I got to Longwood I was taken on a tour around the Garden taking in massive project of the fountain garden. During my year at Longwood, I will be working rotations in different parts of the Gardens, spending a month in each section.

Natural Lands

My first rotation was Natural Lands; the team’s role is to maintain the beautiful 86 acre Meadow Garden, wetland and woodland areas around the Longwood estate. The team aims to promote biodiversity by removing invasive plants, encouraging wildlife into the Garden, and by planting native plants.  While working in Natural Lands, I helped with many tasks, including flower arranging and making dragonfly Christmas decorations. As shown below, I also had the opportunity to map out the bird boxes that are located in the Longwood Meadow Garden.


The Meadow Garden


The Meadow Garden on a crisp September morning


Warning Britain this is what a live Colorado beetle looks like


Mapping the location of the bird boxes

Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

The second rotation I had was in Integrated Pest Management. IPM’s role at Longwood is to prevent pests and diseases from coming into the garden by inspecting plant material. Most mornings, we inspected incoming chrysanthemums for white rust. Every morning we checked the live mouse traps around the Gardens for mice and voles. We found over 60 little rodents during my month in IPM. Another part of IPM is scouting for the six main pests that affect the Gardens; thrips, whiteflies, aphids, mites, mealybugs and scale. Once these had been identified we would work out how much of the plant was covered and how many plants had the pest and advise the growers on the best treatment.  Virus testing is an important part of IPM. Testing plants that may be infected with a virus is important for keeping the plants healthy. Another fun job that I got to help with was cleaning pond weed and algae out of the two lakes at Longwood.


ELISA test for tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV).


Looking for pests on chrysanthemums

Indoor Display (Conservatory)

The Indoor Display team looks after the Conservatory and the glasshouses that are connected to them. I work in the Conservatory during Chrysanthemum Festival. During my time in the Conservatory, I worked with orchids, re-arranging the orchids and re-potting them.  Another project I was involved with was working on the Green Wall. Some of the panels were staring to degrade so we replaced them with new panels. During my time in the Conservatory I also worked a few days outside in the Gardens to help with a massive bulb planting.


Containers before being planted


Planting up of Adiantum hispidulum for the green wall


Re-placing the old panels in the Green Wall


Bulb planting around 100,000 bulbs where planted on the brick walk


The team planting the bulbs



Chrysanthemum Festival in the conservatory

This is my last week in Indoor Display it will be very busy as its Christmas changeover week and then I will be moving into Production for a month.

Wandering Through the Wild Garden and Bedding with Formal

Last week I worked with the Herbaceous team, who manage the Wild Garden, the Glasshouse Landscape and Borders, and the Seven Acres area in the center of Wisley.

For the first two days of the week I worked with John, who looks after the Wild Garden. This is the oldest garden in Wisley, and was cultivated even before the RHS took over the property. It lies at the bottom of the Rock Garden, and most of the garden is shaded by old English Oaks. However, many of these oaks are near the end of their lives, especially since the introduction of the Oak Processionary Moth, whose caterpillars feed on the leaves of oaks as well as other common English trees such as chestnut, hornbeam, and beech. In addition to harming trees by defoliating them, OPM caterpillars are armed with thousands of tiny hairs that can be blown off by wind, and irritate the skin if they come in contact with it. For this reason, many mature oaks and chestnuts at Wisley will be removed in the coming years, which for places like the Wild Garden and Battleston Hill will dramatically alter light levels for understory plantings.

Autumn in the Wild Garden is the time for dividing perennials and filling in gaps, which is what John and I did during my time there. We began with an overgrown clump of Allium senescens, a widely distributed onion that produces pink umbels made of many small flowers in mid-Summer. It was a muddy affair, since the week before had been quite wet. However, two weeks later the patches we planted were looking happy and settled in for winter. After the Allium we moved on to dividing maidenhair ferns, Adiantum, which lasted the rest of my time in the Wild Garden.

Despite being planted in the mud, the Allium senescens looked great two weeks later.

Despite being planted in the mud, the Allium senescens looked great two weeks later.

After lunch Monday John took an hour or so to walk around the Wild Garden with me to show some of the more unusual specimens as well as several champion Rhododendrons and Magnolias. We even came across a blooming Franklinia alatamaha, the Ben Franklin Tree, an extinct-in-the-wild plant from Georgia. It was the first time I’d seen a blooming Franklinia in a garden, so I was over the moon. The maroon leaves were a beautiful backdrop for the creamy white camellia like flowers. It made me all the more grateful to the Bartrams for rescuing this plant from extinction over two hundred years ago. Many other plants in the Wild Garden were putting on their autumnal shows as well. I’m sure that I was in the Wild Garden at the peak of fall color. The purples, reds, oranges, and yellows of the Stewartia,  Witchhazel (Hamamelis), Fothergilla, Maples (Acer), Aralia, Disanthus, and Katsura (Cercidiphyllum) gave the effect of being inside a garden on fire.

Franklinia alatamaha

Franklinia alatamaha

Another shot of Hamamelis

Witch hazel on fire

Stewartia pseudocamellia set aflame

Stewartia pseudocamellia set aflame

The multicolored canopy of the Wild Garden

The multicolored canopy of the Wild Garden

Deep burgundy Disanthus cercidifolius in full bloom!

Deep burgundy Disanthus cercidifolius in full bloom!

Acer palmatum and Stewartia pseudocamellia framing a path through the Wild Garden

Acer palmatum and Stewartia pseudocamellia framing a path through the Wild Garden

Fothergilla major was one of the brightest shrubs in the Wild Garden

Fothergilla major was one of the brightest shrubs in the Wild Garden

Hamamelis characteristically turning first from the margins of the leaves inward

Hamamelis characteristically turning first from the margins of the leaves inward

A truly stunning flower

A perfect Franklinia flower

Wednesday and Thursday I worked in the Glasshouse Landscape and Borders with Rupert and Alex. The Landscape includes the beds that run from the front entrance of the glasshouse, right around the adjacent lake all the way to the other side of the glasshouse, quite a large area. The Borders run from the top of the Landscape uphill to the fruit mount in the Orchard, and were originally designed by Piet Oudolf, whose other projects include the New York’s Highline and Battery Park.  Again it was division time, and we began by dividing Kniphofia, better known as Red Hot Pokers, one of the most well-known South African plants. Next we began deadheading Teucrium hircanicum. This plant had been originally put in a few places in the Landscape design, but over the years had seeded itself to most of the beds around the glasshouse. By deadheading we hoped to control its spread to more parts of the garden by preventing it from making seed.

Looking down the Piet Oudolf Glasshouse Borders

Looking down the Piet Oudolf Glasshouse Borders

Snail party in an irrigation box

Snail party in an irrigation box

Divided Kniphofia

Divided Kniphofia

Deadheading, deadheading, and more deadheading of Teucrium

Deadheading, deadheading, and more deadheading of Teucrium

Our last task had a similar goal. At the west end of the Landscape lie the North American Meadows, designed by James Hitchmough. Dr. Hitchmough, who has designed prairie gardens and other meadow borders for RHS Hyde Hall, the Olympic Park in London, and the Eden Project, designed a special blend of seed that would produce a self-perpetuating garden that would mimic a natural prairie of North American plants, including Asters (now Symphiotrichum) Milkweed (Asclepias), Echinacea, and more. However, one plant had proven to be too vigorous in its reproduction, and was overtaking many of the other plants in the meadow. The Canadian Fleabane, Conyza Canadensis, while not out of place in the meadow, was simply too widespread and needed removing. Again we’d hoped that by removing the plant we would prevent the reseeding process, but with every plant pulled, we watched as thousands of tiny seeds fell to the ground, ready to grow for the next year. We had wait too late to prevent its return next year, unfortunately.

Hitchmough's South African Meadow, with Berkheya, Kniphofia, Gladiolus, and Gazania

Hitchmough’s South African Meadow, with Berkheya, Kniphofia, Gladiolus, and Gazania

The Hitchmough North American Meadows

The Hitchmough North American Meadows

Rupert and Alex working in the Glasshouse Borders

Rupert and Alex working in the Glasshouse Borders

Clear Autumn Day in the Glasshouse Landscape

Clear Autumn Day in the Glasshouse Landscape

My last day with Herbaceous was spent with Al and Richard on the Seven Acres, which includes a Winter Walk, Subtropical Border, some great large trees for fall color, and two ponds, as well as a newly planted Peony trial. In one of the ponds, a common reed (which I failed to get the name of, unfortunately) was in need of a trim. This required Richard and I to suit up with life preservers and hop in a boat to cut them back below the water level.

Nyssa sylvatica 'Wisley Bonfire' in Seven Acres

Nyssa sylvatica ‘Wisley Bonfire’ in Seven Acres


Cutting back reeds for the Winter

Cutting back reeds for the Winter

After this task, the three of us went to an area known as the Pines to plant a bare patch of ground with Large vinca (Vinca major), which kept us busy until lunch. Just before lunch though, Verity, the Herbaceous team leader, gathered the team together to share our plants of the week with each other. I loved the idea. This let each team member share an exciting plant from their area that others may have missed during the week. Some of my favorites were Symphiotrichum oolentangiense, an aster from the North American meadows, a bamboo (Phyllostachys) from the wild garden, and Parahebe catarractae ‘Avalanche’, which had a flower similar to mountain laurel (Kalmia). Also, Lawrence brought in a Witch hazel that was flowering before it’d dropped its leaves! I deemed it Hamamelis confusa. It was a very entertaining and educational way to end my week with Herbaceous.

Parahebe catarractea 'Avalanche'

Parahebe catarractea ‘Avalanche’

Wish I'd gotten the actual name of this confused Witch Hazel!

Wish I’d gotten the actual name of this confused Witch Hazel!

John's Phyllostachys

John’s Phyllostachys

Symphiotrichum oolentangiense

Symphiotrichum oolentangiense

In the afternoon I joined the trainees on a Plant Identification of Autumn interest plants. To my delight many eastern North American trees made this list, such as Kentucky Yellowwood (Cladrastis kentuckea), Black walnut (Juglans nigra), Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica), Pin Oak (Quercus palustris), Tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), Eastern Redbud (Cercis candensis), Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), Witch alder (Fothergilla major), and more. It definitely made me more appreciative of how colorful the woods are at home in the fall.

Plant ID walk with the Trainees

Plant ID walk with the Trainees

Disanthus cercidifolius flower, in the Hamamelidaceae

Disanthus cercidifolius flower, in the Hamamelidaceae

The following week I was back with the Formal Team, who since I’d left had completed preparing the beds of the Top Terrace for winter bedding. In three days our team of eight planted out twelve beds. Each rhomboidal bed had three Bay (Laurus nobilis) trees along the center axis to give vertical interest to the otherwise horizontal bedding scheme. Additionally, every bad had about 700 daisies (Bellis), 200 forget-me-nots (Myosotis), 300 polys (Primula polyanthus), 500 hyacinths (Hyacinthus), and 200 tulips (Tulipa).

Start of the winter bedding in the Top Terrace

Start of the winter bedding in the Top Terrace

The first day the Bays went in, but when they arrived the Bay balls were deemed not spherical enough, and the pyramids not pyramidal enough. We all got to practice our topiary skills by perfecting the shrubs before they were planted, which for me turned out to be quite challenging. I felt that the plants just didn’t want to be perfectly geometrical, and afterwards was glad that I hadn’t been born a gardener in 18th century France, where topiary probably would have been my main job.

After the bays were planted, the rest was pretty straight forward. After the bed designs were staked out, each species was laid out and planted one at a time, beginning with the forget-me-nots and tulips at the center, followed by the polys, and finally the daisies and hyacinths at the edges of the beds. After finishing, we cleaned up some overgrown Stipa gigantea, Giant Feather Grass that was at the center of the terrace. This allowed the entire length of the terrace to be viewed at once from either end.

Andrew and Fiona struggling with a rootbound Bay

Andrew and Fiona struggling with a rootbound Bay

Planting out hundreds of Bellis

Planting out hundreds of Bellis

Richard's Winter bedding scheme

Richard’s Winter bedding scheme

Some of the Polys were already blooming!

Some of the Polys were already blooming!

Planting Hyacinth bulbs among the Daisies

Planting Hyacinth bulbs among the Daisies

Even Enrico helped out after all the beds were laid out

Even Enrico helped out after all the beds were laid out

That's a lot of pots!

That’s a lot of pots!


Thursday morning I was loaned to the woody department to repay borrowing some of their trainees to help with the Terrace bedding. I worked with Stuart and Natalie to remove a collection of sickly Serviceberry (Amelanchier) from the arboretum. Stuart said they had been neglected too long and had formed poor branching, and that the space would be used to hold beehives to pollinate the nearby orchard after their removal. It was sad to take out the collection of twenty or so Amelanchier species but I knew that they would soon be replaced with younger, healthier plants.

Amelanchier obituary

Amelanchier obituary

After tea, I returned to formal to help Andrew with some fall maintenance in the foliage garden, which mainly included cutting back Hosta, Calla Lilies (Zantedeschia), and Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) before the coming frosts caused them to completely melt. It was a nice afternoon in the shelter of the walled garden, and gave me a good opportunity to familiarize myself with some of the interesting tropicals grown there, including Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) and Colletia hystrix.

The Calla's were beautiful but had to go.

The Callas were beautiful but had to go.

Colletia hystrix flowers smelled like vanilla

Colletia hystrix flowers smelled like vanilla

Eichhornia crassipes is extremely invasive in warmer climates.

Eichhornia crassipes is extremely invasive in warmer climates.

On Friday morning, Riccardo and I pruned a Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans) that had grown into an Asiatic Jasmine (Trachelospermum asiaticum) on the front of the lab. We both scurried up a ladder to prune while the other watered in a bed of newly planted shrubs, including the delicious smelling and tasting Chilean Guava, Ugni molinae.

Riccardo ready to tackle the Campsis

Riccardo ready to tackle the Campsis

Chilean Guava was apparently a favorite dessert of Queen Victoria. After tasting one (or two or three) I can see why

Chilean Guava was apparently a favorite dessert of Queen Victoria. After tasting one (or two or three) I can see why

Cutting of the Trumpet Creeper from the Asiatic Jasmine

Cutting off the Trumpet Creeper from the Asiatic Jasmine

After tea, a group of Professional Gardeners’ Guild (PGG) and Historic and Botanic Gardener Bursary Scheme (HBGBS) students came to Wisley for a tour of the garden, led by the second year trainees. It was a good opportunity for me to meet other young horticulturists and learn about the different horticulture training programs around the UK. The HBGBS each spend a year at an historic or botanic garden learning horticultural practices, and often go on to more training before beginning their professional careers. Many Wisley Trainees and PGGs were previously HBGBS. PGGs spend each year of the three year scheme at a different garden learning about horticultural and curatorial practices. Speaking to the students I felt like if I’d been born in the UK I probably would have done one of these training schemes, which prepare you for a career in public horticulture.

The tours also gave me a chance to see the garden through the trainees’ eyes. Most of them had never led tours before, but being familiar with Wisley meant that they could pick and choose which areas of the garden they thought were important to share with visiting horticulturists. I also saw some areas that I’d never been to before, such as the Orchid Display corner in the glasshouse and the forage garden near the orchard with non-traditional food crops such as Sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) and Rambling Roses, both of which provide fruit very high in vitamin C. I also learned that the Alpine display house is changed over every morning to ensure peak display every day of the year.

Alpine Display house, changed every morning

Alpine Display house, changed every morning

One of the many Orchids in the Orchid Corner of the Glasshouse

One of the many Orchids in the Orchid Corner of the Glasshouse

Lawrence showcasing the Franklinia on his tour of the Wild Garden

Lawrence showcasing the Franklinia on his tour of the Wild Garden

Julia and Maggie beginning our tour of the Orchard and Veg Garden on the Fruit Mount

Julia and Maggie beginning our tour of the Orchard and Veg Garden on the Fruit Mount

Next week I’ll be working with the Fruit department, which looks after the orchard, vegetable and fruit gardens and the herb gardens. Hopefully there will still be apples for me to pick! Hope you enjoyed the blog, check back soon to see what I’ve been up to on the weekends.


Hello everyone, my name is Will Hembree and I am the 2015-2016 RHS Interchange Fellow. I’m excited and honored to be passed the responsibility of keeping up this blog chronicling my time spent studying horticulture in the UK.

I hail from the great southern state of Georgia and was raised by two horticulturists, so it was only natural that I chose their passion as my own. I studied horticulture at the University of Georgia, and after working in several different areas of the discipline, I found myself most interested in ornamentals. It was quite easy to fall in love with the beautiful plants I had seen during the many botanical garden themed vacations of my childhood. Upon learning about the interchange between the GCA/RHS, I knew that an opportunity to study ornamental horticulture in some of the great gardens in the world was an opportunity I couldn’t let slip by.

My introduction to Wisley, where I’ll spend the first part of my programme, was a guided walk through led by the RHS Bursaries Administrator and my program coordinator, Rowena Wilson. Entering at the far-east end of the garden, we strolled first through the National Heath collection (in full bloom) and Pinetum. The bold textures of the towering conifers’ trunks were softened by underplanted white and pink Cyclamen hederifolium.

A small part of the National Heath Collection in the Pinetum

A small part of the National Heath Collection in the Pinetum

Cyclamen hederifolium under Pines

Cyclamen hederifolium under Pines

A pink and white carpet of Cyclamen

A pink and white carpet of Cyclamen

Next we came to the marquis holding the National Dahlia Club’s Dahlia Show, where hundreds of perfect blossoms of every color were displayed in perfect rows to be admired by garden visitors. I didn’t envy the judges whose job was to rank each category’s best entries. To me they were all perfect.

Me at the National Dahlia Show.

Me at the National Dahlia Show.

How do you decide which one is the best?

How do you decide which one is the best?


Leaving the Dahlia show we entered Seven Acres, which was bustling with first day of the Wisley Flower Show. Dozens of vendors were selling perennials, woodys, and bulbs of all kinds, most of which were new to me. Past the flower show I was led by the Laboratory, where RHS staff have for over one hundred years studied horticulture and related sciences for the betterment of gardening.

View of the Flower Show from above the Cafe

View of the Flower Show from above the Cafe

Early morning at the Lab

Early morning at the Lab

Next Rowena brought me to one of the most impressive features of the garden, the 138 meter long mixed herbaceous border. This planting, surrounded by a hedge of clipped Carpinus betulus, displays combinations of colors and textures to inspire visitors to experiment in their own gardens. The path through the mixed border lead us to the top of Battleston Hill, from which one can see back down to the Seven Acres, left and right to arboretum, and forward to the Wisley Trials, where the coveted RHS Award of Garden Merit is given.

The famous Mixed Borders

The famous Mixed Borders

Actaea simplex var. atropurpurea

Actaea simplex var. atropurpurea, one of my favorites in the border. The flowers smell like honey!

One of the paths in Battleston Hill

A path in Battleston Hill

Briefly walking past rows of Clematis, Penstemon, Digitalis, and Helianthus, we went next to the Orchard where apples, pears, and many others were in full fruit. Rowena showed me the Fruit Mount, which along its spiral paths to the top has apple varieties planted in order by which they were introduced. At the top, we found varieties that are nearly one thousand years old. What an awesome idea!

From the top of the Fruit Mount, we could look out over the orchard and turning round could look down the informal prairie-style Glasshouse Borders, over a lake surrounded with colorful perennials, to the glasshouse, our next destination. Inside were displays of tender tropical plants, arid desert plants, as well as a display to teach visitors about root systems. At the entrance, to top it all off, was a floral “cake”, which was “cut” by celebrity baker Mary Berry to open the flower show.

The RHS Trials at Wisley

The RHS Trials at Wisley

The Glasshouse Borders

The Glasshouse Borders


Nearing the end of our tour, Rowena and I rambled on through the Wild Garden, one of the oldest gardens at Wisley, and the Alpine Garden, home to many alpine species, before ending up at Weatherhill. The first curator of horticulture at Wisley, E.A. Bowles, once lived in this building, centrally located near the Rose Garden. It’s now an administrative building housing among others the current Director, Tim Upson, just one of the many horticulture celebrities that call Wisley home. After meeting him, Rowena told me to go home and get some sleep. I couldn’t help but hopping back into the Pinetum later to snap a few pictures near sunset. Not bad at all for a first eight hours!

Weatherhill Cottage

Weatherhill Cottage

The Alpine Garden

The Alpine Garden

The Alpine Garden going down to the Wild Garden

The Alpine Garden going down to the Wild Garden

A beautiful Eucryphia near Weatherhill

A beautiful Eucryphia near Weatherhill

The following day I was given to rest. I made do with less sleep in order to get to the garden early to take pictures. For three magical hours I had the garden essentially to myself, whilst the early visitors were captivated by the flower show near the entrance. I walked around the Rose Garden, Model Gardens, and through Battleston Hill, an area of the garden home to many species of woody plants including some impressive Rhododendron, Hamamelis, Hydrangea, Magnolia, Quercus, Castanea, and Cercidiphyllum. I was reminded of the days before my first plant ID courses when I knew no plants, which was so exciting. I knew that I would be spending a lot of time in this part of the garden.

The bark on this sweet chestnut was breathtaking!

The bark on this sweet chestnut was breathtaking!


The UK Champion Cercidiphyllum japonicum.

That afternoon Rowena took me around to take care of some paperwork and things like that in Guildford, a city not far from Wisley. While there she showed me a castle ruin from the 1200’s. Around this castle were bright annual beds in arranged whimsical shapes, and walking through we soon came to a statue of a girl walking through a mirror. Rowena then told me that this was the garden where Lewis Carroll wrote the second Alice in Wonderland book, Through the Looking Glass. I was elated as this is one of my all-time favorite books. Also, celebrating the 150th year since the publication of Alice in Wonderland, Wisley’s garden theme this year is Alice in Wonderland. Sculptures of rabbits, caterpillars, and one of the Queen of Hearts are placed throughout the garden and add a childish playfulness to the garden design.

Alice Through the Looking Glass in Guildford

Alice Through the Looking Glass in Guildford

Guildford Castle, built circa 1300

Guildford Castle, built circa 1300

The Queen of Hearts in the Jubilee Rose Garden

The Queen of Hearts in the Jubilee Rose Garden

On my third day I met Mike Pitcher, RHS Chairman of Plant Committees who oversees Alpines, Bulbs, and Perennials. Being very kind like everyone I’ve met so far, he walked around and introduced me to some big players who were exhibiting at the flower show, while he answered all of my questions about the plants we were seeing around the show. After tea (something I’m quickly becoming fond of) I met up with Karen Robbirt, Deputy Trials Officer of the RHS Wisley Trials. With a committee we walked through the Penstemon trials of 200 cultivars to discuss and decide which plants deserved the prestigious RHS Award of Garden Merit. Plants who receive this award must meet certain criteria including being “of good constitution” and “excellent for ordinary garden use.” It was no simple task deciding which among 200 cultivars did and didn’t make the cut. The judges certainly knew their Penstemons.

Karen and the Penstemon Committee making the tough decisions

Karen and the Penstemon Committee deciding the best among the 200 varieties trialed

After lunch with the judges, I went home, cleaned up, and headed back to the garden with my roommate to walk around the garden some more. Riccardo and I enjoyed the quiet of Battleston Hill, marveling at the many champion trees. Admiring a collection of outdoor cactus and other succulents, we expressed our envy of the English’s ability to grow practically anything in their forgiving gardening climate.

Over the weekend I read some literature on Wisley and learned a little about how the garden is organized. Basically there are about ten or so areas in the garden, including Propagation, Glasshouse, Alpine, Formal, Woody, Herbaceous, Turf, Trials, Plant Center and others that all have different teams that manage them year round. The trainees, who are on a two-year diploma scheme at Wisley, and the apprentices, on a similar one-year scheme, rotate through each of these areas during their time at Wisley and so get exposure on how each different area of the garden is managed. Additionally volunteers come each day of the week to help with the various tasks that need doing in each area.

At the beginning of my second week I began working with the Formal Team which looks after the Canal and Loggia, the Mixed Borders, Top Terrace, Weatherhill, Bowles Garden, Rose Garden, Country Garden, Jubilee Rose Garden, the Model Gardens, and the Walled Gardens East and West. Over the next two weeks I spent up to a few days in each area, working with the different gardeners who oversaw each area.

In the mixed borders, perhaps Wisley’s most stunning single display, I helped with the autumn maintenance by removing some annuals that had passed their period of usefulness. We also removed old Buddleja and Sambucus, past their prime as well, to replace with younger plants of the same variety, essentially to rejuvenate those areas of the borders. Aside from ripping out roots (quite slow in the case of Sambucus), we also prepared the soil by double digging, adding compost and fertilizer, and raking out debris before replanting the new shrubs. Enrico, the head of the top terraces and mixed borders, taught the other trainees and me the importance of proper bed prep in such a high visibility area of the garden. We also frequently took walks along the border and around the formal area discussing the composition and association of plants with different colors and textures to attain effects that were beautiful and complementary to each other.

Russell and Riccardo remove a used-up Buddleja 'Nanho Purple'

Russell and Riccardo remove a used-up Buddleja ‘Nanho Purple’

Enrico's final touch made the new planting bed as smooth as glass!

Enrico’s final touch made the new planting bed as smooth as glass!

One of the most educational tasks I helped with in the Formal Team was helping to reshape the beds on the Top Terrace. For weeks I had walked between the twelve colorful annual beds without noticing anything awry. However, once the display was ripped out, Enrico pointed out how out of square the beds actually were. He told us that flowers are just distractions to the framework of the garden, and that to really understand a garden one must visit it in winter, when the distractions are minimal. We spent several days laying out the new areas of the beds so that all twelve would be in line and the same shape, and by the end we figured we had an error of about 1.5 cm over the 100m length of the terrace. Thankfully this was close enough for Enrico to begin the laying out of the new bed edges ahead the planting of the winter display of Myosotis, Bellis, Tulipa, Primula, and Hyacinthus.

The backs of the Top Terrace beds before reshaping

The backs of the Top Terrace beds before reshaping

The Top Terrace beds before they got their wooden edging treatment

The Top Terrace beds before they got their wooden edging treatment

The two Italian gardeners, Jedi Master and Padawan

The two Italian gardeners, Jedi Master Enrico and Padawan Riccardo

For just one day I got to work in the country garden, mostly digging out weeds and tracing hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium), a weed that is plaguing many parts of the formal area. While I didn’t learn much from the actual weeding bit, I did take a walk through the garden with Alex, head of the Jubilee Rose Garden and the Country Garden, looking at interesting plants and talking through possible ideas for future plantings in the country garden. The hardscape of the country garden was designed by Penelope Hobhouse, a famous English garden writer and designer, and is quite formal in nature. All paths intersect at 90 degree angles and a fountain anchors the garden in the center. However, the cottage-garden style planting, with plants being allowed to grow into each other and spill out of the beds into paths, makes this a quintessential English country garden.

Post-weeding in the Country Garden.

Post-weeding in the Country Garden.

Central fountain in the Country Garden

Central fountain in the Country Garden

On a few occasions I was lucky enough to work with one of Wisley’s most experienced and entertaining gardeners, Billy McCutcheon. Although I occasionally had difficulty understanding his thick Scottish accent, I was introduced to many parts of the garden (and the world, more on that later) through him. My first day with Billy we were planting several different perennials in the Confier Lawn, Weatherhill, and Rock Gardens near the Walled Gardens. But at a Botanical Garden the scale of Wisley, planting something isn’t as simple as digging a hole.

We first went up to the Greenhouse and Propagation area to collect the plants from Reception, where all new plants coming into the garden are stored and observed for at least a week after arrival. This is to ensure that no diseased or infested plants are put out in the garden to spread disease elsewhere. We collected Erodium, Oxalis, Primula, Veronica, Gladiolus, Lobelia, Viola, and two varieties of Coreopsis before heading back to the yard to accession them. On the Wisley Garden New Accession Form, we recorded the plants’ names, number of plants, date received, how received (as a plant, seed, bulb/corm, or cutting), from which source, where the plant is to be planted in the garden, and how many labels are needed. These forms are then sent to the Lab where all accessions are added to the master list. Only then are the plants planted out into the garden. And if a plant dies? An entire new form, the Wisley Dead Plant Form, must be filled out with all the same information and sent to the lab so the master list can be updated. It seems like a lot of paperwork, but in a botanical garden with 25,000 taxa these steps must be followed to maintain an accurate list of the garden’s collection.

My other days with Billy were just as exciting. While edging a bed I asked him what the name of a certain Salvia was. Surprised that he couldn’t remember it and also at the apparent missing label, we snatched up a sample and went to the lab botanist, expecting a quick key to species, and if we were lucky, a cultivar. When we arrived at the herbarium, before even a hello, the botanist ID’d the plant from 15 feet away. “That’s Salvia forsskaolei, isn’t it?” A quick google confirmed, and my jaw was on the ground. What an awesome, awesome super-power to have. I was green with envy.

Later that day while removing some Scotch Thistle (Onopordum acanthium) from a bed, Billy was telling me about his trips to the Far East, including China, Japan, Tibet, Laos, and Myanmar. He was keen on me knowing the diversity of not only plants but people of China, and while I was doing my best to show interest, he wasn’t satisfied and invited me to a presentation of his slides and videos of his trips to China at his house. I accepted, and that night Riccardo, myself, and Tom, a trainee who’d been working in the formal department with us, walked to Billy’s house in the Wisley Village to get educated. We were offered a fine selection of teas at the door, and as soon as we sat down and helped ourselves to nibbly bits the presentation began. We watched two DVD’s showcasing the incredible Beijing Botanical Garden, a 500 acre garden with a two and a half acre glasshouse, a forest of Metasequoia, and enormous collections of Prunus mume, Paeonia suffruticosa, Magnolias, and Roses. Next came Billy’s own slides of the Kunming Botanical Garden, a smaller garden situated in Yunnan, one of the most biodiverse areas of the world, as well as his slides of the Yunnan province countryside. We saw photos of primulas, junipers, rhododendrons, grasses, and many more diverse plants all growing amongst each other. He wanted us to understand how botanically rich and diverse China was, and by the end of the presentation we felt we had a pretty good understanding and all agreed that we must visit one day.

Onopordum acanthium, Scotch Thistle

Onopordum acanthium, Scotch Thistle

Billy McCutcheon, the man, the myth, the legend.

Billy McCutcheon has been with Wisley longer than most can remember.

My last day with the formal team I spent with John, who oversees the model gardens and hilltop borders. The model gardens are a series of rooms designed to provide inspiration for visitors looking to make a new garden. These include a cut flower garden, an herb garden, a senses garden, a plant enthusiast’s garden, and more. These gardens demonstrate a variety of planting styles that can be explored by homeowners with smaller garden spaces. After blowing these gardens clean of autumnal debris, we spent the rest of the day weeding the hilltop border. This border is essentially an extension of the Trial Fields in Wisley, and showcases different cultivars, this season of sunflowers, being trialed for garden worthiness by the RHS. However, unlike the rest of the trials happening in the fields, the plants in the hilltop border are voted on by the visitors to see which varieties impress the most.

The Sunflower Trials on the Hilltop Border

The Sunflower Trials on the Hilltop Border

This sunflower didn't make the cut due to its susceptibility to Sclerotinia

This sunflower didn’t make the cut due to its susceptibility to Sclerotinia

At the beginning of my third week I was in the Woody Ornamental team, which oversees the Battleston Hill area, the Pinetum, the Mediterranean beds, and the Arboretum. I spent all of my two day stint with Woody in south Battleston Hill with Janina, a second year trainee student from Germany who’d spent time studying in an arboretum as well as working for a private landscaping company before coming to Wisley.

Our task for the week was to fill an empty area beneath some large camellias and hydrangeas. Janina, who’d been working with the Woody team and in Battleston for nearly ten weeks, knew some plants in the area that were underperforming due to their location and might benefit from being moved to the sunnier empty bed. We transplanted three Hydrangea macrophylla to the new bed and divided two varieties of hosta that were nearby to underplant around the hydrangeas. Before planting anything though, Janina and I walked all around the bed to see exactly where the plants would have the most visible impact from a variety of viewpoints. The woodland areas of Wisley look quite natural, but this made me aware of how carefully each plant’s placement was planned. After planting the hostas and hydrangeas and moving some Itea virginica and Hemerocallis away from a new path, we were finished with the area and set the overhead sprinkler out to water in the plants. For the rest of the Tuesday afternoon we planted a few azaleas and camellias and weeded some Enchanter’s Nightshade (Circaea lutetiana) from a bed of Geranium before calling it a day.

Putting the final touches on the Hosta planting on Battleston Hill.

Putting the final touches on the Hosta planting on Battleston Hill.

Next week I’ll begin working with the Herbaceous team who oversee the herbaceous borders by the glasshouse as well as the Wild garden. Hope my extremely long first blog post didn’t put too many of you off! I promise I’ll try to keep them more succinct in the future. Until next time, happy planting.


West Coast Trip – Phoenix to Seattle

Last time I updated the blog it was Spring, cherries and Magnolias were blooming along with carpets of tulips, daffodils and spring ephemerals.

Spring was swift and the heat and humidity kicked in soon after. I wanted to visit Phoenix in Arizona and realised sooner would be better than later to avoid being fried in the desert heat.

So I embarked on a journey to Phoenix with my two intern mates from Longwood, Leon and Pippa. From here we would be driving up the West Coast to Seattle, taking in the most amazing gardens and natural wonders along the way.

Phoenix – Arizona


With Nancy Swanson at her home.

Carrie and Jon Hulburd kindly hosted us in Phoenix during my stay. They had a beautiful house with a view of the mountain, four friendly dogs and a pet pig, aptly named Hamlet. Our first day in Phoenix we met up with Nancy Swanson and went on a great tour of some of her friends private gardens. It was great to see what can be achieved in the desert climate. Nancy herself also had a interesting garden, with native plants and with a traditional style house. Nancy and the Hulburds really made me feel welcome and at home in Phoenix.


Carrie and Jon’s stunning morning view.

The first garden visited was the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden. The morning was spent helping the staff to tidy the beds after cacti had been removed. Staff have to use precaution when handling cacti. Thick gloves and a pair of tweezers are carried at all times. Cacti are wrapped with cellophane to protect both plant, and horticulturalist. Not being used to the climate, it was hot work, I don’t know how staff survive the brutal summers!

We were given a brilliant tour of the garden by Kenny Zelov, assistant director of horticulture, and Brian Kissinger Director of horticulture. They both have lots of energy and it was great to see the new plans for the gardens. It definitely is a progressive place. The design elements, along with the natural beauty of the setting, make this garden unmissable.


Me and Leon in front of a huge Saguaro cactus at DBG


Interesting sun dial at DBG.


Stapelia gigantea, which smells like rotten meat to attract fly as pollinators. At DBG.

After an amazing stay in Phoenix we left for Sedona National Park en route to the Grand Canyon. Taking a trail through the park reveals the beautiful red rock formations and scrub land. A river running through the trail supports large trees, and the whole place looks lush green, a contrast to what one would expect from a desert.


Rock formations at Sedona National Park


The River supports larger trees.

We continued on from Sedona to the Grand Canyon. Pictures do not do the Grand Canyon justice. It really is an incomprehensibly big hole in the ground. The layers of exposed rock are beautiful hues of pink, red, blue and purple, and seem to change with the setting of the sun.


Looking into the Earth’s history.

Plants that grow around the Grand Canyon area include quaking aspen, Populus tremuloides and the Englemann spruce, Pieca englemannii. There is also the invasive Eurasion Tamarix spp. which blocks water ways and changes salinity of the soil.

We stayed nearby the Canyon for one night and had a last look before heading on to Pasadena, LA. On the way we stopped off to see the Hoover Dam. An impressive concrete structure, completed in 1936, it claimed the lives of over one hundred workers. We also drove through Las Vegas to experience the glitz and glamour from our car.

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In Las Vegas

Pasadena – Los Angeles

In Pasadena we were hosted by Leelee Doughty. She lived in a gorgeous yellow house on top of a hill, with a large hillside garden and three friendly huskies. It was a perfect location to visit gardens in the area. We went to the LA Arboretum and had a informative three hour tour with James Henrich. The arboretum is arranged into areas of the world and covers 127 acres of land.


Cloudy sky and Jacaranda at LA Arboretum.


A view of Queen Anne Cottage at LA Arboretum.

Whilst in LA we also visited Descanso Gardens, a public garden featuring rhododendrons, large oak groves and a fine Japanese Garden. We also saw La Casita del Arroyo, a community meeting house, a water demonstration garden and butterfly sanctuary, a major community project for the Pasadena Garden Club since it was conceived. It was a joint project between the Pasadena Garden Club, who supplied the funds and the architectural design by Myron Hunt and the City of Pasadena, who supplied the materials and manpower. The building’s walls include boulders from the Arroyo, and the original roof shakes were cut from fallen trees in the upper canyon.


La Casita del Arroyo

We also had a couple of non-horticulture days to see the sights. We had to have a picture with the Hollywood sign of course, and the people watching at Venice Beach was top class.


Leon, Me and Pippa in Hollywood.

On the way out of Pasadena we stopped at Huntington Botanic Garden and Museum. The botanic garden is spectacular, with some of the best displays and collections I have seen on my trip. The succulent garden alone houses a staggering amount of plants beautifully displayed among raised rocky beds. The Japanese and Chinese gardens also felt very authentic with ornate architecture.


Barrel Catus at Huntington


Chinese Garden at Huntington

San Fransico

After a whirlwind tour of the Huntington, we were back on the road, heading to San Fransico. We stayed in San Fran for two days seeing the Botanic garden and the Golden Gate Park, also exploring the city and areas such as Fisherman’s Wharf.


Unusual flower colour of Puya alpestris x mirabilis.


Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park

I loved the architecture of the houses in San Fransico, it’s steep topography and European vibe. Its a city full of art, colour and energy.


Typical street in San Fran


Boisterous sea-lions on Pier 39

Over the bridge and North of San Franscio is Muir Woods. The woods cover an area of 554acres, 240 of which are old growth coastal redwoods, Sequoia sempervirens. Before the logging industry came to California, the Redwoods covered an estimated 2 million acres; this really is the last of a few remaining sanctuaries for this magnificent giant.


Prehistoric landscape of Muir Woods.


Pippa and Leon shown at the base for scale.


Driving up from Muir Woods we traveled the coastal route 101. This offered fantastic views of the ocean and the rugged coastline. The winding road takes you from sea level up through the hills with wildflowers waving you as you pass.


The West Coast drive. Photo: Leon Charalambous

Arriving in Portland, Oregon, we stayed a night with Leelee’s son, Sandy. He showed us around town, one of the cycling capitals of America, a green City with a hip young scene, great food, music and night life. We visited the International Rose Test Garden and Portland Japanese Garden, ranked one of the best in the Country. It lived up to it’s reputation with beautiful cloud pruned trees, moon bridges, and gravel garden.

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On our way to Seattle we took a brief stop at Mt Rainier National Park. The whole place was shrouded in fog, sometimes you couldn’t see more than a few feet in-front of you. The park has many hiking trails, we chose a short trail to a picturesque waterfall.


Mist moving through the Douglas firs


Glacial Waterfall

Unfortunately we never got to see the mountain as it was cloudy, which is often the case in this area. The fog was beautiful though, slowly enveloping the contorted trees growing on the hillsides.


Mist shrouded lodge at Mt Rainier


Reaching San Fransico we were kindly hosted by Nile, her husband Matt and daughter Kili. Our guide was Terry Huang the 2014 American GCA/RHS Fellow. Terry and I met a Kew Gardens when he came to work for two weeks as part of his fellowship so it was nice to reconnect.

Being a true plants-man, Terry was able to show us interesting specimens at the Washington University Arboretum, the University Greenhouse and also took us on a trip to Bloedel Reserve.


Chilean flame tree, Emothrium coccinium at WU Arboretum


Touring with Terry!


Moss garden at Bloedel

On our way back from Bloedel, the ferry offered a great view of the skyline. We walked around the bustling markets and even ate some Seattle salmon. Walking around the residential areas, it is apparent that this is a gardening city, many people grow vegetables on the so called ‘hell-strip’ (grass verge between road and sidewalk) and also extend their front gardens out onto the street. It beautifies the area, whilst letting the public enjoy a slice of the garden.


View of Seattle skyline


Fish market


Residential area

And so all good things must come to an end! The trip up the West coast of America was truly an amazing experience, one of the best I’ve ever had. It was great to travel with my two companions, and we met so many people willing to help us out along the way. None of my travels this year would be possible without the GCA and RHS so of course i want to extend my full thanks to all the members and especially those that have hosted me, and helped me plan trips.


Until next time, that’s all for now!

Cheers, Ash

Spring Has Sprung with a Vengance

It seems the bitter cold of winter has made Spring arrive like a hyperactive child at a party full of E-numbers.Plants are bursting into life wherever you look.

The first true sign of Spring was encountered on a trip that me and four friends, (Caity, Pippa, Rob and Leon) took to Washington DC for the weekend. We managed to time our visit at the peak of the Cherry Festival. The powder puff blooms were incredible, and next to the water created beautiful reflections.


Among the blooms, we also managed to take in the cultural delights. Including the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King Memorial, the Washington Monument, The White House and DC Zoo (where i saw my first ever Panda Bear).


We visited Dumbarton Oaks, a beautiful 19th century property in Georgetown, which was profuse with flowers:




And also the US Botanic Garden which had fascinating plant collections from across the world. One of my highlights was the Toothache Plant, Acmella oleracea, a small plant that when chewed causes your whole mouth to numb and tingle whilst your saliva glands go crazy, an experience I wont forget anytime soon!


A root expo at US Botanic Garden

A root expo at US Botanic Garden


At the end of April I attended the Botanic Gardens Conservation International Annual Conference at Missouri Botanic Garden. We were involved in a week of talks, workshops and discussions around the subject of involving local communities in botanic gardens and how people can be encouraged into gardens, thus spreading the message of conservation. There were greatly inspiring talks from people from across the globe, sharing innovative ways of displaying interpretation and making gardens relevant for the community, especially those who may not typically be visitors.


It wasn’t just the talks that were inspiring, Missouri Botanic Garden is itself a beautifully inspiring place. It truly is one of the best botanic gardens I have visited and was looking at its peak with beautiful spring blooms. The garden also owns a 2,400 acre nature reserve which contains an abundance of native plants. I came away from the City of St.Louis invigorated, with an even greater appreciation for the power of Horticulture and the changes that individuals can make on the smallest scale to the biggest.

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Dracaena umbraculifera, only 16 plants left in the world in a handful of botanic gardens.

Dracaena umbraculifera, only 16 plants left in the world in a handful of botanic gardens.


Paw paw flower, Asimina triloba, native to the Mid-West States

Paw paw flower, Asimina triloba, native to the Mid-West States

Back at Longwood the displays are changing as quick as usual. The tulip display is giving it’s all and the knee battering of planting back in Autumn has been worth it for the glorious display. The conservatory is fifty shades of blue, with hydrangeas, echiums, forget-me-not, blue cineraria, meconopsis and heliophylia, a dainty South African roadside weed.

Blue blooms of Cineraria, Pericallis x hybrida and yellow glow of Forsythia x intermedia 'Spring Glory'

Blue blooms of Cineraria, Pericallis x hybrida and yellow glow of Forsythia x intermedia ‘Spring Glory’

Meconopsis 'Lingholm'

Meconopsis ‘Lingholm’

Planting Hydrangea macrophylla 'Tokyo Delight'

Planting Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Tokyo Delight’

Drowning in Echium candicans 'Select Blue'

Drowning in Echium candicans ‘Select Blue’

Winter was long and drawn out, now Spring seems to be speeding through like an express train, racing past the station, with the hot and sticky summer on it’s heels.

In my next blog update I’ll tell you all about my trip to the West coast. Driving from Phoenix to Seattle, over 2500 miles, five States and several different climate zones. Exciting! For now…

Cheers, Ash

Florida, the Sunshine State

Using the travel budget given to me by the GCA, I decided to take a trip to Florida. I wanted to see tropical plants growing in their native climate, out of doors. The heat was a welcome break from the freezing temperatures of Pennsylvania! My first destination was Miami, where I stayed for four days. It was my first time travelling completely alone and was definitely a learning experience. I rented a car whilst there and drove around the city exploring the many tropical gardens on offer.

I managed to see Vizcaya, Fairchild Botanic Garden, Montgomery Botanical Centre, The Kampong, Miami Beach Botanic Garden and Pinecrest Gardens. Each garden had a unique style and it was amazing to see many tropical plants growing outdoors and unprotected, as I am accustomed to seeing them under glass.


Viscaya House and Gardens


Huge Banyan Tree at Montgomery Botanic Centre

I observed some very impressive palm trees, one of the biggest being the Talipot Palm, Corypha umbraculifera. It its monocarpic, meaning it dies after flowering and bears the largest inflorescence of any plant. I was lucky enough to see it in flower, and the panicles were breathtakingly big. Other plant highlights included the rainbow eucalyptus Eucalyptus deglupta, with its multi-coloured bark, and the sausage tree, Kigelia africana with its huge hanging, woody fruits.


Fruit of the sausage tree, Kigelia africana


Corypha umbraculifera    

I also used my time to visit History Miami, and learn about the city and its origins. I walked along the Art Deco promenade on Miami Beach and visited Little Havana and ate great Cuban food, all very enjoyable.


Art Deco buildings at Miami Beach

From Miami I dove up to the Everglades and walked along the boardwalk trails. There are many native plants and animals here. I spotted my fair share of alligators and many water birds. Tilandsia usneoides hangs gracefully from the trees and Royal palms, Roystonia regia, spring up from the higher areas of ground, known as hammocks. This part of the trip was an opportunity to see the natural landscape of Florida how it would have been over 200 years ago.


Everglades scenery


Florida Alligator

From the Everglades I drove up to Tampa where I rendezvoused with my colleague and Floridian, Caity Chandler. She kindly hosted me for three days along with fellow Longwood intern Leon Charalambous. I was shown around Caity’s university were she graduated and worked in the garden plot.


Caity Chandler, at University of Florida

We also visited Hollis Gardens a formal public garden space in Lakeland. The garden was set out in a formal manner with compartmented gardens themed by colour. Bok tower gardens was beautifully landscaped including flower borders and large oak trees. The garden was designed by Olmsted Jr. and includes a large chimes tower, and sweeping vistas.

The trip to Florida was an amazing learning opportunity. Tours given to me by Amy Padolf and Dr.Chad Husby at Fairchild and Montgomery Centre highlighted the amazing work that botanists and horticulturalists are carrying out across the state and the Globe. I also got to see the most amazing plants in their native habitat reaching their full potential.


I look forward to future trips, experiencing the diversity of American climate, culture, plants and gardens.

Cheers, Ash

The Depths of Winter

Christmas disappeared in a flurry of ornaments and fairy lights with a few shattered ball-balls on the way.

In its place comes Orchid Extravaganza, a burst of tropical colour much needed during the cold months of January and February. Me and the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) team helped out by staking and preparing the orchids for planting. Orchid arrangements include two large  Phalaenopsis pyramidsPhalaenopsis chandeliers, urns filled with Cymbidium, and an orchid meadow.

With Rob, preparing Carex for planting in the orchid meadow

One corner of the completed orchid meadow.

Over the month of January I have been working in integrated pest management (IPM).The team is made up of two full time members of staff,  Grant Jones and Rachel Schnaitman and an IPM intern, Rob Maganja. This has been a really fascinating placement where I have been able to hone my pest detecting skills.

The displays at Longwood Gardens may appear flawless, however look close enough and you will find tiny pests among the plants. There is constant warfare against these invaders, and it is the IPM department that are leading the conflict against this insect uprising.

You may be familiar with many of these pests. Like the African Savannah, there are the big 5:

  • Aphids – tiny sap sucking insects, use their stylus (straw like mouth part) to pierce and drink from the plants phloem. Apart from causing physical damage and weakening the plant, they can also transfer viruses.
  • Mealy Bugs – another sap sucking pest, these insects form sticky white masses and produce vast amounts of honey due, leading to the secondary infection of sooty mould.
  • White Fly – a highly mobile pest able to fly from plant to plant. These insects also have piercing mouth parts that can transfer virus.
  • Thrips – a minute, cigar shaped insect. They are commonly yellow or dark brown depending on the species, and pierce individual cells, sucking out the cellular fluids and leaving the surface of leaves and flowers with a silvery scarring.
  • Spider Mite – at less than 1mm in size, these are the hardest pests to spot. When in large numbers, the silk webs can be seen. They puncture individual cell walls and remove the fluids. This gives the leaves a dry, dusty appearance.

Cottony Cushion Scale – one of the more unusual looking pests.

The job of IPM is to scout these pests and record how prevalent they are. Based on the results, suggestions are made to the growers, and then they choose whether to spray or release biological control. Biological controls include beneficial insects such as the Cryptolaemus montrouzieri, a ladybird larvae that feeds on mealy bugs.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in IPM and feel equipped to identify a range of pest and disease problems in my future placements.

During February I worked in Production. It is the time of year where many plants are being transferred from small plug size pots into larger, final planting pots. One group of plants we worked on extensively were Cannas. These are split and divided and the tubers replanted into shallow trays. These will then go out in the garden towards the end of May, two plants to a pot.

Production also deliver plants to the Conservatory for the numerous change overs. Some of these deliveries can be a juggling act, trying to fit large standards into the box truck. February has been very cold, and tropical plants have to be quickly transferred from the truck to the conservatory to stop them instantly freezing.


Delivering Plants to the Conservatory

Repeating tasks such as potting on and pricking out in the nursery has aided my efficiency and confidence in growing techniques. I have also had the chance to create soil mixes, train, stake and tie in plants.

It was a good time of year to be under glass, as temperatures outside dropped to lows I have never experienced before. Some days had a wind chill factor of -28C. I didn’t escape completely though, and there were plenty of days for snow shoveling. The outside world is a stark contrast to the indoor spring setting of the Conservatory. I will leave you with some pictures of both indoors and outdoors during February and you can see for yourself!


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Adventures in France and Italy


Time flies when you’re having fun! It’s a cliché, but definitely true. I’m already half-way through my placement in Cambridge and I haven’t even written about my adventures in France and Italy. Apologies for that, but I’ll fix it now.

As a refresher, I finished my placement at the Botanics in Edinburgh near the beginning of December. After I had packed all my stuff up and hauled it back down to London to stash it, I headed off to Lille, France for the British Ecological Society and French Ecological Society joint meeting. I was giving a talk on some research I did in Hawai’i on invasive species prior to this fellowship. Not only did my talk go quite well, but I saw a bunch of very interesting presentations on a huge variety of topics and met some of the people I’m working with here in Cambridge. I even ran into a fellow graduate of St. Olaf College, my alma mater, in a very fortunate coincidence!

BES talk

The title is quite a mouthful.


Of course, while I was in Lille I couldn’t help but to visit the botanic garden there. While it was not as spectacular as some of the gardens I have seen, it had a certain charm in the flowering Mahonia gracilis and very emotive trees.


Mahonia flowering in December



After the conference finished, I hopped on a bus to Paris to spend the next few days exploring that great city. I strategically chose a hostel right next to the Paris botanic garden to facilitate easy access to the very interesting gardens and museums on the site. My first full day in Paris was spent wandering amongst plants, skeletons, and stuffed animals. The botanic garden itself seems pretty huge considering its location inside the city, and people definitely take advantage of the green space by walking or jogging through it. My favorite part were the glasshouses, where there is a very well done house that details the development of plants from primitive algae and liverworts to the incredible diversity of angiosperms. There was also a house containing plants from New Caledonia, which was very interesting.


A foggy morning at the Paris Botanic Garden, but this was an incredibly lucky picture, as it does not include any joggers!



The Selaginella display in the development of plants house.


New Caledonia features some impressive tree ferns and palms!



You may remember a post about the amazing Selaginella lepidophylla, or resurrection fern, from earlier. I was very pleased to find a display of dried up S. lepidophylla in the arid house in Paris!


The skeleton and stuffed animal part of my day came from the comparative anatomy museum and the great hall of evolution, respectively. Both of these museums are right next to the botanic garden and contain a pretty incredible amount of information. Both were very good distractions even though all the interpretive information was in French.


This is just one floor of the comparative anatomy museum. There were also a ton of fossils and dinosaur skeletons. This room was my favorite though.



The great hall of evolution seemed endless, covering animals from all part of the earth and going through their development. They even had a floor devoted to plants and their evolution!


Of course, I spent one day in the Louvre admiring the works of great masters that came before. My last full day was sun-filled and warm, perfect for exploring the gardens at Versailles. I took the train out to the palace, spent some time being impressed by the extravagance of the building and it’s rooms before being blown away by the sheer scale of the gardens! While the very closely cropped and geometrically organized French-style gardens are not exactly my style, it was still a pleasure to wander around and discover hidden courtyards and intricate fountains on a beautiful day.


There’s no end in sight!



This is the orangerie, unfortunately lacking the oranges. Some investigative work revealed that they are stored in the palace next to this garden during the winter.


I could have spent another month or two in Paris, but I had places to be, so after Versailles I made my way south to Toulon and Nice. While I didn’t visit any official botanic gardens in these towns, I did go botanizing with a friend and her mom where I learned all about the edible plants that grow along the Mediterranean coast. After our day on the beach we came back with large bouquets of yellow flowers and bags full of leafy greens, both of which I shamefully cannot remember the names of.


The French Cote D’Azur is quite beautiful.


By this time Christmas was quickly approaching so I headed to Italy to meet my family. While I will spare you most of the details, we did spend some time at a pretty impressive garden in Florence. This garden, called Boboli gardens (or giardino di boboli), is quite an old garden built by the Medici family and was kept private for a very long time. While they were in some ways similar to the gardens at Versailles, the much smaller scale felt more intimate and included some very nice views of the rest of Florence.


There were plenty of these walkways and nice nooks and crannies to check out in Boboli. On top of some amazing sculpture and fountain displays!



The view from the garden at closing time, on our way out.


It was really great having the chance to see and experience some of Europe outside of the UK. It is pretty incredible how quickly things change as you move around over here and I feel like I saw quite a range of cultures during the month of slow movement from Edinburgh to Rome and back. What I think is quite amazing is that from hundreds of years ago to today, an affinity for plants and green spaces have left us with some wonderful gardens to explore and appreciate.

In the near future expect to hear about all the things I have been doing and learning here in Cambridge in the Plant Sciences department and the Botanic Garden!

November, December and Into a New Year.

Time seems to move much faster in America! Two months since my last blog update, and its been a time of change, festivities, celebrations and outings!

November was the month of the Chrysanthemums. The Glasshouse was filled with more than 80,000 chrysanthemum blooms in many different forms, the pièce de résistance being the thousand bloom mum. It contains over 1,500 individual blooms stemming from one plant and carefully arranged into a dome form. Another huge piece is the Chandelier, beautifully reflected in the flooded marble of the Fern Floor. Watering this huge floral piece is a challenge and requires steady legs on top of a tall ladder, whilst trying to spin the chandelier and water at the same time to get even coverage!

Watering the lowered chrysanthemum chandelier

Watering the lowered chrysanthemum chandelier

The Orangery with Spiral and Ball Mums

The Orangery with Spiral and Ball Mums

Thousand Bloom Mum

Thousand Bloom Mum

Throughout November I worked in the Conservatory, mostly with Joyce Rodinella and Tim Jennings. I spent the first part of the month ripping out the aquatic garden ready for the winter. All of the tropical waterlilies and other tropical water plants are lifted from the pools and stored in the greenhouses in pots, which will be used in displays the following year. This was a fun project, and some of the pools feel like a warm bath!

Meanwhile inside the Conservatory I was working in the Palm House, Tropical Terrace and Cascade Garden. The Cascade Garden is one of my favorites and was designed by Roberto Burle Marx, the famous Brazilian designer with a 62 year career, who among countless other projects, designed the Copacabana beach promenade. It features Bromeliads, Philodendron and other Brazilian natives, with well placed rock formations and cascading water features. The small space of the room has been maximised and the meandering path creates a sense of discovery around each corner. I carried out pruning jobs in both these gardens, curbing the growth of vines invading the roof supports, and pruning back woody plants to allow light and air in. I also planted new displays and carried out the daily tasks of watering, sweeping, tidying plants and beds and helping guests.

Pruning in the Tropical Terrace

Pruning in the Tropical Terrace

Strelitzia reginae

Strelitzia reginae

The Cascade Garden

The Cascade Garden with Vriesea and Tillandsia

Approaching the end of November comes one of the biggest events on the Longwood Garden’s calendar, the Christmas changeover. This starts on the weekend before thanksgiving day, when all of the staff from every section of the garden rip out the temporary planting (Sunday night) ready to be replaced by hundreds of Poinsettia, Amaryllis and other Christmas themed bedding plants.

The next three days are a mad rush to get all of the Christmas trees decorated and plants in so that the Conservatory doors can be opened on Thanksgiving day. I worked with Kat McCullough in the Silver Garden and Mediterranean Garden. This year’s theme is ‘Christmas Takes Flight’ so the Mediterranean tree was decorated in colours representing the bird of paradise, Strelitzia reginae, and the Silver Garden was adorned with penguins.

The Christmas set-up really is a huge group effort and the result is spectacular. The displays would win over the most Scroogiest humbug.

View from the Orangery to the Fern Floor

View from the Orangery to the Fern Floor

Med Garden Tree

Med Garden Tree

Silver Garden Tree

Silver Garden Tree

Remember all that tree light wrapping that the Arborists’ started out in September? Well now the lights are on and its spectacular!

Tree Lights

Tree Lights

Perfectly on cue the snow fell just as we had finished the decorating, adding that extra bit of magic.


After all that hard work, Thursday the 27th was my first ever Thanksgiving! Betsy McCoy very kindly invited me and other interns to her house and we had an absolutely fantastic turkey dinner with all the trimmings plus amazing desserts! After the meal I couldn’t stand up so had a lay down, and I wasn’t the only person to have a sly nap either. It was a really great thanksgiving and I’ll always remember it, thanks Betsy!



December quickly came around and I took some time out to spend five days in New York City. I’ve always wanted to go, so me and the Triad Fellow Misho, from Japan, teamed up and went and explored the Big Apple!

We had already seen the NY Botanic Garden, so we went to Brooklyn Botanic. Unfortunately the weather was so bad we didn’t see too much of it, but the glasshouse was great as was the bonsai collection. The visitor center also has a brand new green roof made up of grasses. The Highline was also a great public space and something I think London could do with; a fresh urban green space with modern architecture and art.

We managed to walk most of Manhattan and saw many galleries, plus all of the usual tourist sites. The view from the Empire State Building was particularly breathtaking. It was nice to be back in a city after three months in the countryside! I loved the architecture and the beautiful art deco style skyscrapers. I hope to go back again in the spring or summer.


The Highline


Times Square Glowing

Coming back to Longwood from New York I joined the plant records team. Here i worked in the office, which I have to say was a totally new experience to me, and entered data in the plant database, BG Base. Work included taking inventories of plant collections at Longwood, this was really useful as its good revision of the plant names. I particularly enjoyed taking the inventory over the road at Abondi. There are many trees planted here from the 60s’ and some unusual and rare cultivars.

Other work included tagging new trees, taking photographs of plants for the plant finder website and collecting phenology data. This was an area I’d never worked in before so has been a good experience.

We saw in the new year at a party in Philly, and I am excited to see what 2015 has in store. I’m particularly looking forward to travelling around America, and attending the APGA conference later this year. I wish everybody a happy new year and I’ll write again soon!

Cheers, Ash

Edinburgh: Under Glass


After my foray in native plants, I did a 180 and started working with plants that are almost all not native to Scotland. In fact, they’re so maladapted to the wonderful Scottish weather that they have to be kept warm under a protective layer of glass! I don’t want that to sound like I have anything against these exotic plants. It’s actually the opposite; it is really pretty amazing to see plants from all corners of the world and the various environmental conditions in which they grow. My appreciation for the extreme diversity in forms and life strategies among plants has grown immensely during these weeks that I have worked under glass.

How to sow a seedless plant?

This is a question I had never really thought about before, but it involves a pretty interesting process! As many of you probably know, plants like ferns, horsetails, selaginellas, club mosses, etc. don’t produce seeds, but spores. These are tiny (microscopic) propagules that develop into a structure called a gametophyte. This gametophyte then develops the sexual bits, which fertilize each other, creating the sporophyte. Sporophytes are, in most cases, the dominant life stage and are the leafy ferns or wiry horsetails that we are used to seeing. Basically what you need to do to get this process started is carefully sprinkle these spores on a sterile growing media, make it nice and moist, then wrap it up tightly and wait. If you’re lucky and/or good at what you do, you should get plenty of baby gametophytes popping up!

I spent some time collecting and sowing spores of various types of plants, from dry habitat ferns, to mosses from herbarium specimens, and selaginellas in the collection. This was done to help boost up some of the existing plant numbers, but also to experiment with sowing some species that aren’t normally grown from spores.

First, one of the people I was working with had collected spores from ferns preserved in the herbarium to try germinating them. Impressively, after all the harsh treatment that herbarium specimens go through to kill anything that might be alive, spores germinated and there are now several fully grown Actiniopteris semiflabellata in the collection! This is doubly exciting because this means that herbaria have the potential to act as a last resort prevention of extinction of some species.


Fertile fronds collected in botanical envelopes to sow the next generation.


After that success, we thought it would be interesting to see if we could take this sowing from herbarium specimens one step further. Knowing that at least some fern spores survive freezing, chemicals, and years sitting in an herbarium, we thought it would be interesting to try mosses. It might seem ridiculous that mosses, those moisture loving little green plants, would produce spores that could survive in an herbarium, but there are actually many mosses that grow in very dry areas, making up parts of the “biological  soil crust.” This soil crust plays a really important role in soil stabilization, nutrient cycling, and moisture retention. We were hoping that if mosses are adapted to harsh, dry environments, maybe their spores would survive.


This is what biological soil crusts look like. They’re mostly cyanobacteria with a mixture of mosses, lichens, algae, and fungi. Photo courtesy of


So we chose several moss species common in Oman, Yemen, or Saudi Arabia and went to the herbarium to collect “dust” from them. We then sowed this dust with the hope of getting something to grow. Unfortunately nothing has popped up yet, but hopefully I’ll be able to update you with some results!


Mosses in the herbarium don’t look too impressive, but there is a ton of valuable information there. Hopefully including viable spores!


Along the same lines, we also wanted to experiment with sowing selaginella spores. These are interesting because selaginellas are heterosporous, meaning that they have two types of spores, megaspores, which contain the female parts, and microspores, which contain the male parts. Most selaginellas can be propagated easily by cuttings, so growing them from spores is very rarely done. We could find almost no information about how to do it, besides the fact that it can be done. So of course, we had to try! First, though, we got a better look at the spores under the microscope.

sel megasporangia

Here’s a photo of a Selaginella lepidophylla cone at 40X. The big yellow balls are the megaspores, while the orange small ones are the microspores. Notice that they’re produced under different “leaves.”


We focused on Selaginella lepidophylla because it’s another dry habitat plant (it’s also known as the resurrection fern, as it can almost completely dry up then come back to life when rehydrated). Like the mosses, these spores still haven’t sprouted, so you’ll have to stay tuned! I’m hopeful, though, as one source said it could take up to 9 months for germination to occur.


Here is what Selaginella lepidophylla looks like. Each plant is maybe a couple inches across, meaning the spores are pretty tiny. Image courtesy of


These bigger experiments have been interspersed with other exciting activities like keeping the plants in the backup arid plant house all watered, taking stock of plants in various houses, updating records on the garden database, and designing some small features in a couple houses!


Part of the arid backup house that I helped look after. There were a ton of cacti and Pelargoniums that smelled like anything from sweetarts to lemons and summer sausage!



This may be a bit hard to see, but I “built” that dead bush that the onion-like plants (Bowiea volubilis) are climbing on.



This is a Campbell-Stokes recorder, used to measure sunlight. It’s on top of the palm house and when it’s sunny, the glass ball concentrates the light to burn a line on a replaceable paper that can tell you how long and when there was sun! This, along with a bunch of other weather-related measurements are made every day.



I got to be a creative geologist for a day while making the backdrop for a tarantula enclosure. It looks just like sandstone, no? Of course you can’t tell, but it’s actually styrofoam that was carved, slightly melted, painted, and coated in sand.


There have also been some exciting adventures to keep me busy outside of work, so here’s some evidence of those.


The botanics had a pretty neat light show going and I got to go to the staff sneak peak! Here’s the palm house all done up nice. There were also lights in many trees and some nice light/music coordination on the pond.



One day I went on a walk through Rosslyn glen, and this is Rosslyn chapel, most recently made famous by Tom Hanks and the holy grail (aka, the DaVinci Code). This place is super old, and incredibly intricate. You weren’t allowed to take photos inside, but all the walls, pillars, and even the floor are covered with symbols and small carvings.



This is from a walk in Dalkeith county park. We went to look for fungi, and we sure did find some! This was probably my favorite. I think I knew what it is, but I don’t remember… Maybe somebody can help with that.



We also found some ancient oaks in Dalkeith. I think they’re supposed to be around 500 years old.



A castle! This is Tantallon castle, just outside North Berwick. I loved it because it felt like a very old castle. Parts of it date back to the 14th century, but a lot of it is actually newer. It’s situated in a very dramatic spot on these sheer cliffs overlooking the sea.



I took a trip to Oban on the West coast to help find some lichens. I was impressed by the sea lochs, woodland, and hills. Definitely a beautiful place!



I also went out to the Pentland hills, just outside of Edinburgh for a very nice walk on a fairly foggy day.



My time in Edinburgh is pretty much up. The next step is the British Ecological Society/French Ecological Society joint meeting in Lille, France next week. I’ll be there presenting some work I did in Hawai’i, but I’m excited to get a taste of France and visit some gardens before heading to Italy to spend the holidays with my family, who will be coming to visit. It should be a great few weeks and I’ll see you with an update in the new year!

PS, I’ll leave you with this. One of the cooler things I’ve seen recently!

These are spores from horsetails (Equisetum) and they have these 4 appendages that seem to respond to humidity changes by springing back and forth, making them very good dancers and jumpers!

Edinburgh: Scottish native plants


My first placement when I arrived in Edinburgh was with working with the people that take care of the rare Scottish plants. This operation at the Botanics is based on the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, which is a UN program aimed at slowing the rate of plant extinction. Specifically, the Botanics is focusing on target 8, which is to have at least 75% of endangered plants in ex situ conservation, preferably in their country of origin and at least 20% of those species involved in recovery and/or restoration programs. To do this, the Botanics has part of their nursery and rock garden devoted to growing various rare native species and propagating them for wild reintroduction.

Several reintroductions of rare willows (Salix lanata, wolly willow, for example) have happened around the country, but a particular focus now is the propagation and conservation of several Sorbus (aka whitebeam, rowan, or mountain ash) endemic to an island off the West coast of Scotland called Arran. Basically, there are three species of Sorbus that are only found on Arran (S. arranensis, S. pseudofennica, and S. pseudomeinichii) , which arose from a complex series of incestuous relationships between common Sorbus species (S. aucuparia and S. rupicola). These hybrids are fertile and can reproduce, so they’re considered distinct species and due to their very limited range, they have extremely small populations (only tens to hundreds of them in the wild, while S. pseudominichii only has two known individuals)! My first day was spent planting a few of these trees that had outgrown their pots and were ready to be set free.

(I am very sad that I neglected to take photos of this, and now most of the leaves are gone, so I can’t get a good photo. Apologies.)

My work with the rare plants team brought me to one of the 3 satellite gardens that are part of the Botanics called Dawyk. This garden is just about 45 minutes South of Edinburgh, which means it is further away from the ocean, so it gets much colder. This garden is really more of an arboretum, as it has some pretty incredibly giant tree specimens. We went to take care of the rare plants trail that is featured in the garden. A series of 17 rare species are planted in the beds with some information about them for visitors to read. This  rare native plants trail recently made a friend in Edinburgh, which is a rare plant section of the rock garden. This garden is organized by ecosystem type, from coast to limestone cliffs to high alpine. In each area a combination of rare and not-so-rare plants characteristic of each system are planted to give people and idea of what the plants would look like in their natural surroundings. A very nice idea if you ask me!


Planting! We’re planting green figwort (Scrophularia umbrosa).


Some of Dawyk. Plenty of huge conifers.


Another one of the beloved rare native plants. Unfortunately nothing much was blooming.

Related to natural settings, the Botanics also has a small plot in the Cairngorms National Park where they grow several alpine species. While not all the species are native or rare, this plot gives the garden the opportunity to grow several alpine species from around the world in the environment where they would normally be grown. This trip was a great way to get out into the Western Highlands and see some of the larger mountains in Scotland!


The plot.


View of Cairgorms National Park. This park is different than parks at home, as it has all kinds of towns and private property inside it. It’s though, and generally beautiful!

Finally, I had the chance to go help plant some native Scottish plants at the parliament building. The parliament is making a pretty great effort to landscape their surroundings and green roofs with native plants, which the Botanics are helping with. We planted some native thyme (Thymus polytrchus brittanicus) and rock roses (Helianthemum nummularium) in their yard and brought some sticky catchfly (Silene viscaria) for them to plant on their roof. I think it’s pretty great that the government is encouraging things like this to raise awareness and appreciation for the native flora. We were even featured on their Facebook page (link)!


Hard at work laying out the plantings.

It hasn’t all been work, and there has been a healthy dose of sight seeing and walking done. Here are some photos of that:


An Irish Elk at the Scottish National Museum. These guys had enormous antlers, which is why scientists think they went extinct. Sexual selection gone crazy!


Edinburgh has an optical illusion museum full of some very wild illusions. My favorite was this tube that you walk through but the walls have lights rotating along them, which make it feel like the tube is rolling, with you in it!


This is a small section of the largest Scotch Whiskey collection in the world, housed at the Scotch Whiskey experience.


I absolutely love to think that I’m living in a city that has a castle! This is the old entrance to the castle of Edinburgh. Inside here are the Scottish crown jewels, among many other things.


The best part about Edinburgh. Arthur’s seat. This is an extinct volcano right in the middle of the city with trails to walk all over it. It’s so clean and feels like you’re nowhere near the city, until you get to the top and you have awesome views of Edinburgh!

Fall and All

Autumn, or Fall as it is known in America, has arrived proper and the colours are stunning. The crisp blue skies provide the perfect backdrop for the reds, golden yellows, oranges and pinks.


On October 15th, I attended the Zone V GCA meeting. It was great to hear about the work that all the GCA zones are carrying out in their local communities. The passion for gardening and the way it is being used to bring people together is really inspiring to see. I was given an opportunity to talk about my experience in the US so far and how I got to be here. We had a lovely lunch and all the GCA ladies were very kind and welcoming to me. After lunch I had a walk around the flower show exhibits, which were very impressive.


Resisting the urge to break into song…


The immaculately groomed exhibition plants

Another highlight his month was the opportunity to visit New York Botanic Gardens. It is placed in the middle of the Bronx, a bustling area with high rise apartment blocks and busy roads. Once you step inside the garden you would never know your in the city. The meadow garden was my personal highlight and I also loved the purposefully exposed boulders, which gave the garden a naturalistic feel. The glass house was an incredible structure, with an elegantly domed ceiling.


The NYBG meadow garden with beautiful autumn colours


NYBG Glasshouse

Work-wise, this month has been all about change. The summer bedding schemes are ripped out (when the plants are still looking great this can feel ruthless) and beds are prepared for the spring bulb display. The Brick Walk at Longwood contains over 120,000 flowering bulbs in spring, and it is now that we plant these out.

The beds are tilled and debris removed. They are then raked level and the design is marked out on the beds. The bulbs are then place on the surface of the soil according to the design, and the distance must be accurately measured using a ruler. Once all the bulbs are in their positions, they are ready to be planted using a trowel. As a general rule they are planted twice the size of the bulb deep. Once planted a wire mesh is put down to prevent the squirrels having a picnic. When the bulbs start to appear above ground, a deer fence will also be needed.


Laying out the bulbs, ready for planting, just 110,000 to go!

The process from ripping out the summer bedding to planting the bulbs takes around two weeks to complete. I worked in the Brick Walk for a week and the hair on my right knee where I had been kneeling, has completely worn away, perhaps never to grow back. But it is a small price to pay for the beauty that will appear in spring time and I cannot wait to see it.

Before we even begin to romance about spring, the Christmas change over will be happening, another “ripping out” event. That will be in the next blog update. As for now, I will leave you with some ghoulish goings on. A highlight from a pumpkin carving competition which blew me away (as mentioned before Americans go mad for pumpkins) and a shot of our Halloween party costumes featuring me as Disney’s Maleficent.



Cheers, Ash

Science at Wisley


Well, I flew out of Minneapolis a bit over one month ago, even though it seems like it was just yesterday! To add to the craziness, my time at Wisley already came to an end and I’m writing this from Edinbrugh, where my next placement at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh (the Botanics here) started a couple of days ago. That being said, I had a really great time at Wisley meeting all the wonderful people, exploring the amazing garden, and learning all kinds of new things. Here is a little recap of my last three weeks.


Herbaceous borders at Wisley


The Wisley glasshouse

To start, I spent the whole time I was there in the science department. The first thing that struck me was the awesome place where the labs, science library, herbarium, and scientists all live. To me, it looks like a very English building. It’s about 100 years old, which is apparently not very old according to English standards (one day I walked by a priory that was built in 1108! to be fair though, it was pretty run down).


The Lab.

So what did I actually do? Well, I spent a couple of days with each of the departments housed in science to get a feel for what science at Wisley is like. As Wisley is purely a horticultural organization, science there is very much geared toward informing the home/amateur gardener which was interesting to see how that connection was made.


Part 1: What’s in a name?

My first week was spent with the botany, herbarium, and plant records teams. While with them, I worked on pressing plants for herbarium specimens, scanning herbarium specimens, and updating plant records on the internal database. Most of the work of these teams revolves around making sure plant names are correct and consistent. This gets especially complicated when you are dealing with cultivars, as it adds a whole new level beyond species! One of the big projects these teams collaborate on is publishing what is basically the horticulturalists bible, the Plant Finder. This massive volume lists all the plant cultivars available on the market in the UK and where you can buy them. That’s something like 70,000 plants! As you can imagine, keeping names straight and consistent is pretty important in making this book possible.

Another big project the herbarium team is working on is digitizing the herbarium by scanning the specimens. I think that it is especially neat that they are uploading some of their scans to the Global Plants Initiative, which is collecting “type” and “standard” specimens of all the plants around the world. “Type” specimens are the individual specimens that are used as a standard for defining a species, or, in the case of “standards” a cultivar. As you can probably tell, they are pretty important, as it is the definitive link between the actual organism and it’s name!



Note: these specimens are from Wisley and on the Jstor Global Plants Initiative website. First is Penstemon ‘Pensham Wedding Bells’ and the second is Acer platanoides ‘Goldsworth Purple’


Part 2: How to beat peat

I spent most of my second week with the soil team helping with various experiments they are running that are looking at how to make effective growing media and maintain healthy soil without using peat. Peat makes an especially good growing media because it holds just the right amount of water and has very little nutrients, so you can control what the plant gets. However, it comes from very slow-growing moss in peat bogs that are mostly destroyed in the process of peat extraction, making it a not-very-renewable resource.

Most of my time with them was spent working on a long term experiment looking at different types of organic matter as soil amendments. They have a bunch of plots that every year are amended with different types of organic matter (things like green compost, spent mushroom compost, and peat) then a crop of ornamental flowers is grown throughout the season. It ends up being pretty nice looking:


Before: a sea of pink

What we were doing was cutting them all down to weigh how much had grown on each plot.


Gathering the bodies for measurement. You can’t see the beast of a cutter-bar mower that did all the hard work.

And as we went, the area changed pretty significantly.

Almost done!

Almost done!

In total, about 2.5 tons of plants were cut down during that day! On top of that, we came back later to take soil samples for nutrient analysis. I don’t know what the results of the experiment are looking like, but it should yield some interesting information about how to best maintain soil health in a garden setting!

Part 3: Ask the experts

One of the bigger responsibilities of the scientists is to help with the RHS advisory service. As a service to its members, the RHS offers advice on any gardening question that a member might have. This can be anything from how do I prune my roses to what is this mysterious plant that showed up this year to what’s killing my boxwood hedge? I got a good inside look at how this all works and the sheer amount of information the RHS sends out to people with questions. I think this is a really pretty cool service because not only does it allow the public to pick the brains of the great experts at Wisley, but it also gives the Wisley scientists a good idea of what is going on in gardens around the UK.

Finally, it wasn’t all work while I was at Wisley and I did a good amount of exploring around the area. I did a pretty good amount of wandering the public footpaths, especially one that follows the Wey canal, which is very pretty and brings you past a few towns, lots of locks, and that super old priory I mentioned before. I also visited Hampton Court (the home of Henry VIII), downtown London, and some of the Surrey Hills. Here are some pics:


Hampton Court complete with gumdrop-shaped trees


More Hampton Court. Some day I’d like to check out the inside. If the outside looks this good, the inside must be great!


Big Ben


Buckingham Palace, complete with the sea of tourists around the Victoria monument.

Surrey Hills, during a very nice "country walk". Footpaths are the best.

Surrey Hills, during a very nice “country walk”. Footpaths are the best.

An update so far!

So I’ve been in America for almost a month, and I am really beginning to settle in. I have had time to explore the vast garden and am discovering new areas everyday. I’m also bonding with my new workmates and neighbors and enjoying the community feeling of The Row.

I have finished my time with the Arborists’ and am now in West Outdoor display. This area compromises of a veg garden and orchard, a trial garden, an idea garden, herb garden and a pumpkin patch for the kids. One thing I have realised: Americans go crazy for pumpkins at this time of the year.

Jobs in Outdoor display include weeding, mulching, watering and deadheading. The garden is still full of colour and kept looking immaculate even this late into the season. In a few weeks it will all be torn out and an epic amount of spring bulbs planted.



Chrysanthemums in the trial garden


Deadheading Dahlias

Thursdays at Longwood are student activity days. We either get to go on a field trip or an on-site training session.

A few weeks ago, we had the chance to try our hand at grafting Chrysanthemums with Yoko in the nursery. To prepare for the Chrysanthemum festival at Longwood, Yoko and her team have to graft hundreds of cultivars onto one another. The most ambitious project is the ‘1000-Bloom Mum’, a large domed shaped Chrysanthemum structure with over 1,300 flowers, the biggest of its kind outside of Asia. We were given a behind the scenes view of the dome in progress along with many other shapes and sizes of Chrysanthemum structures. I’m really looking forward to seeing the end result in the conservatory this autumn. In the meantime we created our own mini mum graft to look after.


Quality control cat inspecting one of our grafts.


Yoko, the Master Grafter, showing us how to pinch buds to get bigger single flowers.

Other student activities this month included a trip to a local school where we mulched their school garden. Its fantastic to see the strong connection Longwood has with the local community and helping out feels great.

A few of us also got to help out the Graduate Students at Wyck House in German Town, Philadelphia. Wyck house is one of the oldest properties in Philadelphia, dating back to the early 1700’s, and is now a museum with a working farm and ornamental garden. The Graduate Students chose this site for re-development as part of their course project and have seen it through from the beginning, from drawing up the plans to placing the plants in the ground. We attended one of the last visits by the students, planting a few more perennials and mulching the newly planted beds. It was interesting to see a different neighbourhood. The architecture in the area is very unusual with large colonial style houses; this town was originally set up by German Quakers.


Working in the Wyck House garden. An oasis on a busy highstreet.


Our most recent trip required me to embody the spirit of Simon Cowell at the Unionville fair where we were judging and dishing out awards for horticultural entries. In reality I was much kinder than Simon Cowell and it was fun to see the entries recieved from the public. The barn where the items were displayed was full of plants and cut flowers as well as fruits vegetables (not forgetting pumpkins), along side arts and crafts. There was even a category for hay!


Hay judging. Looked like pretty serious business.


“That’s a yes from me, you’re going through to the next round”


So as you can see we are kept busy here at Longwood and I am really enjoying it. I can also drive Longwood vehicles now, so will be exploring further afield at the weekends. As for now I will leave you with a picture of me sampling the local cuisine.


Cheers, Ash


9 pattie special…and yes i finished it!

Welcome to new Fellows – new bloggers


…and it happen! Terry’s and mine Fellowship is over and new Fellows, Ashley and Jon, just started on their adventure across the ocean. These next 10-12 months will be for both of them full of new experiences, meeting interesting people and visiting exciting places.

Ashley and Jon decided to continue this blog. Thank you both so much for doing this. It is good to see it alive. I will be waiting for your posts and following your adventures.
Good luck to you both!
For all of you who were following me over the past year, please meet Ashley and Jon.
Kasia, former Interchange Fellow.

From Across the Pond! 1st Week at Longwood Gardens.

Hello! My name is Ashley and I’m the new GCA/RHS Interchange Fellow for 2014/15.

This is a fantastic opportunity, during which I will be working at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania USA. My placements will change each month as I rotate through the different sections in the Horticulture departments.

First let me give you a quick rundown as to how I’ve ended up here:

  • My appetite for nature and plants was fed at a young age by my Nan, Aunt, and an old neighbor Ada. As a child living in South London (Wandsworth) I use to help Ada out in her garden, whilst my Nan and Aunt would take me on days out to parks and Gardens, Kew being one that would stick in my mind as I grew up. I would maintain and develop my interest in plants and the natural world throughout my school years.
  • Whilst studying my A-levels I took up a part-time job at a garden centre in South London and eventually got to work out in the planteria. My boss Vanessa Smith took me under her wing and taught me everything she knew. She inspired me to increase my knowledge, so I signed up for an NVQ 1 in Horticulture. I passed and gained the basic knowledge needed to apply for, and complete, the RHS Level 2 in Horticulture and then completed one year of the RHS Level 3.
  • A new employee and ex-Kew Diploma student, Lauren Carruthers, joined the garden centre team in 2011 and encouraged me to apply for a place on the Kew Diploma. I went for it and, to my pleasant surprise, was accepted for a place on course 49 of the Kew Diploma in Horticulture. I would be working at the very place I was always so excited to visit as a child!
  • During my third and last year at Kew I applied for the RHS/GCA Interchange Fellowship, which I saw as an opportunity not to be missed! I have been awarded the Fellowship and am looking forward to the adventures awaiting me. This is my first time in the USA, and cant wait to explore the country and everything it has to offer. I would like to give my thanks to the RHS and GCA for making this opportunity possible and to Longwood Gardens for generously hosting me!

Week 1

I graduated from RBG Kew on Friday 5th Sept and flew to Philadelphia on Monday 8th Sept, so didn’t have much breathing time! After a bit of a grilling from border control (its all part of the adventure!), I recieved a very warm welcome from Sham Knight, a GCA member,who drove me to my new house in Longwood Gardens and then onto get groceries (American supermarkets are massive). Sham also took me to my first dining experience in the US. I have to say, I am very happy with the portion sizes here, and I might end up needing to book two seats for my return flight to England!


First view of Philadelphia from the plane.

The house I’m living in is very spacious and located on a quiet lane, 10mins walk from Longwood Gardens. The interns and some of the students live down this lane (Red Line Row) and there is a great community feel to it. I share with an PG Student (Professional Gardener, nothing to do with teabags!) Kevin, from New York, and a fellow Londoner, Leon.


My new home!

This week has been induction week, getting to know the gardens. We’ve had vehicle training, CPR training, and lots of other information to take in. Its been great meeting the other Interns and finding out why they are here and where they have come from. There are internationals from Japan, New Zealand, Croatia and England as well as interns from all over the US. Its a diverse group.


Vehicle training and CPR training with the interns.

My first month work placement is with the Aboriculturists. They currently have the mammoth task of wrapping thousands of lights to the trees for the thanksgiving and xmas displays. The work started on the  1st Sept, and I am told, will carry on until the day before Thanksgiving (27 Nov)! My job at the momemnt is to be ground worker, picking up any debris and passing up equipment that the tree gang need. I’ve been given a folder of useful knots to learn and a rope to pratice!

I’ve heard the xmas displays here are done to an unprecedented standard and I cant wait to see the final result!


Arbourists attaching xmas lights to the trees.

Saturday night the Students and Interns had a pizza party gathering at the communal area in the Row, where we all got to know each other better. It was a really great welcome party!

Sunday night myself and a few of the interns attended the spectacular fountain and firework show. It was comparable to the New Years fireworks in Central London, everything seems to done on a grand scale here! The picture doesn’t give it justice really.


Phew, that’s a bit of an essay, hopefully not too much information, but there has been a lot to digest this week. I am settling in now and starting to explore the area and gardens. I’ll keep you posted with pics and new information hopefully every couple of weeks. It’s a sunny day today so will go for a walk in the gardens.

Cheers, Ashley

A Brief Introduction


Hello everybody! I’m Jon and I will be the GCA/RHS interchange fellow in the UK for the year. I suppose you might be wondering who I am, so here is a little bit of background:

  • I was born and grew up just west of Minneapolis, MN
  • I went to St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN and graduated in 2012 with a major in Biology
  • After I graduated, I spent about 1.5 years living in Ushuaia, Argentina (the southernmost city in the world) working on studying how to restore native forests that have been destroyed by introduced North American beavers followed by a few months in Hawai’i studying invasive plants and their functional traits
  • I am starting a PhD program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison this year where I plan to study plant community ecology and how environmental changes such as climate, disturbance and invasion affect native plant communities and how we can restore and preserve these communities
  • I play the violin
  • In my free time, I like to spend time outside doing any of the following: hiking/backpacking, skiing (if there is snow), and biking

As you might be able to tell, my interests do not follow a very traditional horticultural line. However, botanic gardens and horticultural institutions have a unique potential to contribute to the restoration and conservation of native plants, which is what I am really interested in. I want to get involved in studying this relationship. This means that my experience, and this blog, will be slightly different than previous fellows because I will be focusing on exploring the scientific side of horticultural and academic institutions around the UK. Don’t worry, there will still be a healthy dose of visiting and working in some of the amazing gardens the UK has to offer!

So what kind of updates should you expect? Well here is a rough outline of my schedule while I’m over here:

  • September: RHS Wisley, science department
  • October-December: Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
  • December: British Ecological Society and French Ecological Society joint meeting, Lille, France
  • January-March: Cambridge University Plant Sciences Department
  • March-May: Botanic Garden Conservation International, London
  • May: Chelsea Flower Show
  • June: Eden Project
  • June-July: Center for Ecology and Hydrology, Biological Records Center

Well there you have it. It will be a full and exciting series of adventures that I am looking forward to sharing with you all! My goal is to update this biweekly with stories of what I have been working on, trips and sightseeing I’m doing, and any other adventures that might be of interest.

Speaking of adventures, I just got to Wisley a couple of days ago, but before that I took advantage of my ticket on Icelandair to spend an extended layover in Iceland to do some backpacking. Since I don’t want to leave you with a post of just plain text, I figured I would include some photos from this trip. I hiked the Laugavegur trail, which is a 55km trail in the Southern highlands of Iceland. I hiked for 4 days, spending 3 nights camping along the trail. As you will hopefully be able to tell from the photos, Iceland is a really incredible place with astounding landscapes. It was a great adventure to kick off the one starting here in the UK!


This is the view from the trailhead. Iceland is a volcanic place, and you can see some very old lava flows in the foreground. The beginning of the trail was moderately high and the first day included gaining about 1,000 feet.


This hike is probably most famous for it’s rhyolite hills, which are these multi-colored mountains that you see throughout the first day of the hike. I’m not too sure how of the geological details, but rhyolite is the type of lava produced by Icelandic volcanoes which can form obsidian if it cools quickly or lighter colored rocks if it cools slower.


As the trail continued a bunch of steam vents and hot springs started to pop around the trail. You often rounded a bend to strong whiffs of rotten eggs and hot steam, but it made for a pretty striking landscape.


At the end of the first day more and more snow appeared and some fairly heavy fog set in. This is apparently common on this part of the trail so they have flashing lights set up at regular intervals to help you along in the right direction.


This was the first of approximately three times that I saw the sun during the 5 days in Iceland. I was lucky enough to poke my head out of the tent at sunrise on the second day.


There were several river crossings. The rivers come from the various glaciers in the area so the water is really quite cold. This river, luckily, came with a bridge.


This is one of these glaciers. Underneath the glaciers here are volcanoes and it was the volcano under a glacier connected to this one that erupted in 2010 and caused all those flight delays. Luckily that didn’t happen again while I was there!


You may have noticed that the pictures get progressively more green. As the trail headed further south more and more vegetation could be found, and at the end of the trail, there was a very nice birch forest.


Finally, here I am at one of the many great views.

Thanks a bunch for reading and I’m really excited to see what this year has in store!

The Scent of Grasse

Hello everyone, this is my last post here. I hope you enjoyed following us for the past year! Good luck to the new Fellows – Ashley and Jon – who will be taking over this blog. See ya!

Terry Gardens

Oh gosh, has it almost been two months since I last wrote?! In my defense, I haven’t had a moment of down time until today. (But you may have noticed a pattern of forgetfulness emerging…) During my last post I was on Tresco Island on my last leg of my fellowship working in Tresco Abbey Garden. On July 11th, I finished my final day of the fellowship and savoured my last weekend in the Isles of Scilly before packing up and heading back up to Wisley. Since then I traveled back up to Edinburgh and made my way back down to London while stopping by York, Sheffield, and Wyken Hall.

On my final day on Tresco I went on a long walk around the island with a friend that lived in the same accommodation block. On my final day on Tresco I went on a long walk around the island with a friend that lived in the same accommodation block.

I can’t find the right words to describe how amazing my year in the UK has been. I learned so much and still can’t believe all…

View original post 441 more words

Trimming, topiary and Charlie


KasiaThe topiary trim at Longwood Gardens starts in the week after the Independence Day and last for about 3 weeks. In this time the outdoor team trims over 50 topiary pieces and endless yew hedges. It is a time consuming and exhausting task undertaken in blazing heat of July sun. The gardeners, students and interns working on this project use their best judgment to get it right. The trim should end up with cutting off the fresh growth without exposing excess gaps. Good eye, steady hand and resilience are the best recommendation for the job. Other than an electric trimmer, a ladder and a lift for the taller pieces there is no other props or tools used on the job.

I joined the team on a Tuesday morning to learn the art of topiary pruning. I could not believe my luck when it was suggested I work on Charlie – the piece is a shape of a dog. The very important instruction I got from my supervisor was” ‘Remember, he is an animal, so curves are fine. Otherwise, it is your dog. Use your judgment’. So I did. I was trimming Charlie ‘s sides, tail, paws, nose and mouth for around 2 hours. Then I came across the eras and back – too high up for me to reach. Heart-broken I handed Charlie over to one of the staff, who had the extra few inches needed for the job. Right before lunchtime Charlie was finished enjoying its new fresh short haircut.

Topiary at Longwood Gardens.

Topiary at Longwood Gardens.

Charlie before the trim.

Charlie before the trim.

Giving Charlie a trim.

Giving Charlie a trim.

Charlie and its re-freshed look.

Charlie and its re-freshed look.

Grow, grow, grow!


KasiaI am slowly becoming obsessed with growing. Sowing, plating, weeding, harvesting – there is some magic in this cycle. I exercise this growing obsession of mine in every available for me space: on my garden plot, the front garden around our porch on the Row and in containers and hanging baskets. Result – I overproduce! My lettuce is bolting because I cannot eat it all and try to redirect it from my plot into kitchens of Longwood Gardens’ staff and interns. I grow watermelons and corn on my plot knowing I will not be here to harvest it! The curiosity to try growing these new for me crops is greater then practicality of time limits.

In my small vegetable heaven.

In my small vegetable heaven.

Making a vegetable basket - I just needed to try it!

Making a vegetable basket – I just needed to try it!

My ad hock set up garden work space.

My ad hock set up garden work space.

My basket moth in.

My basket month in.

Since the beginning of the spring I noticed this curious obsession in almost every Longwood student. We spend hours on end at our little gardens, mass produce seedling of various kind and enjoy like crazy when we get our hands on uncommon cultivar of egg plant bred in Japan or unusual variety of curly kale. Are we ever going to get better? I doubt it. Do we want to getting better? I doubt it even more.

Student garden on the Row - feast of colors and textures.

Student garden on the Row – feast of colors and textures.

Creativity and craftsmenship - students can do it!

Creativity and craftsmenship – students can do it!


Living on the Row – 10 months in


KasiaAs my stay in the US comes to an end (only 6 more weeks to go!) I started to reflect on my time here. An important aspect of my daily life at Longwood Gardens was the Row community.

Most of the interns and students working and studying at Longwood Gardens stay on the Red Lion Row – a line of cottages within the garden premises. Living on the Row has lots of perks and bright moments. One of my favorite one is cycling to work through the garden grounds and being in the garden outside visiting hours. It looks very different on an early misty morning or in hot summer sunset light.

The student housing is very generous: we share specious cottages with porches overlooking student plots and line of tree separating the garden proper and our small community. When the weather permits we hang out on our porches – groups of garden enthusiasts discussing plants of course! Most of us were given a garden plot to grow vegetables and flowers and in the afternoons these spaces buzz with activity: we grow plants, harvest plant, talk plants, exchange seedlings and produces. It is a great fun to ‘plot’ together. And our plots produce a lot!

Home, sweet home. One of the cottages on the Red Lion Row.

Home, sweet home. One of the cottages on the Red Lion Row.

Getting together is natural and automatic. We have a tradition of themed ‘family dinners’. Once a week we meet at one of the houses and bring own dishes cooked to a certain theme. We often shop together and do other fun and crazy activities as a group.

Shopping for work shoes - trying in the steel-cap toees!

Shopping for work shoes – trying on the steel-cap toees!

With Zhuo, Chinese intern in our hand-made Halloween costumes.

With Zhuo, Chinese intern in our hand-made Halloween costumes.

Christmas dinner on the Row.

Christmas dinner on the Row.

Bicycle team of the Row.

Bicycle team of the Row.

With living on the Row come also some responsibilities like mowing the grounds around our houses, snow removal in the winter and monthly ‘Row Clean-up’. Even these activities we can change into fun and play!

Can raking autumn leaves for 3 hours can be fun?

Can raking autumn leaves for 3 hours be fun?

Snow removal team in topiary garden.

Snow removal team in topiary garden.

This community aspect of my Fellowship turned out to be a very important one, as for many of us home and family are so far away. In 6 weeks when I leave Longwood Gardens to go back to Scotland, I will miss the Row and the people I shared my life here.

American Public Gardens Association annual conference of 2014


The American Public Garden Association organized its annual conference this year in Denver, CO. It was a big event: 5 days filled with presentations, workshops, field trips, panel discussions and networking with professionals in horticulture. The conference attracted over 800 people from gardens all over the country and abroad.

The presentations and workshops followed one of the 6 conference trails: from conservation to marketing. All the trails fall under one umbrella – ‘Everyday Magic’ of public gardens. In choosing events to attend, I tried to incorporate all the trails into my schedule. Hence, I attended variety of lectures, from using digital technology in garden education to different styles in setting up native plants garden. All very interesting, all selected after hours of debating and weighing the choices. And trust me, making a decision was not easy: there was usually 5 presentations happening at the same time!

Choosing the field trips was easier. On my first day I joint the tour of Cheyenne Botanic Garden, the Garden on Spring Creek, the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation and Colorado State University’s trial garden. We started out trip in Cheyenne, WO. The botanic garden here was set up in spite of extreme climate conditions: sever draughts in the summer, bitter cold in the winter, high winds and frequent hailstorms. And above all the shortage of water!

The garden in Cheyenne amazed me with its extensive children village. It contains numerous play areas and water features that kids could go into and play around in water. It reminded me of a carefully designed and aesthetically pleasing play ground with interactive and educational props and colorful plants. On the day of our visit it was full of children and their parents. It definitely is a heavily used children garden.

The Cheyenne garden has a special relationship with the local community. It has been started as a community project to include the excluded: old and disabled. Till this day it relays heavily on volunteers and plays an important role in activation of senior citizens and people with mental and physical issues.

Look at the children villa at the Cheyenne Botanic Garden.

Look at the children village at the Cheyenne Botanic Garden.

You can play here with cars...

You can play here with cars…


...and water!

…and water!

You can take a horse ride too!

You can take a horse ride too!

The garden staff know that you need to teach sustainability from young age.

The garden staff here know that you need to teach sustainability from young age.

Creativity, hand craftsmanship is another skill taught here.

Creativity and hand craftsmanship is another skill taught here.

The National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation was our next stop. It is a very impressive institution. It stores incredible collection of plant and animal genetic material in form of tissue culture and seed. Its goal is to preserve the genetic biodiversity of our planet and make the stored material available if needed for restoration programs. All tissue samples are stored in plastic bags placed in endless cabinets, in endless rows. The scale and precision of this place is mind-blowing. I need to confess, however, that it brought to my mind a frightening thought of ecological Armageddon – a fast approaching one.

What it takes to store seeds?

What does it take to store seeds?

A very different feel has the Colorado State University’s trial garden. Planted with endless cultivars of popular annuals and perennials it is a very colorful, bright and energetic spot. Many major US breeders send their seeds to have them grown and evaluated here. Looking at the great number of petunia, geranium and impatiens cultivars displayed in this garden I pondered how difficult must be the evaluation process.

How do you like geraniums?

How do you like geraniums?

Take a pick! Container trails in the Colorado State University's trial garden.

Take a pick! Container trails in the Colorado State University’s trial garden.

At the end of our day trip we stopped at the the Garden on Spring Creek in Fort Collins. The staff here greeted us with vegetable brewed beer – amazingly tasty! One of the most beautiful parts of the garden is an extensive rock garden. Set up just 3 years ago it is planted with great selection of dra­­­ught-resistant plants from all over the world. Beautifully landscape using large boulders sourced locally it is a feast of colors, shapes and textures. The garden strives to promote sustainability issues with demonstrating xeriscape planning ideas, water-saving and recycle practices that anyone could adopt in their home yards.

In the Rock Garden.

In the Rock Garden. A storm in Fort Collins is always a possibility!

The outdoor kitchen: for classes and cooking events!

The outdoor kitchen: for classes and cooking events! For us – a spot to refill our wine and beer glasses!

And this is where the produce comes from - extensive vegetable garden in the Garden on Spring Creek.

And this is where the produce comes from – extensive vegetable garden in the Garden on Spring Creek.

Not satisfied with one field trip I took another one to Mt Goliath, one of the 3 sites of the Denver Botanic Garden. This is not a garden per se, but rather a native preserve showcasing a great selection of alpine and subalpine flora. We were lucky to visit on a beautiful bright day with a lot of wildflowers in their bloom time. The docents working here took us on a wildflower tour along the M. Walter Pesman Trail located approx. 12,000 ft above sea level. During our short hike we had a chance to see and photograph many precious gems of the local flora. Pictures of some of them are below:

Hiking at Mt. Goliath. Wonderful views!

Hiking at Mt. Goliath. Wonderful views!

Sky pilot - Polemonium viscosum.

Sky pilot – Polemonium viscosum.

'Old-man-of-the-mountains' - Rydbergia grandiflora.

‘Old-man-of-the-mountains’ – Rydbergia grandiflora.

Alpine phlox - Phlox sibirica app. pulvinata.

Alpine phlox – Phlox sibirica app. pulvinata.

Alpine Kittentail - Besseya alpina.

Alpine Kittentail – Besseya alpina.

And this is how they grow together.

And this is how they grow together.

Back to Denver and presentations, I had my own tiny input into its program. I prepared a poster presentation promoting the idea of ‘training abroad’. I presented the topic using a case study of the RHS/GCA Interchange Fellowship. To make my case I surveyed former Fellows and asked for their reflections on the ‘study abroad’ aspect of the Fellowship. The responses were very positive with many Fellows considering the time abroad an eye-opener and time of great professional and personal growth. Below is a copy of my poster:

APGA poster final

The most important part of the conference, however, was networking. I met a great number of horticulture professionals, from those who were at the beginning of their career to directors and CEOs of the leading US public gardens and horticulture organisations. The conversations and exchange of experiences were equally enriching as the presentations and workshops. It was a great experience and I hope to do it again!

In Denver and Boulder



Denver is a very exciting and lively city. It served as a base for the most part of my stay in Colorado. The urbane space of the city has a lot of green spots – the city is proud to have the highest number of public park in the US. One of such park is the Kendrick Lake Park with an interesting xeroscape garden. Designed by Greg Foreman it burst with colors. The garden showcases planting schemes and plant choices suitable for Denver climate and soil. The species and cultivars were selected for their resistance to drought and in large are native to Colorado’s different climatic zones.

Planting ideas from the Kenrick Lake Garden migrated to the garden of one of my hostess in Denver, Mary Elliman. In her front garden I could see similar planting schemes and plant choice. This naturalistic and sustainable garden goes very well with the modernistic style of her beautiful house.

Bed design and planting scheme at the Kedrick Lake Garden.

Example of bed design and planting scheme at the Kedrick Lake Garden.

Xeriscape can be very colorful and appealing to the eye.

Xeriscape can be very colorful and appealing to the eye.

I like to contrast between plants shapes, textures and habits.

I like the contrast between shapes, textures and plant habits.

The xeroscap perennial border in Mary's garden. The hailstorm approaching in the background.

The xeroscap perennial border in Mary’s garden. The hailstorm approaching in the background.

Close-up on the plants.

Close-up of the border.

Mary has also created a more traditional English garden on the side of her house.

Mary also created a more traditional English garden on the side of her house…

She also is a skilled container designer.

… and a number of xeroscape miniature container gardens.

The trip to Colorado turned out also to be an overview of Denver’s most interesting private houses and gardens. My hostesses, being members of the Garden Club of Denver, amazed me with plantsmanship skills overcoming successfully the difficulties brought by hot and semi-arid climate, frequent hailstorms and challenging soil. Their houses presented a selection of different architectural styles: from modernistic to Victorian.

Beautiful arched doorway and front windows of Carol Griesemer's house.

Beautiful arched doorway and front windows of Carol Griesemer’s house.

The arch motif is repeated throughout the interiors - staircase with an original metalwork frm 20s.

The arch motif is repeated throughout the interiors – staircase with an original metalwork from 1920s.

Not the best picture of Mary's beautiful and very functional house.

Not the best picture of Mary’s beautiful and very functional house.

Unintentionally, I spent very little time at the Denver Botanic Garden. With so little time and so many places to visit, I poped in to the garden on one hot afternoon for just 2 hours thinking I will see it again next week during the Annual Public Gardens Association conference, since the garden was co-hosting it. As it often happens, I had no chance to see it again!

At the time of my visit the garden has been hosting the Chihuly exhibit – glass sculptures of most imaginative shapes and colors. They fitted very well within the garden settings  as if they were an artistic interpretation of the plants. The sculptures are such eye-catchers that they monopolized my attention during my visit. Later on when looking through my photographs I discovered they all show Chihuly sculptures. Below are some of them:





Choosing places to visit in Denver and its surroundings was not easy as the city offers numerous tourist attractions from parks and gardens to concerts and theater performances. Perhaps the one which impressed me most was a visit to the Red Rock Amphitheater – a concert hall under open sky set up within red rock formations. The construction of the amphitheater began in 1963. Since then the venue hold performances by the top artists of all times including the Beatles and Jimmy Hendrix.

The Red Rock Amphitheatre.

Massive red rock serving as a side wall for the amphitheater.

Another memorable visit was a trip to Boulder, one of the mountain retreat closest to Denver. The city is located at the base of the Rocky Mountains at an elevation of 5,430 feet. It is a home of the University of Colorado and Colorado Chautauqua, which started in late 19th century as a summer school for Texan teachers and grew into cultural and educational retreat. I started my visit to Boulder in the Chautauqua parkas as it is a starting point of numerous hiking trail. I decided to follow the Enchanted Mesa trail which later joins with a number of other hiking paths. At its beginning the trail led me through a native mountain grassland overlooking the Flatirons – steep, sloping and almost triangular rock formations. The grassland below was bursting with colorful wildflowers…

View at the Flatirons in Boulder.

View at the Flatirons in Boulder.

Tall grass meadow in the

Mountain grassland in the  Chautauqua park…

Mariposa Lily - Calochortus gunnisonii

…and wildflowers within it. Mariposa Lily – Calochortus gunnisonii

Blanket Flower - Gaillardia aristata

Blanket Flower – Gaillardia aristata

Common Lupine  (Lupinus argenteus) and Wild Geranium (G. caepitosum caespitosum).

Common Lupine(Lupinus argenteus) and Wild Geranium (G. caepitosum caespitosum).

Alpine Sulfur Flower - Eriogonum jamesii xanthum

Alpine Sulfur Flower – Eriogonum jamesii xanthum

Vail and the Rocky Mountains National Park


KasiaThe next stop on my Colorado adventure route was Vail, a charming Bavarian-style ski resort. The town is know for its premier ski runs and gondola lifts. For a horticulturist the town’s trademark is the Betty Ford Alpine Garden, the world’s highest botanic garden located over 8,000 ft above the sea level. It has an amazing collection of alpine and rock garden species and cultivars from all over the globe. The plants are beautifully landscaped in beds filled with rock and boulders. Ponds, waterfalls and timber bridges add charm to this garden which is maintained by the crew of four: head gardener and 3 summer interns.

Snow-covered pics of the Rocky Mountains - view from Vail.

Snow-covered picks of the Rocky Mountains – view from Vail.

On the way to the garden - pass the covered bridge.

On the way to the garden – passed the covered bridge.

Massive boulders - landscape ideas in the Betty Ford Alpine Garden.

Massive boulders – landscape ideas in the Betty Ford Alpine Garden.

Betty Ford garden could easily serve as a premier example of rock garden landscaping.

Betty Ford garden could easily serve as a premier example of rock garden landscaping.

Very quite miniature non-climbing clematis - Clematis  hirsutissima at the Betty Ford Alpine Garden.

Very quite miniature non-climbing clematis – Clematis hirsutissima at the Betty Ford Alpine Garden.

See these beauties? Lewisia rediviva.

See these beauties? Lewisia rediviva.

After leaving Vail, Celine and I head off to Estes Park. You may wonder who Celine is? She is the Interchange Fellow coordinator and vice-president of the Scholarship Committee from the Garden Club of America. When she learnt that I was planing to hike in the Rockies by myself, Celine made a quick decision to fly to Colorado and accompany me. She kindly offered to be my driver for the 2 days I spent in the mountains. And let me tell you, she was much needed driver. The road from Vail to Estes Park, known as the Trail Ridge Road, goes above the tree line level at the elevation of 12,000 ft. It offers magnificent views of the mountains but also is winding with sudden sharp turns and steep banks. Driving through it requires a lot of concentration. Thanks to Celine, I could enjoy the panoramic views of the mountain tops and take hundreds of pictures.

In its highest part the road opens to a rest area with a visitor center. From there a steep trail leads to the land of tundra vegetation. At the elevation of 12,000 ft the poor rocky ground bursts with rich alpine flora. The plants here are of microscopic proportions shaped by high winds and freezing temperatures.

At the entrance to the Park.

At the entrance to the Park.

Colorado river in the Rocky Mountains - could this narrow stream indeed shape the Grand Canyon?

Colorado river in the Rocky Mountains – could this narrow stream indeed shape the Grand Canyon?

On the Trail Ridge Road - leaving the trees below.

On the Trail Ridge Road – leaving the trees below us.

See the road cutting through the side of the mountain massive?

See the road cutting through the side of the mountain massive?

Can anything grow on these rocks?

Can anything grow on these rocks?

Yes!!! See these draba?

Yes!!! See these draba?

Alpine Forget-me-not - Eritrichium aretioides.

Alpine Forget-me-not – Eritrichium aretioides.

Dwarf Clover - Trifolium nanum.

Dwarf Clover – Trifolium nanum.

Mountain Candytuft - Noccaea montana.

Mountain Candytuft – Noccaea montana.

My second day in the Rockies was about hiking and spotting wildlife. We took with Celine a trail in the Bear Lake basin which lead up into lands of mountain lakes and waterfalls. I manged to spot abundance of elks and pikas.

Pika on a guard for predators.

Pika on a guard for predators.

An elk taking a drink in the Dream Lake.

An elk taking a drink in the Dream Lake.