The secret wonders of Kew Gardens Tropical Nursery…

Blog, Sights

Fried-egg-orchidCactus-in-Kew-Gardens

Tucked away in a leafy corner behind a pair of Victorian wrought-iron gates lies Kew Gardens Tropical Nursery. It’s a hot, misty place, filled with intriguing and bizarre wonders of the natural world, from the world’s largest flower to the tiniest lily.

The Nursery is where Kew do research, conservation work, and look after rare plants. It’s not usually open to the public, but Gavin somehow managed to wangle us a tour. Gavin has a habit of winning tickets for things – I’m not sure whether he enters hundreds of competitions or is just really lucky. Either way, we got to go and look round and find out about all kinds of crazy plants.

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Now I am a nerd and absolutely love plants and learning new things. But I’m aware that a lesson on tropical plants isn’t the way EVERYONE in their mid-twenties would choose to spend a Saturday afternoon. (On that note, at what age must one reluctantly swap ‘mid’ for ‘late’ when talking about age? I’m 27 and I’m clinging on to my ‘mid-twenties’ label for at least another year.) Seriously though, some of the plants in this Nursery would fascinate even the grumpiest plant-hater.

Cafe Marron

Cafe marron, the Lonesome George of the plant world.

Café marron, is a flowering plant from Mauritius. A few years ago, the cafe marron’s future resembled that of Lonesome George – there was just one sad little plant left in the wild. Luckily, Kew Gardens saved it from extinction – they propagated a load, kept a stash in the nursery and send some back to Mauritius.

Kew Gardens is one of my favourite places in the world. It’s not just a pretty garden, it’s so important to conservation and science. Being there makes you realise how incredible our Earth and its inhabitants are, and  how we should do all we can to preserve and protect them.

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After our visit, we popped to see the Hive. It’s a brand new art installation that mimics a real beehive. It was designed by artist Wolfgang Buttress and has lights and music that reflect the activity in a hive located elsewhere in Kew Gardens.

The Hive is surrounded by a swaying field of wildflowers. Since the 1930s, the UK has lost NINETY SEVEN PER CENT of its wildflower meadows. This is disastrous for bees. It’s where they love to hang out and without these meadows, our poor pollinating pals are under threat. (I’ve banged on about how much I love bees and how important they are before, the post is here if you fancy a read).

After visiting the Hive we wandered around the gardens and I spent the best part of an hour scampering around in the flowerbeds trying to take a photo of a bee…

I’d really recommend a visit to the Hive, followed by a stroll through the secluded garden to spot bumbles in the bushes.

Bees in Kew GardensBees in Kew Gardens

 

Misadventures with a wildflower window box

Blog, Writes

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I had high hopes for our balcony when I started gardening in September last year. I saw our modest concrete enclosure through rose, tulip and poppy-tinted spectacles.

It would become an urban jungle, I thought, filled with hanging baskets brimming with trailing ivy and big, beaming flowers, birds and bees making the glorious space their home. It would be a balcony garden to rival Mr Hoppy’s, the green-fingered star of Roald Dahl’s Esio Trot. 

Mr Hoppy balcony

The dream.

We were in the garden shop on the hunt for plants when I spotted the sale rack. The sale rack always tugs on my heartstrings. I look at the sad, wilting flowers, disfigured petals and droopy leaves and I just want to scoop up the whole grotty lot and take them home with me.

I looked at Gavin. He did a reluctant nod. He knew resistance was futile. I bundled carton after carton of sorry looking pansies into the basket and with glee skipped off to the checkout.

On my way to pay, another garden centre misfit caught my eye.

It was a hefty bag of wildflower seeds, reduced to 50p. Without a second of hesitation, I threw the seeds in the basket and off we went.

That afternoon, I spent a good few hours carefully potting all my new planty friends in their containers and window boxes.

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The final touch, the pièce de résistance if you will, was the bag of wildflower seeds.

With what can only be described as “reckless abandon” me and Gavin sprinkled the whole bag all over the balcony – no pot escaped the seed sprinkle.

“WE’LL HAVE A BALCONY MEADOW!” I declared with joy, arms flung wide Hills are Alive style.



Let’s fast forward to June shall we? We’ve just returned from a two week holiday. After much umming and ahhing beforehand about what to do with our plants, we bunged some in the bath, and the rest we left outside at the mercy of mother nature, hoping that while we were away it would rain enough to keep them all alive.

The balcony now looks atrocious. It’s like the scene from the Lion King when Scar takes over the Pride Lands. Everything is parched and impoverished. The window boxes are barely visible beneath swathes of yellow grass and weeds. The once blossoming strawberry plant has shrivelled. I’ve never considered lawn-mowing a window box before, but at one point it looked like the most sensible option.

To say the wildflower window box was a mistake would be unfair and perhaps premature. I think it’s more a case of unrealistic expectations, combined with a long period of time without water.

In fact, despite everything, I spotted a fuzzy little bee hanging out among the stems the other day, which was the main purpose of the wildflowers in the first place. 

A little bee having a rest in what’s left of my strawberry plant.

Plus, after significant plucking and pruning, trimming and watering, I think they’re starting to look a lot healthier and might just be on the mend. I’ll keep you posted.

But in the meantime, a gardening tip from someone who knows nothing about gardening: Don’t plant a metric ton of wildflower seeds in containers and then abruptly stop watering them. They. Will. Die.

 

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