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Neighborhood (Plant) Watch

8 Jan

Like Seattle, people in the UK can talk about the weather for hours, which is a handy thing if you are trying to make small talk and don’t know what to talk about. People have been telling me this year’s winter has been milder than it has been in a couple of years, which I really appreciate. Though since we just started winter last month we still have January and February to see if Mother Nature decides to change her mind. It’s been quite windy lately and sheets of rain whipping through Edinburgh, but between all of that we’ve had a few calm sunny days.

The Viburnum x bodnantense across the road can be smelt throwing out its soft perfume on (relatively) warm days.

The Viburnum x bodnantense across the road can be smelt throwing out its soft perfume on (relatively) warm days.

I love that Edinburgh is a walkable city. On my way to the grocery store, museums, and parks, I like to take different streets to see the more intimate parts of town. Plus I like to see what people have growing in front of their apartments. Some homes were very fortunate to have little garden spaces in the front (and some in the back), but most places were paved over. So potted plants and containers of all sizes are a common sight.

Most apartment gardeners have myriad of pots.

Most apartment gardeners have myriad of pots.

The neighbors in the basement level to the left have a wonderful collection of plants. All the potted plants are lovingly arranged and organized. I can imagine it filled with annual flowers and riots of color in the warmer months.

The neighbor's plants down below.

The neighbor’s plants down below.

The neighbors in the basement level to the right are a little bit more eclectic. On the staircase going down, you are immediately greeted by a terrarium. I wonder what secret plantiness is hiding in there.

An outdoor terrarium? It almost looks like there is a Lycopodium living in it!

An outdoor terrarium? It almost looks like there is a Lycopodium living in it!

On the other side of their patio you see this:

Putting a (hopefully) decommissioned toilet to good use!

Putting a (hopefully) decommissioned toilet to good use!

The apartment down from the one above has a nice collection of containers in front. The plant choices of Fremontodendron and olive hint at the types of plants laying down below in the basement level.

I love the cobalt blue containers plus extra points for the Fremontodendron (behind the olive, against the wall on the left).

I love the cobalt blue containers plus extra points for the Fremontodendron (behind the olive, against the wall on the left).

Unfortunately, my camera died the way back home, so I could only get a shot of one side of the patio. The patio is dotted with tropical plants including passion flowers and an Abutilon (which is looking quite alive and good for January).

I bet it's a nice grotto of tropical flowers in the summer.

I bet it’s a nice grotto of tropical flowers in the summer.

It seemed that anywhere I looked pelargoniums (aka zonal geraniums) were still growing and blooming, which really shows how mild it’s been. For the longest time I didn’t like zonal geraniums. I think it was the association with cheesy bedding schemes and their weird smelling leaves, but since then I have learned that pelargoniums are quite tough and deserve a second chance with jaded gardeners/plant snobs – you know who you are!

Still blooming and a nice bright pink, I might add.

Still blooming and a nice bright pink, I might add.

This apartment really took on the idea of container gardening. It looks like a full on garden. The mature potted trees give lovely height and structure and the seasonal annuals really create a cohesiveness between the containers and bring in much needed color to combat the dreary winter weather. I like the addition of the palm and Phormium, a nice strong evergreen contrast to the deciduous trees and soft leafy bedding annuals.

Look at the range of plants!

Look at the range of plants!

As I walked past I was taken away by the weeping cherry tree in the back. I think young weeping cherry trees are a little awkward in a garden – unless trained up to appropriate height – since the branches tend to drape much to early when young resulting with flowers buried in the dirt. Cleverly here, the tree can weep as freely as it likes without the earth below to spoil its graceful posture.

I bet it looks so lovely in spring with a cascade of pink/white.

I bet it looks so lovely in spring with a cascade of pink/white.

Further down the block I saw this entrance and thought it was cute, but then the trough on the right made me do a double take.

Oh I love the pansies - wait...what's that on the right?

Oh I love the pansies – wait…what’s that on the right?

I leaned in for a closer look and I thought it was a Haworthia! (Haworthia is a genus of succulent plants originating from Africa and are not cold hardy.) It’s growing in a container in an exposed site and what puzzled me most was that very evidently it has been growing undisturbed here for a few years. I took to Facebook that night and it turns out it is Haworthia look-alike Aloe aristata. This Aloe is from the winter rainy high elevations of South Africa and lends itself to growing well outside in the UK.

Are my eyes deceiving me? Is that a hardy Haworthia?!

Are my eyes deceiving me? Is that a hardy Haworthia?!

As I looked back (and below) I realized whoever lives here has a taste for tropical/succulenty plants.

Looking back up the street. (The lady on the left jokingly asked if she could be in one of my photos.)

Looking back up the street. (The lady on the left jokingly asked if she could be in one of my photos.)

In addition to tall beautiful specimens of Trachycarpus fortunei and Cordyline australis  emerging from the depths, there is a yucca at the foot of the palm and potted plants including an Agave, an Aloe vera and some Sempervivum.

A statuesque Trachycarpus fortunei with lovely frayed older leaves - much like a botanical illustration.

A statuesque Trachycarpus fortunei with lovely frayed older leaves – much like a botanical illustration.

A mature Cordyline australis with faded inflorescences.

A mature Cordyline australis with faded inflorescences.

Oh I bet that Aloe vera is feeling a bit chilly...

Oh I bet that Aloe vera is feeling a bit chilly…

The next apartment, which I think is actually an office for a business, had a nice healthy Fastia in bloom.

Nothing like a healthy Fatsia for a softening touch of the tropics.

Nothing like a healthy Fatsia for a softening touch of the tropics.

Another block down another planty person must live here. There was a range of plants with wonderfully different shapes, textures, and colors. Though it seems like the focus was on evergreen foliage, some of them, such as the ChoisyaOsmanthus and Sarcococca, would also provide some flowers and sweet fragrance.

Very foliaceous and a nice touch with the Eucalyptus.

Very foliaceous and a nice touch with the Eucalyptus.

More foliage...

More foliage…

and more foliage!

and more foliage!

Around another block there is this wonderful secluded basement patio (except for the fact that nosey people like me enjoy peeking in).

I love the bench for relaxing - a walled garden in the city.

I love the bench for relaxing – a walled garden in the city.

This it on a quiet street next to a church. I know some may find it bleak, but I like it. I love seeing an effort to green up a space and there is nothing more encouraging to see. Plus it’s fun seeing the Pyracantha and bulbs busting out of the pot (literally).

I like the shiny leaves and golden berries against the slate-grey walls.

I like the shiny leaves and golden berries against the slate-grey walls.

Across the street there is a small tree hole erupting with growth! If the birch tree wasn’t enough, there is a giant rose climbing up and arching over into the sidewalk, and a large Brachyglottis greyi ballooning out through the “cage”.

This tree hole(?) is stuffed!

This tree hole(?) is stuffed!

It’s nice to see green and life thriving in a place surrounded by stone and concrete. Again, very encouraging! (Plus there is something poetic about seeing plants escaping and busting out of their confines.)

Evidence of someone trying to keep the overflowing planting in check.

Evidence of someone trying to keep the overflowing planting in check.

On the same street there is this apartment with more evergreen goodness. The Pieris and camellias must be lovely in the spring.

I love seeing people's personal collection of pots and plants.

I love seeing people’s personal collection of pots and plants.

Back at the apartment, the landlady has a wonderful collection of houseplants. In my last post I mentioned that the houseplants in the entrance really excited me, but little did I know what treasures the living room would hold. The night I arrived, I was invited to have some drinks with the landlady, her daughter, and friends (it was the daughter’s birthday) in the living room and to my delight I saw more thriving houseplants!

The plants growing and blooming in the living room are a wonderful sight!

The plants growing and blooming in the living room are a wonderful sight!

I loved the range of plants in there, but what I was most impressed with was the not just growing, but a thriving and blooming florist azalea! Normally these azaleas are doomed to die when they enter any home, but this one was doing very well. (The landlady said she is just as surprised as I am, but I think she is just being modest.)

Seriously this is beyond words - an amazing feat!

Seriously this is beyond words – an amazing feat!

It might be the combination of large, bright windows and cool temperatures in the living room that is allowing this florist azalea to flourish. Either way, I’m entranced!

Those flowers just glow with the promise of spring.

Those flowers just glow with the promise of spring.

Sitting next to the florist azalea is her collection of blooming clivias. Clivias are as tough as nails: they can take dim, dry, and drafty situations and plus they grace us with flowers during the winter when color is most appreciated.

One of the toughest houseplants around.

One of the toughest houseplants around.

I love the much needed fiery flowers of Clivia during the winter.

I love the much needed fiery flowers of Clivia during the winter.

Such a welcoming sight. Almost all of the landlady’s houseplants are Victorian classics, but the one, and only one, in the TV room is the poster child for Victorian houseplants.

This perfect specimen of Aspidistra rightly deserves center stage in the window.

This perfect specimen of Aspidistra rightly deserves center stage in the window.

Yes, it is an Aspidistra! Also known as “cast iron plant”. They were very popular then, because, like their common name suggests, they could survive Victorian parlor rooms. These rooms were drafty, dry, dim, and smokey – a death sentence for most houseplants. Despite all of these things aspidistras would stay alive and look quite good (though,  understandably, they didn’t grow much). There are many Aspidistra species and they are naturally found growing in the dim and often dry-ish forest floors throughout east Asia. The species Aspidistra elatior is most commonly grown as a houseplant (which is the species of this one), it is hardy enough to grow outside in USDA zone 6. If you have dry shade and nothing seems to grow there, an Aspidistra is a good candidate.

I love the deep green and glossiness.

I love the deep green and glossiness.

Every morning and evening I am greeted by her pelargoniums in the kitchen window. She also keeps those live herbs that you can buy at the grocery store there too. I love that she has plants that are well suited to the conditions of the apartment and they carry on with their planty lives without taking over her’s.

The landlady just picked the basil leaves (two pots on the left) the night before.

The landlady just picked the basil leaves (two pots on the left) the night before.

Here’s my temporary “houseplant” while I am staying here. Yup, another Primula! Though this one doesn’t really have a scent, it’s quite cheerful and it reminds me of home and when I have to sadly leave Edinburgh I can guerrilla plant it somewhere in the city. Anyway, I gotta run again, but I will write to you soon!

So sweet and cheerful.

So sweet and cheerful.

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Holi-daze

31 Dec
This mini Santa dropped out of my Christmas Cracker.

This mini Santa dropped out of my Christmas Cracker.

It’s that odd time of year again, that ambiguous period between the Christmas Holiday and New Year’s, when time doesn’t seem to pass. It has been nice having late starts to the morning, and then working on cards and letters most of the day. It also has been a good time for self-reflection, which has been a theme recently. Though for me the holidays began to run together long before December.

If we turn the clock back to late-September, the Wisley Shop had started setting up for Christmas, and by October both the Shop and the Plant Center at Wisley converted the entire front section of the stores into Christmas! As October slipped into November, I began thinking about Thanksgiving. Some of the trainees asked me if I was planning on celebrating it and through them I thought it would be a great idea to have a meal together with everyone.

During Thanksgiving weekend I invited whoever was around to come over. I was feeling a bit nervous cooking a big turkey, so I went with a small chicken instead. I made the usual fixings of mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts, roasted vegetables, and pumpkin pie, but to bring in a bit more of the American experience, I made candied sweet potatoes (with marshmallows) and collard greens.

Here's the first batch gathering together for lunch.

Here’s the first batch gathering together for lunch.

After the meal we sat around chatting and making hand turkeys, while a movie was playing in the background.  The trainees and staff that came thought Thanksgiving was like having a second Christmas, since all the activities and the food laden aftermath is much like Christmas day.

Third time's the charm! I got the timing right with this pumpkin pie.

Third time’s the charm! I got the timing right with this pumpkin pie.

Sharing the great gift of hand turkeys!

Sharing the great gift of hand turkeys!

Since Thanksgiving was so late this year it really ran into the Christmas Season and further complicated the slight melding of time in my head. As we trot along into December and on to the 23rd, I packed up my entire life and headed off to Bury St. Edmunds (in Suffolk) to spend Christmas with Sir Kenneth Carlisle and his family and friends.

Wyken Hall looks wonderfully cozy, doesn't it?

Wyken Hall looks wonderfully cozy, doesn’t it?

The Carlisles live in a beautiful country house called Wyken Hall. They own a vineyard just beyond the woods in the back and there is a shop, a restaurant, a cafe, and a space for a farmer’s market at the front of the property.

The shop, restaurant, and cafe are housed in this lovely 400 year old barn.

The shop, restaurant, and cafe are housed in this lovely 400 year old barn.

The peacocks and turkeys loved roaming around in the orchard.

The peacocks and turkeys loved roaming around in the orchard.

I came up to Wyken Hall with Christopher from London, who is a family friend of the Carlisles. He is also a past scholar, which means he did what I am doing now 16 years ago! On Christmas Eve Kenneth, Christopher, and I went out for a walk to see the vineyards in the back. We made our way through the garden, past a man-made lake, through the meadow, into the woods, and finally out to the vineyards.

A lovely walk through the woods on Christmas Eve.

A lovely walk through the woods on Christmas Eve.

Kenneth took us on a detour to see some trees and to my delight they were Douglas Firs!

Kenneth planted this Douglas Fir when he was in his 20's.

Kenneth planted this Douglas Fir when he was in his 20’s.

After a large storm it fell over, but continued growing anyway.

After a large storm it fell over, but continued growing anyway.

The local deacon and her family was coming for lunch on Boxing Day, so Christopher was asked if he could make the arrangements for the table and he asked me if I would like to help him. We went out to cut some greens and flowers that were blooming at the time. For greens we collected Arum italicum leaves, Helleborus x hybridus leaves, and stems of Sarcococca humilis var. digyna and Brachyglottis greyi. We collected a handful of Viburnum x bodnantense stems with opened flowers that were looking quite good. (The flowers are delicate and can be damaged by extreme cold if Jack Frost decides to pay a visit.) We also cut some Helleborus foetidus buds, Jasminum nudiflorum, and Berberis thunbergii stems with its scarlet berries.

Things are all laid out and ready for action.

Things are all laid out and ready for action.

With most flower arrangements you start with the foundation of greens, so that when placing the flowers the greens will help hold their position. It also reduces the risk of damaging the flowers from nudging if the greens were added after.

Here Christopher is effortlessly placing greens into the vases.

Here Christopher is effortlessly placing greens into the vases.

Christopher was going for a light-hearted arrangement full of height and variation (though I am guilty of cutting some of the stems a little bit shorter…shhh…).

Christopher left me with the task to stick in the flowers.

Christopher left me with the task to stick in the flowers.

Once filled we carried the vases two by two to the dining room to be placed on the runner.

Christopher here placing the vases with care.

Christopher here placing the vases with care.

Here we made our final adjustments and additions before walking away. Here’s a nice close up:

We both agreed that the jasmine really brightened up the arrangements.

We both agreed that the jasmine really brightened up the arrangements.

I stayed at Wyken Hall until the 28th and once again packed up my life, and caught the train to Edinburgh. It was a little over a 5 hour journey from Bury St. Edmunds, but that is because I had a short layover when switching trains at Peterborough. Once I made it to Edinburgh, I caught a cab to the neighborhood of Stockbridge. I clambered by way out of the cab and up to the apartment building. Though it was about 6:30pm the sun had already set and was quite dark. I had to make it up two flights of spiraling stairs in the dim, stony stairwell. However, when the landlady called down to me and I looked up to say hello, this is what I saw:

Gasp! What is that I see up there?!

Gasp! What is that I see up there?!

Okay, these photos were taken the day after, but imagine instead of sunlight it was the warm glow of an incandescent lightbulb. It really was a wonderful sight for sore eyes!

Wouldn't you say that Begonia is perfectly placed?

Wouldn’t you say that Begonia is perfectly placed?

I was attracted like a grasshopper to grass!

Yes, I think I can live here for two months.

Yes, I think I can live here for two months.

As I made my ascent the view grew more and more wonderful. This is what I’ve always dreamt that my apartment would look like when I got a place of my own. The landlady’s daughter called it a ‘jungle’ and I love that. It’s an urban jungle.

I'm home...

I’m home…

I stepped into the Georgian Era apartment and the doorway gave way to a soaring ceiling encrusted with crisp, crown moulding.  As I made my way through the apartment heavy with luggage – ungracefully, I might add – everything was so inviting and cozy. Then my bedroom was revealed to me and at that moment I though I had died and gone to heaven.

I still can't believe is in my bedroom.

I still can’t believe is in my bedroom.

Probably for others the room may be a bit small, but I think it’s perfect. I love the tall ceiling and equally tall window. This is the kind of space that would  be great to write a couple of books in and I think it will certainly help encourage me to write my mid-term report.

Again, it's become more clear to me that I can't live without plants.

Again, it’s become more clear to me that I can’t live without plants.

I start my next placement at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh on the 20th of January. Until then I will be exploring the city and hopefully get out into the other parts of Scotland (like the Highlands). Have a Happy New Year and I will write you soon!

Onwards and Upwards

22 Dec

This was the state of my room this morning. During moments like this I wish I had Merlin’s magic bag from Disney’s Sword in the Stone to make packing and moving much easier. Alas, I am just a mere mortal.

Higitus, figitus, migitus, mum Prestidigitorium!

Higitus, figitus, migitus, mum
Prestidigitorium!

Over the weekend I visited two gardens: The Savill Garden and Oxford Botanic Garden. I will create a post for both and – hopefully – I will catch up and write about all the other gardens I have visited during the next few of weeks. Just two mini highlights from the two gardens:

These snowdrops at The Savill Garden are either really early or extremely late.

These snowdrops at The Savill Garden are either really early or extremely late.

Carlos (one of the trainees) spotted some snowdrops blooming at the foot of a tall oak and we all rushed over to admire them. I find the simplicity of snowdrops very beautiful, and combination of the clean linen white and fresh apple green is so hopeful and encouraging during the final throws of winter.

So small and delicate!

So small and delicate!

At the Oxford Botanic Garden a wonderful shrub was starting to bloom: Chimonanthus praecox. This deciduous, winter-blooming shrub is native to China where it is highly prized for its scent and its audacity. This shrub has long lancelet leaves and has a wild habit, but in the dead of winter brave blossoms hang off of the bare branches. The papery petals are pale yellow, bell-shaped and extremely fragrant. The scent is reminiscent of hyacinths, but softer and smoother – to die for. A must have in a winter garden where it can get a bit of shelter from the cold, drying winds.

Chimonanthus praecox, a ghostly looking flower with a haunting fragrance, blooming at Oxford Botanic Garden.

Chimonanthus praecox, a ghostly looking flower with a haunting fragrance, blooming at Oxford Botanic Garden.

My next stop is Bury St. Edmunds where I will be spending my Christmas and right after that straight onwards to Edinburgh. Technically I start my placement with the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh mid January, but since I have two ‘Study Weeks’ I wanted to take advantage of them and really get to know Scotland. (Plus nothing beats a Scottish winter to inspire you to write…specifically a mid-term report.) Anyway, time to finish packing and I’ll be heading off in the morning. Talk to you later!

Catch Up

15 Dec
One of the many (I mean many) Nerines still blooming in the Propagation Glasshouse.

One of the many (I mean many) Nerines still blooming in the Propagation Glasshouse.

Ever since I got to the UK it feels like a lot of time has past in a short period of time. Like I’ve always lived here (or have been for a few years) and yet at the same time I feel like I just got here and time has zipped away. I don’t know what it means, but it’s an unusual feeling. Though looking back, I can’t believe I have been here a little over three months now! It has been an amazing experience so far and I can’t wait to head off to my next adventure! (Well, after I’ve had a few more minced pies.)

Let’s see, where did I leave off in my last post? I finished my week with the Seed department at the end of October, then I went off to the Glasshouse department, then with the Formal department, then with the Alpine department, last week with the Herbaceous department, and now this week with the Woodland department – my final department.

Gone to Seed / Oct.28 – Nov.1

Apparently some of these boxes are nearly 100 years old (that or I heard incorrectly).

Apparently some of these boxes are nearly 100 years old (that or I heard incorrectly).

Slipping into the Seed department on my first day I was greeted by the dusty warmth, and the coziness of the room put me at ease. In the main workroom botanical prints hung on the walls, strange gadgets sat quietly on the counters, and books and sieves were caringly stacked on shelves. In the drying room beyond any free space was covered with boxes filled with drying seed heads, pods, and small berries. At all times of the day I was offered tea and biscuits; I’ve never had so much tea and biscuits my entire life. This was very much grandmother’s house.

Gently crushing the Amsonia seed pods with a rubber stopper, so that  the seeds will slip out of the chaff easier.

Gently crushing the Amsonia seed pods with a rubber stopper, so that the seeds will slip out of the chaff easier.

The Seed department have many jobs, which include collecting and cleaning seeds for the RHS gardens, but their biggest job is to collect seeds for RHS members annual seed requests. Members are mailed a catalogue every year in late autumn and during winter they can order seeds collected in the gardens free of charge. Employees are also encouraged to request seed. This entire process includes going out – rain or shine – to collect seeds, drying them, cleaning them, packaging them, and filling requests. A lot to do for a  department of four, but after the garden went through some internal changes it has been whittled down to two staff members. (Just recently, the two staff just became one.)

Here Rachel and I are collecting Gaura seeds in the much appreciated autumn sunshine.

Here Rachel and I are collecting Gaura seeds in the much appreciated autumn sunshine.

I am collecting seeds from one of my favorite American prairie plant genus: Silphum.

I am collecting seeds from one of my favorite American prairie plant genus: Silphum.

The Seed department tries to offer a diverse range of seeds, so all annuals, perennials, shrubs, some trees, and glasshouse plants are fair game. Timing is everything, so whenever seed is collected the date is written down and the earliest time of everything that was ever collected is compiled and saved. This helps the seed collectors keep in mind when they should start checking for seeds of a particular plant species. As you can imagine an ornamental garden is all about keeping up its appearances and long-lived floral displays, so the one main hurdle to the Seed department has to deal with is tidy gardeners. Dead-heading cleans up spent flowers and to induce more flowering on plants, but it makes it difficult – and frustrating – to collect seeds when nothing is left to develop.

Our seed bootie for the day!

Our seed bootie for the day!

After collecting, the goods are brought back to the drying room immediately for decanting. The seed heads are sorted into their own time-stained brown boxes and left to dry and dehisce. With specimens that are particularly wet or need a bit of “ripening” they are laid out on rough parchment paper in the drier. As the seeds dry, everyone rotates throughout the room and eventually end up as pure cleaned seeds. 

My favorite gadget in the Seed department is the aspirator (a regular volunteer amusingly calls the asphyxiator). This strange looking contraption is basically a tube and lever emerging out of a Dr.Who-blue box. The aspirator separates the chaff from the seed buy blowing the lighter chaff up and out of the seeds. This is very useful if the seeds are too numerous and fine – thought not too fine – to separate by hand.

Ah, yes! The aspirator!

Ah, yes! The aspirator!

Okay so what happens, is that the seed and chaff mixture is placed into a small sieve and slipped into the bottom of that clear tube.

Uncleaned seeds in the clear container and sieve, and clean seeds in the cooper pan.

Uncleaned seeds in the clear container and sieve, and clean seeds in the cooper pan.

The lever on the left side controls the force of the air flow, and when set at the right force almost all of the chaff will be blown up into the container at the top leaving the seeds in the sieve below.

Around they go!

Around they go!

Upon the gentle breath of the aspirator...

Upon the gentle breath of the aspirator…

.. the chaff and light seeds, which are probably unviable, are carried to the top.

.. the chaff and light seeds, which are probably unviable, are carried to the top.

After all that - squeaky clean!

After all that – squeaky clean!

The key is to have the strength of the air “bounce” the seeds about a third to half way up the tube. This would ensure the majority of the chaff is gone and any lighter seeds are separated as well.

A Glassy PlaceNov.4 – 8

Looking up the path from the Arid Zone.

Looking up the path from the Arid Zone.

It was wonderful to work inside again (especially when there was a down pour that week). There is something uplifting about being in a warm environment surrounded by lush greenery, the smell of dampened earth and the dreamy fragrances of flowers from far off lands.

Chinese and Japanese chrysanthemums waiting patiently in the wings.

Chinese and Japanese chrysanthemums waiting patiently in the wings.

The main project this week was to put the chrysanthemum display together for Japanese Week. Due to the wonderfully warm summer some of the chrysanthemums were in full bloom much too early, however we did what we could and pulled the display together.

As busy as bees!

As busy as bees!

Some of the chrysanthemums never made it into the displays, instead they were cut back and sent up to propagation to recuperate.

I was mum-ified!

I was mum-ified!

All of these chrysanthemums take a whole year to grow, train, and groom for a show that lasts at most three weeks. The amount of time and commitment that it takes to grow perfect display specimens is really astounding (and this is all one by one staff member up in the Propagation department).

Phew! After two (and a half) days and a gazillion chrysanthemums later.

Phew! After two (and a half) days and a gazillion chrysanthemums later.

How a about a procession of chrysanthemum photos? You betcha!

This deliciously droopy chrysanthemum was one of my favorites.

This deliciously droopy chrysanthemum was one of my favorites.

Curls of good butter.

Curls of good butter.

So alien.

So alien.

Looks like something from the deep.

Looks like something from the deep.

So marvelously drippy.

So marvelously drippy.

The color of a good caramel.

The color of a good caramel.

One of my other favorites - such luscious golden locks!

One of my other favorites – such luscious golden locks!

Like a fading fountain firework.

Like a fading fountain firework.

So tempting, I just want to lay my head on it.

So tempting, I just want to lay my head on it.

A caldera of smoldering magma!

A caldera of smoldering magma!

There is something so appealing about tussled petals...

There is something so appealing about tussled petals…

Phew! And that was just a sampling. The Plectranthus trials display were wheeled into the empty hallway (first photo) where the chrysanthemums were waiting.

Plectranthus trial display in full billowy bloom.

Plectranthus trial display in full billowy bloom.

Between all the chrysanthemum madness, I helped with preparing the glasshouse every morning before opening and watering, repotting, and staking in the growing houses in the back.

Caught in the act of cleaning up the bananas!

Caught in the act of cleaning up the bananas!

One of the grow houses where plants come to recover or grow on to ideal sizes.

One of the grow houses where plants come to recover or grow on to ideal sizes.

Staking all the Calanthe orchids for the Christmas display to come...

Staking all the Calanthe orchids for the Christmas display to come…

Life inside the warmth had to come to an end, but next week I would get acquainted with a world I was not very familiar with.

Formally with Formal / Nov.13 – 15

The famous mixed borders at Wisley back in September.

The famous mixed borders at Wisley back in September.

This was a shorter week because I spent the beginning of the week with the former curator at the Chelsea Physic Garden (which I still need to finish and post)  and her family. Unfortunately I also didn’t take any photos this week, so please bare with me. First, I have to say that formal gardens are not my thing, but I can appreciate them. My personal garden at home was far from formal (though my mother wishes it were) and, when I was an intern at the Smithsonian Gardens a summer ago, I barely scratched the surface of formal gardening.

At this time of year, what was mostly happening was cleaning up and prepping for winter. The bedding had all been designed and planted – though I did help with planting some conifers in the walled garden – the main tasks was weeding, and cutting back and dividing tired perennials.

Looking up into the Jubilee Rose Garden from the Country Garden in September.

Looking up into the Jubilee Rose Garden from the Country Garden in September.

The Formal department is responsible for the “face” of Wisley: the canal, both rose gardens, the walled garden, the country garden, both the mixed boarders and the AGM borders, the model gardens, and the E.A. Bowles’ Garden. They are the first gardens that greet visitors and the last ones to send them off. It really is tough joggling all of these sights, especially in an ornamental garden where everything needs to be pristine and immaculate.

Pining for Alpine / Nov.18 – 22

Just gently placing a plant in the main display house.

Just gently placing a plant in the main display house.

Gosh, what a chilly week! I was glad I was (mostly) under shelter again, but unlike the Glasshouse, these houses were kept a little above freezing. The Alpine department is a fun quirky group who look after the Rock Garden, the Alpine Meadow, the Alpine Display Souses, the Crevice Garden, and the Bonsai Collection.

Like the Glasshouse, every morning we would start by unlocking all the display houses and checking up the displays. If flowers have faded or a plant is starting to look tired, a perkier one is taken out of the grow houses to put in its place. This ensures that the display houses are always showing the best of what is in bloom and showcasing

the diversity of the collections. Though during this time of year, it was a bit difficult finding anything other than foliage. Most of the autumn blooming bulbs had finished and like all alpine-y plants the bloom period is quite short. (If your growing season is short, you gotta take care of business quickly.)

The delicate Crocus flowers looked as if they would float right into the air.

The delicate Crocus flowers looked as if they would float right into the air.

Most of my week was spent dead-heading and grooming plants, but I also got to try my hand at striking saxifrage cuttings and repotting Sempervivum (the now trendy hens-and-chicks plant).

These saxifrages are ready to be started over again by cuttings.

These saxifrages are ready to be started over again by cuttings.

How about a few more photos from the display house? I was attracted to the undersides of the leaves of this Lachenalia bolusii. The pattern reminds me of 80’s zebra print leggings.

Totally tubular!

Totally tubular!

Speaking of Lachenalia, just look at the flowers of this species! Amazing!

I love the unearthly teal flowers of Lachenalia viridiflora.

I love the unearthly teal flowers of Lachenalia viridiflora.

With just a little bit of sunshine, every bud opened up.

With just a little bit of sunshine, every bud opened up.

Check this Oxalis palmifrons out! Usually they like have shamrock-shaped leaves, but this one has done something completely different. Each little adorably fuzzed pinwheel is actually one leaf.

The little fan shaped leaves are so mesmerizing.

The little fan shaped leaves are so mesmerizing.

Okay last photo. Pterostylis is a genus of terrestrial orchids found in Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and New Caledonia. This particular species (Pterostylis coccina) is endemic to New South Wales Australia, meaning it can only be found there in the wild. It looks like it could bite…

Doesn't it look like a thirsty goblin?

Doesn’t it look like a thirsty goblin?

One glasshouse leads to another, so next week I went further up the hill and found myself in the Propagation department for a week.

Props to Propagation / Nov.25 – 29

Oh dear...

Oh dear…

Remember those ‘craze-anthemums’ and the bedding plants in the formal display beds? Well, this is where all the magic happens! I see the Propagation department as the blood of Wisley. Without the Propagation department many plants would have to be bought in year after year, lots of rare wonderful things in the gardens could be lost without making copies, and without a place to quarantine new plants for assessment, potentially new pests and diseases could be introduced.

All the seasonal displays (there is about eight to nine back to back) are propagated, grown, groomed, and prepared here in the Propagation glasshouses, and not only that, this is all done by one person. It’s actually quite unbelievable and this is really an art form where impeccable timing is everything. Remember those chrysanthemums in the Glasshouse for Japanese week? Here they are now:

Just resting until about mid February when the whole process starts again.

Just resting until about mid February when the whole process starts again.

These are also waiting for next year too:

All these scented geranium cuttings are for next year's display. (This one is for you Agnes!)

All these scented geranium cuttings are for next year’s display. (This one is for you Agnes!)

Seriously, this is all done by one person. How perfect are these poinsettias? I couldn’t find a single blemish or find one that was wilting and dropping leaves. (These have been taken down to the Glasshouse two weeks ago and the Christmas display should be completed now.)

Perfection!

Perfection!

I did a little bit of everything while I was with Propagation . I struck a few cuttings, potted rooted ones up, watered, groomed, and helped deep clean the main house. The Herb Garden, which is under the watchful care of the Fruit Department, is getting revamped and many of their herbs are getting propagated as cuttings. (The powers that may be decided that the Herb Garden should really only contain culinary herbs, so all the medicinal herbs were removed and dispersed elsewhere.) I did my little part and helped pot up their Hyssopus officinalis, which should be ready to go out next spring.

These Hyssopus cuttings are getting counted and recorded.

These Hyssopus cuttings are getting counted and recorded.

Working in the cool morning air.

Working in the cool morning air.

Another day I seeded some stock flowers. When I come back in May, I should be able to see and smell them then.

Measuring out seeds for sowing next year's Mother's Day display - all scented flowers!

Measuring out seeds for sowing next year’s Mother’s Day display – all scented flowers!

On my final day I was able to help inspect and repot some Chinese peony cultivars that came all the way from China. They got accidentally sent to the main offices in London, so the poor things sat in a hot, dry, and dark box since early October. Luckily they are very tough plants, so all but maybe one survived just fine.

Looking quite alive despite the ordeal they went through.

Looking quite alive despite the ordeal they went through.

Peonies are one of my most favorite flowers – it’s probably due to my father’s love for them – so working with them was not a chore. Rather it reminded me of home and my own garden.

Examining for damage, insects, and mold.

Examining for damage, insects, and mold.

The shipment comprised of both tree and herbaceous peonies. Though their habit and form are quite different, but they all want three main things: good drainage, full to part sun, and not to be planted too deeply. Traditionally these two types of peonies almost impossible to cross, but Mr. Toichi made this miraculous cross in the 1940’s and these hybrids came to be known as Itoh peonies.

The bench where all the action was happening.

The bench where all the action was happening.

They look much more comfortable, don’t you think?

Freed from their corsets and potted up with plenty of room to grow.

Freed from their corsets and potted up with plenty of room to grow.

While we were cleaning the main house Emma found a dormant butterfly and in the warmth it started to wake up. At first I thought it was a Mourning Cloak, but when it opened its wings it was a beautiful Peacock butterfly!

Peacock butterflies usually hibernate in the winder as adults.

Peacock butterflies usually hibernate in the winder as adults.

In the cool house a few of the Vireya were blooming. This particular cultivar was intensely tangerine – a wonderful sight on a dreary gray day.

Vireya is a subgenus of Rhododendron and are found in Southeast Asia and Australia.

Vireya is a subgenus of Rhododendron and are found in Southeast Asia and Australia.

Remember the Nerine photo at the being of the post? Here are the rest of them:

There are thousands of Neirne in there...

There are thousands of Neirne in there…

Here is a couple of the many benches filled with plants for the next growing season. They all look so young and full of promise.

The future tender perennials for bedding next year.

The future tender perennials for bedding next year.

That’s so Herbaceous / Dec.2 – 6

Little party hats to protect the Gunnera buds from hard freezes and excessive wet.

Little party hats to protect the Gunnera buds from hard freezes and excessive wet.

Remember I mention about that reshifting in the Seed department section? Well, both Formal and Herbaceous were one department, but they got ripped apart into two departments during that time. The Herbaceous department looks after the Glasshouse Landscape, the Glasshouse Borders (which was designed by Piet Oudolf), the Wild Garden, and Seven Acres. These are quite large areas, but they manage with the limited team that they have.

On to our next clump!

On to our next clump!

I started out first in the Wild Garden where my main job was to help Mike shred clippings and leaves back into the beds and groom the bamboo collection. The Wild Garden has been cultivated before Wisley became a thing. It is a remnant of the Oakwood Experimental Garden (a garden on the estate of George Fergusson Wilson) which its main purpose was to try out different methods of growing difficult plants successfully. Today the garden is kept in that style to honor George Fergusson Wilson and some of the plants in the garden are the originals.

At the other end of the wild Garden Mike and I worked away at clearing up bamboo rhizomes he had dug previously and cutting back canes that were falling over. On my way over in the first morning I noticed a stand of bamboo that looked a little dead. It turns out it was very dead, in fact it had bloomed and set seed earlier in the summer. Many bamboo species die after they bloom and sometimes leaving whole dead forests. Though this doesn’t happen often since on average bamboo blooms every 65 years or so, but some species can take up to 120 years before they bloom.

All around the stand many little Chusquea gigantea seedlings can be seen sprouting up.

All around the stand many little Chusquea gigantea seedlings can be seen sprouting up.

The work that week was mainly clearing, mulching, weeding, cutting back, dividing perennials, and prepping for winter. One of the bigger tasks I helped with was fleecing the South African Meadow to give the seedlings a chance to establish before they are left to their down devices in the future. The South African Meadow lives on the outer edge of the Glasshouse Landscape, and like the American Meadow, it was started entirely by seed. The South African Meadow is somewhat slow to establish because the top dressing of sand was placed to discourage weeks and help with drainage, was applied a little too deep and the seedlings are taking longer to reach the soil below.

We were shingling with the prevailing winds, so that the icy cold would roll over the fabric instead of work its way in through the seams.

We were shingling with the prevailing winds, so that the icy cold would roll over the fabric instead of work its way in through the seams.

Here we are half way through.

Here we are half way through.

Such ghostly figures rising up in the low sunlight.

Such ghostly figures rising up in the low sunlight.

What a weird sight: a frosted Gazania covered with oak leaves.

What a weird sight: a frosted Gazania covered with oak leaves.


Woody, a Goodie Dec.9 – 11

Unfortunately I also forgot to take any photos, so again, please bare with me. Also, this was week was cut short unexpectedly and for the latter half I was confined to my bed with a virus. (I got over it within 48 hours and I am fine now.)

This is the Pinetum back in September.

This is the Pinetum back in September.

Anyway, the Woodland department is small team that essentially looks after the rest of Wisley. These areas include the Arboretum, Battleston Hill, and the Pinetum – which are all huge areas.

This is the Boardwalk on Battleston Hill back in September.

This is the Boardwalk on Battleston Hill back in September.

Most of my time this week was helping with the revamp of the Mediterranean beds on Battleston Hill. The beds are undergoing a layout change so that plants from the different Mediterranean-like climates of the world are grouped together by geography, i,e. the Mediterranean Basin, Australia/New Zealand, South Africa, California, and Chile (plus a slightly random succulent bed).

I love the beautiful red fruit on this Malus spectabilis in the Arboretum (back in September).

I love the beautiful red fruit on this Malus spectabilis in the Arboretum (back in September).

Other than that I helped remove bedding plants and leaves for the winter and on Wednesday I helped the Fruit department sow poppy seeds in the Wildflower Meadow to commemorate the 100th year anniversary of WWI next spring.

PHEW! That was the longest post ever! Anyway, I hope that was a good read, but there will be more to come soon. I can’t believe this is already my last week working at Wisley and after this I will be off to Scotland. It’s so exciting – I can’t wait to see and experience a new place! Anyway, until next time!

Red Queen’s Race

24 Nov
A few vibrant fallen leaves of Acer palmatum 'Elegans'.

A few vibrant fallen leaves of Acer palmatum ‘Elegans’.

I can’t believe it has been more than a month since I have posted anything – sorry! I feel a little bit like the Red Queen in Lewis Carrol’s Through the Looking-Glass, where she famously said to Alice: ‘Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.’ I’ve been taking photos, making mental notes, and drafting posts, but with the shifting every week the blog has been a bit neglected. However, I am not complaining at all.  It’s been wonderfully busy and fulfilling here at RHS Garden, Wisley so far and I’m savoring every moment.

Okay, now for a quick recap. Where was I…? Oh right! The first week of October I was still in the Science Department with the Informatics department. Then I moved to the Trials department for the second week. The  third week I was with the Fruit department, then the Turf department, and then the Seed department. This month I started off with the Glasshouse department, then with the Formal department, and finished with the Alpine department just this last week. Phew! What a packed two months and that doesn’t include the gardens and historic places I’ve visited!

So this post I will run through what I did at Wisley during October and in the next post I will cover November.

Informatics in the Attic / Sept.30 – Oct. 4

I know It looks boring, but I quite liked the rhythmic work of checking and editing.

I know It looks boring, but I quite liked the rhythmic work of checking and editing.

During this week I went upstairs in the Laboratory (in the attic) to work with the Informatics team. There they set me up with a computer and I worked on their plant profile program called ‘Orchard’. The Informatics team work on many things including plant records (BGbase) and the annual RHS Plant Finder book, but a large part of their work is keeping plant information online current and detailed. The RHS will be launching an improved version of their website, so in preparation of that my job for the week was to help add, edit, and update plant profiles for the new online versions of ‘RHS Plant Finder’ and ‘RHS Plant Selector’. After all the programing work and updated plant files are completed, the website will have more content and a fresh look. My work ranged from adding new profiles, updating names, and expanding cultivation techniques on different plants.

These are the original copies of nursery catalogs from the early 1900's.

These are the original copies of nursery catalogs from the early 1900’s.

Another gem that the Informatics department takes care of is a collection of vintage catalogs, many of them from the early 1900’s. I was lucky enough to be able to leaf through a few, and feel aged paper and smell the faded pages.

On Trial(s)Oct.7 – 11

The van is all loaded up with autumnal goodies for the London show.

The van is all loaded up with autumnal goodies for the London show.

On my first day with the Trials department I was whisked away with the autumn crops to help setup our display for the RHS London Autumn Harvest Show. This is a smaller show compared to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show or RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, but it’s a nice one to “…get ideas and inspiration on late summer gardening and growing fruit and vegetables…”. This show included talks/demonstrations, fruit and vegetable competitions, and apple tasting/identification, among booths of vendors and societies.

Here's Lindley Hall with the morning light streaming in.

Here’s Lindley Hall with the morning light streaming in.

We drove our van – heavy with fruit and vegetables – to Vincent Square in London, where we would set up our display in the Lindley Hall. In my imagination I pictured a grand hall – spacious like an opera house and filled with baroque flourishes. When I stepped into the hall, I didn’t expect the space to be as small as it was. However, the size didn’t detract from the feel of the space: the simple, clean lines of the architecture and vaulted glass ceiling created a breathable, airy atmosphere. (If it were as how I imagined it, it would be much too oppressive and fight with the shows itself for attention.)

Here we are starting to build an autumnal feast upon the blank slate.

Here we are starting to build an autumnal feast upon the blank slate.

There were onions to braid, garlic to lay, beets to stack, chilies to tuck, and green tomatoes to drape, but mostly there was (a torrent of) squash and pumpkins to clean cluster together. We worked diligently throughout the day arranging the pristine vegetables upon the Wisley-green backdrop. We were going for the effortless look of tumbling-autumnal-abundance. Though we arrived a little later than scheduled, we finished everything by the end of the work day and I think we managed just fine with what we had with us. (Apparently, the table last year was a little too small, so this year they gave us a larger table – which we feared was going to be too large.)

Oh the opulence!

Oh, the opulence!

My hands weren't listening to what my brain was trying to tell them...

My hands weren’t listening to what my brain was trying to tell them…

For the rest of the week in Trials, I helped maintained the trials fields so that it wouldn’t look neglected: i.e., weeding, edging, deadheading, etc. Normally for trials fields the main purpose is observe how well a variety/cultivar of plant performs, so weeds and untidy edges that aren’t interfering are left alone. Though since the main Trial beds in Wisley are open to the public, weeds are not tolerated; they have to be kept as tidy as the rest of the garden. (Think neighborhood association.)

This is the Dahlia trials bed in early October - awash with colors.

This is the Dahlia trials bed in early October – awash with colors.

Fruit-full Week / Oct. 14 – 18

Crazed by the sticky, sweet fragrance of quince...

Crazed by the sticky, sweet fragrance of quince…

Here’s another week and another autumn show: the ‘Taste of Autumn’ to be exact! While the majority of the week I was helping out with the apple tasting stand, the week started with a little bit of weeding and frenzied – but controlled – fruit picking.

From Monday till Wednesday, I helped the fruit team and the volunteers pick apples, pears, and quinces for the autumn festival. We picked the trees clean of all fruit, including damaged ones and ones that were attacked by brown rot, mind you, these weren’t mixed with the tasters or sellers.

Crates of quinces glowing like yellow sapphire gems in the dreary day.

Crates of quinces glowing like yellow sapphire gems in the dreary day.

The correct way to pick apples or pears was to lift them up gently away from the direction they are hanging and – if ripe – would cleanly fall into your hands. Pulling or twisting was frowned upon, because you would take a fruiting spur with it and reduce the number of blossoms and fruit it would set next year. (Essentially the tree would have to regrow a new spur taking up three years before another apple would be produced from that branch.)

Not very glamorous, but weeding in the gooseberry collection needed to be done.

Not very glamorous, but weeding in the gooseberry collection needed to be done.

My job description for the show entailed that I had to try each apple variety we were selling and to open the world of apples, pears, and quinces to visitors. How could I complain? Once opening day rolled around, I was stationed dead front and center in the apple tasting/selling marquee – a position I did not fine daunting. In fact, I enjoyed devilishly encouraging the curious visitors to extra samples and had repeated tastings of apples and pears myself. Being sounded by the sweet smells of autumn and the excited hum of visitors all around was a perfect way to end my week with the Fruit department.

Coring and slicing apples on demand!

Coring and slicing apples on demand!

Oh, I almost forgot about this little beauty:

Apparently, an apple affliction, but a delicious one.

Apparently, an apple affliction, but a delicious one.

What’s wrong? You mean what’s right! This apple-y affliction (some fruit growers call it a disease) is an apple phenomenon called water coring. See that discolored area? It’s glassy, very juicy, and quite sweet. This is the results when an apple tree has experienced hot sun and draught stress in the summer, cold night temperatures in the autumn, and not enough calcium. What happens is that since there isn’t enough water or calcium for the apple to grow and develop correctly, some pockets of the apple where cells could not grow are replaced with water and oodles of sugar. This results in a window pane of sweet, apple-y goodness that  tastes a bit like – to me anyway – Champagne grapes. Quite lovely! If you ever find one, don’t throw it out!

That’s my TurfOct.21 – 25

The plan of repair.

The plan of repair.

So after coming from the Taste of Autumn, I had to help with the Turf team clean up the ragged mess we made of the lawns. I know I made that sound like a disastrous time, but I had a great time working with the Turf team repairing the grass and keeping the other lawns groomed and green.

I couldn't have said it better myself!

I couldn’t have said it better myself!

One thing that I never thought about with turf care was mowing sideways, or ‘scarifiying’. It sounds quite unpleasant, but necessary for a thick, luscious lawn. A ‘scarifiyer’ is a machine that looks like a heavy duty mower and it cuts the side shoots of the each little grass plant in the lawn. If you can picture an individual clump of lawn grass, it’s cutting all the blades around the clump and only the ones growing straight up are left. This keeps the grass from suffocating each other and allows for a denser lawn. Along with scarifiying, we also relieved the soil, aerated the lawns, over seeded, and repaired turf with sod – which involves precise measuring, digging, placement, and mending with good compost. This is normally done to turf, but since the Taste of Autumn show really marred the lawns we had to be a little bit more attentive than usual.

The troops are lined up and ready for duty.

The troops are lined up and ready for duty.

All of that is very important, but the one thing everyone is always amazed by is how the Turf team mows such perfect lines and patterns into the lawns. Finally, I learned their secret! Their mowers are equipped with heavy metal rollers in the back that helps push the grass to lay in one direction or another. I know I made that sound much simpler than it really is – it really wasn’t. Since the mowers push the grass in one direction, it was like a puzzle game trying to figure out how to mow in one direction without going over the previous pattern you just laid down. I must also add that it takes concentration, steady hands/feet, a good sense of what ‘straight’ is, and lots of practice.

I'm just as surprised as you are that it turned out so well...

I’m just as surprised as you are that it turned out so well…

Oh, and another tip I learned from the turf team: don’t walk on frosty grass! The grass turns yellow where your feet have been. This happens because the impact from your foot causes the ice crystals inside and outside of the blade of grass to lacerate the cells, which kills the cells and that is revealed was yellow-y foot-print-shaped patches after thawing.

A frosted lawn is beautiful to look at, but don't tread on it.

A frosted lawn is beautiful to look at, but don’t tread on it.

Phew! We’ve come a only way and I am only half way done! I’ll leave the next four departments for my next post, but hopefully you enjoyed that quick jaunt through October. Here’s a treat for trekking through all of that:

A lovely Red Admiral sunning itself in the late autumn sunlight.

A lovely Red Admiral sunning itself in the late autumn sunlight.

Anyway, thanks for reading and I’ll see you soon!

Rainy Sunday

13 Oct
I love how perky and optimistic the cosmos are and they make good cut flowers.

I love how perky and optimistic the cosmos are and they make good cut flowers.

Sorry! I know it’s been some time since I have updated. The weather has been cool today and rain has been steadily falling since the morning: it’s a perfect day to catch up on things. Other than doing household chores and updating my expenses, my roommate and I headed to the garden for a walk in the rain and a browse through the Plant Centre and Gift Shop.

Before I got here I told myself that since I am only staying at Wisley until Christmas break I wouldn’t buy any plants, instead I would live vicariously through the gardens. It went well for the first week, but by the second week I indulged in cut flowers. (I still wasn’t quite satisfied.) By the fourth week I found myself in the Plant Centre shopping for plants. My first instinct was to go with seeds because they were inexpensive and I can easily pack them away when I need to pick up and leave to my next placement. These seeds needed to be able to handle drafty (windowsill) conditions, lower light, and didn’t require involved treatment for germination. This led me to the annual section and I grabbed a packet of Tropaeolum (nasturtiums) and Calendula seeds. Both these plants are tough and will still grow even if conditions aren’t perfect.

It's hard to say no to hot colors when the weather is graying.

It’s hard to say no to hot colors when the weather is graying.

While browsing the Plant Centre I passed a display of pansies and I couldn’t resist their little grumpy faces, so I stopped to look. Pansies – or botanically speaking, Viola – naturally lend themselves as autumn and winter bedding annuals because they can survive (and even bloom) frost, wet, and low light levels. If you plant/seed out pansies in the autumn they will out grow and bloom the ones you plant out in spring. I tend to go for the yellow ones since they are usually sweetly scented, but since pansies are started from seeds that rule doesn’t always work. It turned out that the only one with the gene for fragrance was ‘Banana Cream’, so I sniffed out the one with the strongest scent and a six pack came home with me.

Pansies are really tough and it's unfair that word pansy has a negative connotation in pop culture.

Pansies are really tough and it’s unfair that word pansy has a negative connotation in pop culture.

Appearently the slugs and snails love them too.

Appearently the slugs and snails love them too.

One of my projects while I was working with the Trials Department this week was to take down a potted Begonia display. While we pulled the plants out of their pots and tossed them into a trailer to be composted, I took pity and saved some of the bright flowers for a bouquet. In the mix were a few hot colored Pelargoniums, so I collected the blooming stems and added them to the bouquet. (I think this Pelargonium is part of the Caliente Series, since it has the same intensity as the one I have back in Seattle.)

The hot coral color is quite spicy, which is perfect for brightening up a room.

The hot coral color is quite spicy, which is perfect for brightening up a room.

A few of the flowers have fallen off, but the Begonia flowers are equally as hot as the Pelargonium.

A few of the flowers have fallen off, but the Begonia flowers are equally as hot as the Pelargonium.

As some of the flowers faded, one thing led to another and I felt compelled to keep the clippings alive, so I decided I would propagate them. So today the Pelargonium stems got sliced up into bite size cuttings and I left both the Begonia clippings to see if they will do anything in the water. I hope the Pelargonium cuttings take root quickly, because that means flowers won’t be far behind and by the time I will have to move they will be suitable for travel.

They are quite snug, but if they all take they will make a very busy specimen.

They are quite snug, but if they all take they will make a very busy specimen.

I saved a couple tin cans the past week and planted the Tropaeolum seeds a few days ago in one and potted up a pansy from the pack in the other today. I picked the bushiest out of the pack since it’s bound to stretch in the lower light and an already straggly plant stretching for the light is not a comforting sight. I am hoping I will see (and smell) few flowers in about a week or two.

Lovely and lush with buds developing beneath the leaves.

Lovely and lush with buds developing beneath the leaves.

The Tropaeolum seeds have swelled up, but no sign of roots yet. The Calendula seeds on the other hand are germinating within a few days of being sown. It’s kind of amazing. I feel that I may have flowers within a month, but that may be wishful thinking for indoor conditions.

The lanky Calendula seedlings are a sign that I don't get a lot of direct sunlight.

The lanky Calendula seedlings are a sign that I don’t get a lot of direct sunlight.

Aside from picking plants that can put up with my dim window conditions I also thought about packability. When it comes time for me to pack up and leave the Tropaeolum and Calendula can be restarted from left over seeds. The Pelargonium can be cut back to tuck away for easy transport and the empty containers stacked and packed. (I haven’t forgotten about the begonias, they can come too if they root.) I guess this what you may call a “suitcase garden”.

It's nice to have something living other than me in the room.

It’s nice to have something living other than me in the room.

It’s nice to wake up and come home to a windowsill full of greenery and flowers – I just hope the plants will do well despite their makeshift conditions. Anyway, I will write posts soon on my visit to the Chelsea Physic Garden and the Cambridge University Botanic Garden, and my time working with Informatics and the Trials Department. Anyway, I hope to see you soon and here’s to suitcase gardens!

A Walk, to Remember

29 Sep

Hearing the name RHS Garden Wisley may conger up images of formal beds and luscious borders, but they are more than just a pretty face. Though the label “ornamental garden” has a bit of a stigma attached to it, gardens like Wisley have a place in the botanical world. Hidden away are common and rare species plants of unique genetics that could one day hold the key to bringing a species back from near extinction or help create a stronger growing selection for gardens and parks. This week I walked the Wisley garden grounds to find and document these unique individuals that have been overlooked or forgotten.

The Arboretum at Wisley covers are large area of the gardens.

The Arboretum at Wisley covers are large area of the gardens.

Botany is in the Science Department and for weeks they have been busy – and still are – working hard at completing the next addition of the Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs. This manual grows more massive every year. There is just so much information that the botanists have even been working on their weekends to meet the fast approaching deadline. I can only imagine the stress! Despite all this, the senior botanist kindly took time to create a list of plants of wild collected origins for me to inventory out in the garden. My job was to take photos and assess whether they are alive, dead, or existing. (A few times ‘existing’, turned into ‘mysteriously non-existing’.)

Working out my plan of attack.

Working out my plan of attack.

Every morning after gathering up the list of plants, maps, camera, and snacks – hey, you can get lost out there – I headed out to the gardens to find these “wild” plants. For the first half of the week I was looking for trees of wild origins in the Arboretum. These plants are wild in the sense that someone collected seed or cuttings from the original plant out in the woodlands of Chile or the mountain tops of China, and brought them home to be grown in a garden. The plants that grew from the seed or cuttings would be an example of direct wild origin.  However, some of the plants on my list were the offspring of the original collected individuals, so they are of indirect wild origins.

It was a very quiet morning already, the mist made everything ever more still.

It was a very quiet morning already, the mist made everything ever more still.

When I encountered the tree, shrub, or plant that was on my list, I took at least three photographs: one of the label, one detail photo, and one of the entire plant. For example here is the label photograph of an Eucalyptus on my list:

I have to make sure it's clear, since some of the tags are tucked away in deep shade.

I have to make sure it’s clear, since some of the tags are tucked away in deep shade.

Taking a photo of the label really just helps me keep track of what plants I had found and to verify that I have the right plant with the same accession number on my list. Next I would take photos of anything interesting, such as the leaves, flowers, seedpods, bark, etc.

I love the bark on Eucalyptus tress.

I love the bark on Eucalyptus tress.

The icy, blue-green, sickle leaves is common in the genus Eucalyptus.

The icy, blue-green, sickle leaves is common in the genus Eucalyptus.

Once I am done with the close-up photos, I take one or two of the entire plant. This is to help give the viewer an idea of the habit of the plant: weeping, upright, bushy, etc.

Sometimes the habit shot is difficult to take since some of the trees are so massive.

Sometimes the habit shot is difficult to take since some of the trees are so massive.

For the second half of the week I was looking for a mixture of trees, shrubs, and perennials on Battleston Hill. Battleston Hill is a large woodland style garden with a labyrinth of paths and beds planted with little secrets. This area of the Wisley is lushly planted and everything really weaves into each other. In this garden there is a large collection of Magnolias. Hopefully, I can make it back in time to see them and the woodland bulbs in bloom.

Looking down one of the paths in search for rhododendrons of wild origins.

Looking down one of the paths in search for rhododendrons of wild origins.

Quite a few species Rhododendron were on my list and many of them were the large leaved varieties from China, such as this Rhododendron rex:

Just look at those thick, glossy, leathery leaves and creamy indumentum (hair, fur) on the new stems and undersides of leaves. Mm!

Just look at those thick, glossy, leathery leaves and creamy indumentum (hair, fur) on the new stems and undersides of leaves. Mm!

On my list were a few cultivars as well. Many people think cultivars are hybrids of species plants: removed from nature and man-made. Though the majority of the time this maybe true, but there are many cultivars that are of wild origins, since ‘cultivar’ essentially means ‘a form of’. Take, for example, this beech tree:

Yes, this is a pure species -just an odd one pick out of bunch in the wild.

Yes, this is a pure species -just an odd one pick out of bunch in the wild.

Typically beech trees (Fagus sylvatica) are tall, upright, and spreading, but this particular cultivar, Fagus sylvatica ‘Miltonensis’, is lower and weeping. Out of the entire population of beech trees there are definitely a few individuals that are bound to be different: shorter, thinner, droopier, redder leaves, etc – kind of like people. In this example, someone happened upon a weeping one in the woods and thought, “Hey, I like its elegant forlorn look. Hm, I’ll collect a piece of it and grow it in Milton Park”. Over time, maybe the park-goers started to ask about this tree and wanted one for themselves. Once popularity grew, the plant had to be differentiated from the rest of the Fagus sylvatica population, so it was named ‘Miltonensis’ (meaning ‘of/from Milton’). Tah-dah, a cultivar is born! (Well, I am glazing over the whole name registration process a little…) So still the same species, but just unique from the usual pack.

Here's another example: Fagus sylvatica 'Rohan Obelisk'. Still the same species, just uptight.

Here’s another example: Fagus sylvatica ‘Rohan Obelisk’. Still the same species, just uptight.

While completing this project for Botany, this gave me a good chance to wander and look at other plants in the gardens as well. On my way to my target beds sometimes I had to walk through the Orchard. It’s massive and filled with ripening apples and pears right now – so hard to resist munching on them. (They get picked and sent to the garden kitchens, or to the Plant Centre for sale.)

Looking down one of the many paths through the apple section of the Orchard.

Looking down one of the many paths through the apple section of the Orchard.

On a really misty morning, I took a “shortcut” though the Glasshouse Borders. It really gives the garden a whole different feel. There is no doubt that autumn is here to stay.

Quite enchanting to walk through the Glasshouse Borders in the mist.

Quite enchanting to walk through the Glasshouse Borders in the mist.

The Calamagrostis heavy with dew from the morning mist.

The Calamagrostis heavy with dew from the morning mist.

Another day, I encountered the chandelier of seeds on Acer cissifolium – a maple – swaying in the warm breeze and sunlight. Just beautiful in that low, autumn light.

I love the little safety line of seeds on Acer cissifolium in the arboretum.

I love the little safety line of seeds on Acer cissifolium in the arboretum.

Recently, mushrooms have been popping up all over the arboretum. It’s fun seeing the tight associations between species of mushrooms and trees. For example, Boletus and Amanita are commonly found under/near birches, while some of the shaggy mushroom species hang around conifers. Some fungi are bad for trees, but generally when you see mushrooms in the grass around trees it is a sign of healthy soil.

After the warm rains earlier in the week, there are many mushrooms abound in the arboretum.

After the warm rains earlier in the week, there are many mushrooms abound in the arboretum.

A close up of Amanita muscaria under a grove of paper birches.

A close up of Amanita muscaria under a grove of paper birches.

On Tuesday evening, a co-trainee and I went on a mushroom walk after work.

On Tuesday evening, a co-trainee and I went on a mushroom walk after work.

While rummaging through the bushes on Battleston Hill, I felt that I was being watched. I was! By the many little beady eyes of Actea pachypoda. This is a woodland wildflower from New England and in the US it has the common name of ‘doll’s eyes’.

Beautiful, but a bit eerie.

Beautiful, but a bit eerie.

At the top of Battleston Hill you can see the Trial Fields to the south. I will be working with the Trials team here in a week’s time.

The Trials Field is where many new cultivars of flowers, fruits, and vegetables are planted and evaluated.

The Trials Field is where many new cultivars of flowers, fruits, and vegetables are planted and evaluated.

Looking north from the base of Battleston Hill you can see the Mixed Borders from a different perspective.

I love seeing all the visitors and workers milling about.

I love seeing all the visitors and workers milling about.

I live in a cluster of houses with trainees who are working towards a 2-year diploma. One of the many things they have to do is learn the names and to recognize 40 plants every two weeks, on which they get tested: family, genus, species, and cultivar. On Thursday, my house volunteered to collect plants for the first identification test of the year and I happily joined in. This time all of the plants were growing in the mixed beds, but in the future they can be anywhere in the gardens. After 30 minutes of collecting with my housemates and few other trainees, we returned home and placed the little specimens in their own bottles of water. This brough back memories the plant identification classes that I took and TA’ed at UW and I was in heaven. (Okay that is a bit of an exaggeration, but hey, I think taxonomy is fun!)

Here are all forty plants recut and neatly organized.

Here are all forty plants recut and neatly organized.

Clippings of plants in glass bottles are one of my favorite things.

Clippings of plants in glass bottles are one of my favorite things.

To end on a bittersweet note, during that same mushroom walk on Tuesday evening, I visited a tree that one of the botanists said that would be blooming now. This is an US native tree that is extinct in the wild and named after our very own Benjamin Franklin: Franklinia alatamaha. Franklinia hasn’t been seen/found in the wild since the 19th century and it only survives in cultivation. Bittersweet isn’t it?

Beautiful glossy leaves with honey-scented, soft-boiled-egg-like flowers.

Beautiful glossy leaves with honey-scented, soft-boiled-egg-like flowers.

I love that crown of gold stamens.

I love that crown of gold stamens.

Well that was my week with Botany in a nutshell. I had a great time exploring the gardens outside in the (rare) sunshine. This week I go upstairs to the attic to work with Informatics. I’ll keep you updated, so see you on the next post!

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