Tuesday, September 16, 2014


The point of this post is to easily direct you to information within my blog NEW at KewThe following indices are organized by chronological order, topic, and my British treat of the week.  Direct links to relevant information from Kew are provided immediately below this paragraph.

Kew Gardens
Internship Program
Apprenticeship Program
Horticulture Diploma

Chronological Order
Week One
Week Two
Week Three
Week Four
Week Five
Week Six
Week Seven
Week Eight
Week Nine
Week Ten
Week Eleven

By Topic
Aquatic Garden
Collection Verification 
Financial Conserations
Housing Considerations
Grass Garden
Order Beds
Rose Pergola
Salvia Border
Wisteria Pruning

By Treats
Baked Good Debate
Bakewell Tart
Cornish Scone with Clotted Cream and Jam
Hobnob Biscuits 
Mince Pie
Parkin Cake
Scone with Clotted Cream and Jam (or vice-versa)
Steak and Ale Pie
Tea and Biscuits

Treacle Tart
White Chocolate and Pistachio Cake


I arrived home to Tennessee around midnight on Monday, and I’m already missing the routine at Kew.  It’s taken a little while to get adjusted to being back in the Eastern Standard Time zone, and I’ve had a few very early mornings to reflect on my time with Kew.

Back to the Bottom of the Totem Pole

Our last day at Kew was the graduating
students' prank day.  They had chalked
hopscotch the whole length of the Broad Walk
Before arriving to Kew, I had graduated with my Master’s in Plant Sciences from the University of Tennessee.  Part of my assistantship requirements involved managing student assistants and interns in the department.  Before then, I had worked as the horticultural coordinator for “Every Child Outdoors” Knoxville.  We were a small youth gardening project, but we had two part time interns to help us with garden maintenance and educational programs.  I haven’t been an intern since the early days of my undergraduate studies, where I worked part time at the University of Tennessee Gardens. 

I decided to go into the Kew internship as a dry sponge, ready to soak up any drops of knowledge the staff, students, and fellow interns felt like sharing with me.  Although I knew how to do just about most of the basic gardening tasks, if I had interrupted and said, “I already know how to do that,” I would have missed out on learning how Kew does it.  And learning how Kew operates was the most interesting part of the whole internship.

Monday edging could get a little dull, but it was a
great time to gab about what we did over the weekend
Shelley and my other superiors did a fantastic job of keeping our work varied.  Although basic maintenance chores – like weeding and deadheading – filled a large portion of our work time, Shelley did a great job of including Daisy and myself on fun activities – like cleaning the aquatic garden – to break the monotony.  Shelley and the other team members also did a great job of emphasizing the importance of each chore to garden operations.  Weeding can be boring, but removing a noxious pest that will spread through the garden if not properly eradicated is pretty close to thrilling (at least for a while).  

This summer, I learned a fair bit about maintaining a corner of a large historic garden, how Kew monitors and maintains collections, a few tricks to keep interns engaged and productive, and some ways Kew instills comradery in their staff.

You Get Out What You Put In

The internship program is definitely a worthwhile experience for folks who are still relatively new to horticulture.  I think that this would be perfect for a junior, senior, or a recent graduate of a four-year horticulture program who has had limited experience working in a botanic garden, nursery, or other garden setting. 

I was so fortunate to be able to work
with Daisy, a fellow intern with Kew
This can also be a rewarding experience for slightly more experienced horticulturalists.  Even if you have experience working in a garden setting, a degree, and management experience, you get out what you put in.  Kew is one of the finest botanic gardens on earth, with the largest collection of live plants, fantastic conservation work, a rich history, and a really interesting organizational structure.  If you want to learn more about any of those areas, you’ll absolutely have the opportunity to explore your interests in addition to fulfilling internship requirements. 

For instance, I supplemented the basic internship experience by conducting staff interviews to learn more about Kew’s organization, I shadowed a school visit program, and I spent virtually all of my free time exploring neighboring gardens.  The key is that you have to put forth the effort to get the experience you want.  Be proactive and you won’t be disappointed.

Financial Considerations

Friday internship tour of the Palm House
London is one of the most expensive cities on earth, and the U.S. dollar is not strong there.  I would not have been able to afford to participate in Kew’s internship without financial assistance from the Botanical Research Institute of Texas’ Ian LeeseFellowship in Horticulture.  Their investment in my future helped offset the costs of visa processing (about $350 USD for biometrics, $170 for priority status), airfare (about $1200), housing (about £1000 or $1600), groceries (about £250 or $400), and commuting (about £600 or $975).  The internship is unpaid, so participants should budget for at least $5000 just to get there and cover basic living expenses before committing to the internship. 

Also, Europe and the UK is switching to a “chip-in”credit / debit card system.  Regardless of what your bank tells you before you go, you need to try to get a card with a chip in it.  A basic US credit or debit card that only has a magnetic strip will only go so far.  I was able to withdraw money from Barclay’s ATM and pay cash for most things this summer, but I’d have much preferred to carry a card rather than all that cash around with me. 

Living Arrangements

Keep in mind that Kew does not currently offer intern housing, so you need to get that sorted out before you arrive.  Check spareroom.co.uk, gumtree.co.uk, and ask the internship coordinator for leads on where to stay.  Avoid craigslist and don’t wire or transfer any money before you have the chance to visit the flat.  Consider staying in a hostel the first week and apartment hunting on evenings.

Friday internship tour of Kew's
micropropagation facility
Don’t just settle for the cheapest flat you can find, because the cost of commuting may be higher.  For example, I paid about £440 (about $700) / month for a flatshare in Surbiton, but when factoring in the cost of commuting I was really paying about £660 (about $1000).  Kew, Brentford, and Richmond are within walking or biking distance of work.  Ealing and Kingston are one bus journey away.

This summer gave me fresh perspectives on several facets of the horticulture industry, I grew personally and professionally, and made some fantastic new friends.  Although I’m glad to be back in Knoxville, I do miss Kew and I’m looking forward to returning one day.  If you’re considering an internship with Kew, please feel welcome to shoot me an email to learn more at aplante88@gmail.com .

Thanks to all of my readers for joining me on this summer’s adventure! 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Week Eleven

Daisy and I just wrapped up our last full day of the internship with Kew.  We did the daily 4:00 tool shuffle for the final time.  Then I stayed in the shed a bit later to clean and sharpen my secateurs for the next person.  I would do it tomorrow morning, but I wasn't sure if I'd have time.  However, we did too many interesting things this week to write a pensive, thoughtful, last week post.  I'll save the conclusion of this blog for when I get home to Tennessee.  Let me tell you about our week.

The Salvia Border is divided into two groups --
"old world" ad "new world" sages.  Those closest
in the photo are "new world" selections.
Daisy and I both took Monday off.  I was in Edinburgh until Monday night, and Daisy was preparing for the fall semester of her master's program.  I felt a tinge of regret to miss our last edging day (little did I know...), but it was nice to have a holiday outside of London for a bit.

Stunning Salvia
Tuesday morning, India had a special treat for us.  Daisy and I were going to assist with a Salvia propagation request.  We've done a fair bit of work in the salvia border this summer, and it seems fitting to write a bit more about this beautiful border as this week's topic.

A quick background
The salvia border runs along the western side of a brick wall that borders the order beds and the rock garden areas.  The border is divided in two by a path that connects these two areas.  The section that is closest to the School of Horticulture building contains "old world" salvia species.  These are sages that are native to Europe, Asia, and Africa.  The section nearest to the woodland garden has the "new world" salvia collection.  These are all native to North and South America.

Although the Salvia Border is only
about nine years old, the brick wall
behind it dates back to the 1700's
India tells me that the border was planted sometime around 2005.  Kew's salvia border is quite new when you consider how old the gardens are.  However, the brick wall that runs behind the border is actually very old.  It is the only remaining boundary wall that separated the historic Botanic Garden and Pleasure Grounds areas.  This section of the wall served as one part of the perimeter for the Royal Kitchen Garden.  The other sections of the boundary wall were demolished by then director Sir William Hooker in the 1800's (Desmond, 373).

Like any truly old structure, this wall has has been added to and patched up on occasion.  The attractive window-like design at the top was added in the 1870's.  The largest repair job was done in 1965 after a gale blew down a 60 foot section of it (Desmond, 373).

My regular readers may be familiar with some of the chores we do in the salvia border.  Most of what we've done this summer has been deadheading and watering.  I mentioned a few weeks ago that although many sages are extremely drought tolerant, the specimens at Kew have adapted to London's normally frequent rain showers.  The month long drought this summer stressed out many of the plants in this area.  Daisy and India watered with hoses and watering cans, but sometimes that still wasn't enough.  There were occasions when the drip irrigation had to be left on all day or overnight before the plants would perk up.

Most of the maintenance that I've done in with salvia is deadheading.  For anyone who doesn't know, deadheading is the process where the finished flower heads are cut back to encourage another flush of blooms.  Busy gardeners may just hack "new world" sages back to about a foot after they've finished flowering mid-summer.  The plants will recover in time for another show in the fall.

This summer we had enough staff available to properly deadhead.  About once a week a small group of us would spent some time carefully snipping back to spots on the stem that had new buds emerging.  Although this took a fair bit of time, the "fiddly" work paid off with virtually non-stop flowering.

Hobby gardeners and professionals alike relish the opportunity to grow plants from cuttings.  It's intensely rewarding to take a sprig of stem and encourage roots to sprout from the base.  You would think that with the size of Kew, many of the staff would have the chance to propagate plants pretty frequently.  The surprising truth is that Kew is so massive that they have an entire team whose only job is plant propagation.  When an area needs new plant material, they submit a "prop request" to the team and receive the plants when they're ready to go out.

Joanna demonstrates how to collect
Salvia cuttings to propagate
Joanna, a member of this propagation crew, showed Daisy, India and the ropes as she carried out India's prop request for the salvia border.  The first step was to go through some health and safety training for the chemicals and tools that we would be using.  This involved reading some paperwork and signing forms.  After that, we went out to the salvia border.

Joanna provided us with sterile secateurs to use rather than our own.  We also had to re-sterilize the pruners between accessions to prevent spreading disease through the collection.  Many of the salvia were infested with leafhoppers, so we also had to carefully remove any foliage that had leafhopper damage.  "We don't know where they've laid their eggs," Joanna told us, "But we know they were on the damaged foliage."  Leafhoppers can be extremely difficult to control once they become established in the propagation house, so Joanna and her crew do as much as they can to prevent them from getting in.

We transported the stem sections from the salvia border to the propagation area in moist plastic bags.  We added a bit of water to the bags, then shook them to spread the droplets around, then emptied what remained so there would be no standing water to soak the plants at the bottom of the bag.  We placed two labels, complete with scientific name and accession numbers, in each bag at the time of collection.  This helped to keep us from mixing up the specimens.  When we arrived to the propagation house, Joanna placed our collections in a refrigerator.  This prevented the plants from drying out while we were working.

This Salvia is just about
the right size for rooting
Joanna and I pushed a clean table out of the propagation house to a flat area nearby.  We worked outside of the propagation house to help keep any leafhoppers still on our material from escaping into the greenhouse.  We were given sterile knives and cutting boards and went to work.  We prepared a second moist bag and placed one of the labels in each bag.

First we cut the stems into sections that had four nodes.  The bottom-most node was cut flat, and the leaves and buds were carefully removed from the bottom two buds.  Joanna explained that roots were more likely to spring from the meristematic tissue present at the nodes.

Next we removed excess foliage.  If you remember from your science classes in school, leaves photosynthesize, and water is required for photosynthesis.  Water is absorbed from the roots, but cuttings don't have any roots.  Removing some foliage or cutting large leaves in half reduces the amount of water needed by the stem, which improves the chances of developing roots successfully.

When we had prepared enough cuttings, we soaked them for a short period in a diluted ammonia mixture. This would suffocate any remaining pests and sterilize the plant material.  Then we gently stuck each stem cutting along the rim of a pot.  They were 5 inch pots that had a nice perlite / coir mixture that would hold water and air.  We added the date to the labels, and a label was placed in each pot.  We also marked the number of cuttings we stuck and the date on a form.

Next, we brought the cuttings to the propagation house.  The prop house used to have a misting bench, but new health and safety regulations mandated that it be dismantled.  Now they use a plastic covered bench in the greenhouse.  Plants are kept under a second layer of plastic on the bench.  At least once a day one of the propagation team mists the plants manually with a spray bottle.  This can get quite hot during the summer, and sometimes they need to relocate to a shadier spot.

We sterilized our knives between accessions.  Each of us propagated three accessions before returning to work in the order beds.

Joanna demonstrates how to sterilize,
then stick the cuttings
An intern's perspective on Kew's propagation
Kew's propagation procedure is way more intensive than what I've done in the past with the University of Tennessee Gardens, UT's Department of Plant Sciences, and "Every Child Outdoors".  But that's because Kew is massive, and the propagation team has to process a huge amount of material throughout the year.

Sterilization is of utmost importance to prevent infestations, and their procedures are perfectly reasonable for good integrated pest management practices in an operation of their magnitude.  I was most surprised to learn that, in addition to good cultural practices, they rely heavily on biological controls to keep pests in check.  Buckwheat grows outside beneath the ventilation windows of the propagation house to attract beneficial insects that will eat pests, like aphids and whiteflies.

Although I agree that the propagation team is essential to streamline horticulture operations through the gardens, I have to admit that it's a little sad that the other horticulturalists don't usually get the opportunity to grow their own plants.  This means adds another layer of bureaucracy to garden operations, in that teams have to submit propagation requests, wait until the prop team gets to their order (which is usually within a reasonable amount of time), then wait until the plants are grown the Kew's specifications before planting out.  However, I think this can be convenient, it definitely frees horticulturalists up for other important tasks, and its necessary for a garden Kew's size.

The rest of the week...
Wednesday morning we dug some Heuchera 'Chocolate Ruffles' from the long border and transplanted into the peony border.  We used the Heuchera to fill the gaps around the Hemerocallis that we had dug last week.  The rest of the day was spent weeding in the Lamiaceae (mint) beds.

Kew's makeshift humidity chamber
for rooting cuttings
Thursday was spent preparing the landscape for the horticulture student graduation on Friday.  We did get some edging in after all, since the graduation photos would be taken in the aquatic and grass gardens, and the edges there had gotten a bit scruffy.  After that Daisy and I tied in roses on the pergola.  The last full day was actually quite a bit like our first day at Kew, with some differences.  We were more confident with pruning and tying the roses, and definitely faster and more effective with the edging shears.  What a difference eleven weeks can make!

I'll be working with the crew tomorrow morning, then I'll join Kew's School Visits Programme to shadow some classes on the journey through the gardens.  It should be exciting, but I regret not having that last bit with my team.  That afternoon I plan to have one last wander through the garden and enjoy the privileges of having my intern pass one last time.

Thanks for reading, and check back to read the dramatic conclusion of NEW at Kew.

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please feel welcome to leave a comment or send me an email.

To see more photos from this week, be sure to check out the album "Week Eleven" on the Plante on Plants Facebook page.  "Likes", shares and comments are appreciated. 

This week's British treat was two whole slices of a traditional parkin cake.  Really dense, flavorful, and filling -- perfect for morning tea!  Thanks Martin and Charlotte!  It was fantastic!

All photos were taken by Amanda Plante at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew unless otherwise stated in the caption.

  • Desmond, Ray.  (2007).  The History of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew (2nd Edition).  London: Kew Publishing, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. 
  • The Plant List website
  • The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew website and staff

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Week Ten

There's only one more week left in this internship with Kew.  Wow!  That's hard to believe.  This week was a short week because there was a "bank holiday" across the country on Monday.  I spent the weekend touring some really fantastic Hosta collections near Wokingham and visiting with some friends from Tennessee.

Tuesday we were back to work.  As you know, Monday is normally our edging day, and the grass had gotten a bit shaggy.  Shelley decided to have the whole lot of us tackle edging in the order beds and grass garden and get it done that morning.  Our crew was back up to seven people, because we got a new apprentice and Martin returned from paternity leave.

Daisy and I were hard at work digging
Hemerocallis in the peony border
It was a bit rainy that day, and both of our normal volunteers called in because of the poor weather.  We finished by lunch time, and then the skies opened up and began to really "chuck it down".  There just wasn't enough room for all of us to be sharpening tools in the shed that afternoon, so Daisy and I spent the rest of the day working on internship assignments from the School of Horticulture computer lab.

Nearly all of us spent the entire day Wednesday working in the peony beds.  The peony beds are large mixed borders that contain a great deal of Paeonia between the order beds and the woodland garden.  We were doing what Shelley calls a "general tidy", which means we were weeding, deadheading, and removing dead foliage and spent biennials.

Leadership Experience
Shelley used the time to encourage Beth, one of the horticulture students, to get some personnel management experience.  Beth oversaw Daisy and me for a while, which involved explaining the tasks we were needed to do, how to do them, and why they needed to be done.  My understanding was this is a normal part of the students' work experience placement, so they're not only learning how to be horticulturalists, but also leaders in horticulture.  Beth did a great job!

Dealing with Daylilies
While Daisy and I were working under Beth, I overheard Shelley and India discussing the layout of an adjacent bed.  It was interesting to hear them work through the changes they would be making to improve a few spots.  There was one section that had a huge patch of Hemerocallis flava (1998-2335, MAFA).  India and I had recently spent some time removing the dead foliage and pulling the old flower stalks.

Kew staff decided to add some
splashes of color and texture at the
corners of this bed by removing
daylily  and planting Heuchera
Shelley and India decided the area would be more attractive if there were something a bit lower and more evergreen towards the front rather than just daylilies.  Shelley later explained that something perennial and evergreen, like Heuchera, would also help control some of the soil erosion in the bed.  She pointed out the plants that they had decided to remove, gave some guidance on the method, and let us get to it.

As someone who trained in horticulture in Knoxville, Tennessee, I didn't feel that I needed a great deal of oversight on this task.  If there's one thing this Tennessee girl knows how to do, it's digging and dividing Hemerocallis.  The H. 'Stella D'Oro' craze hit our area pretty hard, which made these plants wildly popular in residential and commercial landscapes.

But Shelley wouldn't be doing her job if she just let two interns loose in the garden without more specific direction, so she walked us through the following steps.  First we removed all the old, strappy foliage so that digging would be cleaner and easier.  However, these plants would be planted elsewhere at Kew, so the second flush of new growth needed to be kept intact as much as possible.  Then we had to use our forks to maneuver the plants loose of the soil.  Shelley suggested we work a circle around the plant before digging up so that we wouldn't break the shaft.  We set the plants in a secluded area near the tool shed, then leveled the soil in the beds and swept the paths.

If there's one thing this Tennessee
girl knows how to do, it's digging
and dividing daylilies.  These will
be planted elsewhere at Kew.
Daisy and I spent the day continuing to tidy up around the order beds.  There were some plants that had "gone over", which means they were done for the year.  We cut back perennials and pulled up annuals.  There was a large Euphorbia that had completely flopped.  We cut it back to some new basal growth, and it may pluck up a bit before the end of the season. Euphorbia sap is a skin irritant, so Daisy and I wore gloves and handled the trimmed branches with care.

Tomorrow, the whole cohort of interns is heading to Wakehurst Place for the entire day.  Unfortunately I won't be able to attend.  The date of the trip had to be rescheduled, and I had already gotten nonrefundable or exchangeable train tickets to see the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh that day.  Kate and Shelley made arrangements for me to go last week, but I'm still a little bummed that I'm missing out on seeing Wakehurst with the rest of the group.

Thanks for reading, and check back to read what happens the LAST week of my internship with Kew.

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please feel welcome to leave a comment or send me an email.

To see more photos from this week, be sure to check out the album "Week Ten" on the Plante on Plants Facebook page.  "Likes", shares and comments are appreciated. 

This week's British treat a cup of English breakfast tea and a Hobnob biscuit. You just can't get more English than that...

Believe it or not, this is also the first cup of tea I've had in England.  Consumed reluctantly at the insistence of a coworker, this was actually quite good.  I still prefer coffee though.

All photos were taken by Amanda Plante at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew unless otherwise stated in the caption.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Week Nine

I was fortunate enough to spend last weekend touring some fantastic gardens in Cornwall and Paris.  I had a really super time, and I'm really looking forward to when I get a spare minute to fill you in on my Garden Guide blog.  Unfortunately, I'm sad to say that I've been having some awful problems with technology that continue to impede my ability to update my blogs.  I thought it would be best to go ahead and share everything from this week, then go back later on next week and give you the scoop on what happened last week.  Sorry for the inconvenience.

Really basic labels in the "Every Child Outdoors"
berry patch at the Knoxville Botanical Gardens
Instead of starting right back to work on Monday, I used some of my free days to spend Monday and Tuesday visiting more gardens.  When I got back to work on Wednesday morning, Kate, Shelley and I were able to make some last minute arrangements for me to visit Wakehurst Place.  I hopped on the mail truck that runs between Kew and Wakehurst and spent the rest of the day in Sussex.  I will write all about that visit in my Garden Guide blog as an appendix to this week's post.

Thursday I was finally back to work.  While Shelley and Beth mowed in the grass garden, the rest of the crew did a "weed sweep" of the order beds.  Crissy and I started on one end of a row, India and Daisy started on the other end, we met in the middle, and then moved onto another row.  The order beds actually cover quite a large area, so this is actually no small chore.  We all worked on this until afternoon tea.  After that, I had the opportunity to help Crissy place some new plant labels.  Although we only did this for a brief time, I found the activity really interesting.  More information about the process is given below.

How Kew does labels

A brief history
Kew has been labeling their collections since as early as 1773.  Someone connected to Kew at the time wrote that, "It is said that orders have been given to the Head gardener at Kew that instead of placing numbers upon the different plants and flowers in the Garden, they shall be inscribed with their names at full length."  Before then, each plant had a number that corresponded to an entry in a printed plant catalog (Desmond, 340).

Standard plant labels in use at the
University of Tennessee gardens include the
genus, specific epithet, and common name
In the early 1800s, Kew suffered some decades of neglect.  However, it was during this time in the 1820s that the curator, John Smith, began the massive undertaking of relabeling all the plants in the gardens to include their specific names.  Before then, the plant labels only included the genus and catalog numbers, and some of these contained confusing inaccuracies (Desmond, 127-128).

As I've written before, the grass collection was the real apple of Smith's eye, and it seems to have received most of his attention in the great relabeling.  In the 1840s only the grass garden was fully and appropriately labelled (Desmond, 148).  It would be another 14 years before the tree and shrub collections received metal hanging name tags (Desmond, 346).

Finding creative ways to use plant labels to track collections and display information continues to be a consideration for Kew today.  According to the most recent edition of Ray Desmond's History of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the gardens contain "the world's largest documented botanical collection consisting of about 30,000 plant taxa" (Desmond, 333). 

The way that plants are labelled is something that varies across different botanic gardens.  Some that are more concerned with culinary or medicinal properties of plants may include facts about use on the label.  Other institutions that are geared toward educating people on plants that may work for their home landscape will include the common name and symbols that correspond to the growing requirements.  Kew's primary responsibilities are scientific research and conservation, which influences the format of their plant labels.

What does it all mean?
First and foremost, each of these plantings must be labelled with the genus, specific epithet, and family so that horticulturalists, researchers, and visitors know what they are.  Not many of Kew's labels include the common name, but some do.  The label may also include the variety, cultivar, or hybrid name.

We'll use Eucalyptus dalrympleana as an example
of Kew's modern plant labeling system
The top right corner of each label includes the plant's accession number.  The first four digits correspond to the year they were brought to Kew.  Since Kew has only been tracking plant accessions since 1969, the accession numbers of many specimens that are quite old will begin with 1969.  If there was a record of exactly what year an older plant was brought to Kew, it may be reflected in the accession number.

The numerals that follow the hyphen identify when the plant was accessioned in a year.  We'll use one of Kew's Eucalyptus dalrympleana as an example.  The accession number is 1972-6025.  That means this plant was the 6025th plant that was brought to Kew in the year of 1972.

In addition to knowing exactly when a plant was introduced, Kew tracks who collected each plant.  That doesn't mean they track who was the first to collect the species as a whole (although I'd imagine that quite a few of Kew's specimens have that distinction).  Rather, they log who collected the specific plant that is now in the collection.  The initials of the donor are located just below the accession number on the label.  Going back to the Eucalyptus from our example, the donor initials are FRIC.  This stands for the Forest Research Institute of Canberra.

Many, but not all, of the labels will also include where the plant is native to.This information will be located in the bottom right hand corner.  This may be incredibly specific or quite general.  This depends on the native range of the plant.

The herb labels at the ECO Gardens
include the Latin name, common name,
and symbols for the garden uses
Living collections database
Any of the information on the label can be used be used by Kew staff to look up more information about the plant in Kew's living collections database.  The best way to find information about the specific plant is to search using the plant's accession number, although it is possible to look up information using the scientific name, donor initials, or physical location.

The database entry will include more details about how the plant has been managed ("curation"), exactly where it was collected, notes for cultivation, taxonomic notes, and possibly information of scientific interest such as the anatomy, physiology, or ploidy level.  Staff are able to update a database entry so that it reflects the most current information for each plant.  When a plant dies its status is changed from "live specimens" to "dead specimens", but all the information remains on the database.

Adding new labels
Earlier this summer, Crissy submitted a list of all the new plants that had been added to the order beds and the long border.  She received new labels in the section's office mail this week.  She pulled labels for a selection of plants, the we fitted each label with a stand.

Daisy and I had spent a rainy Friday morning the week before pulling these stands out of the cereal beds in the grass garden, removing their labels, and brushing the soil from the stands.  It was nice to see them put to use!

When we finished putting together the labels and stands, Crissy and I placed them out in the gardens.  Some plantings had a temporary label from before they were accessioned.  The genus and species was printed on black paper and taped to a blank plastic label.  Other plantings had white plastic nursery labels that were partially buried under the mulch.

An intern's perspective
Kew has a really broad mission.  Historically, their emphasis has been on the scientific side of horticulture, from collection to economic botany.  Until relatively recently, Kew did not see any need to provide more information to the public.  Sure, visitors were allowed in the garden, but they were rewarded with the experience of being able to see the displays, landscape, conservatories, and specimens rather than with information.

The Eden Project tended to use multiple signs -
including individual plant labels - to communicate
loads of information to visitors
Over the last few decades, Kew's mission has evolved to include public education.  Perhaps it's time for the labeling system to take this into account.  In the future, it would be worthwhile to include at least a common name.  Longwood and Missouri Botanic both do.  But why just play catch-up with other botanic gardens?  Kew is famous for blazing new frontiers.  Perhaps Kew could have a focus group with visitors to ask what further information they'd like to see on the labels in order to better meet their needs.

Don't get me wrong.  I don't think Kew should remove the accession numbers, donor initials, or any of the information that's currently on the labels.  I just think it would be a good idea to add a bit of information that is educates the visitors, since they don't have access to the living collections database.  But that's just my opinion.

Thanks for reading, and check back to read what happens next week in my internship with Kew.

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please feel welcome to leave a comment or send me an email.

To see more photos from this week, be sure to check out the album "Week Nine" on the Plante on Plants Facebook page.  "Likes", shares and comments are appreciated. 

This week's British treat was a bona fide Cornish scone from the Eden Project Core cafe.  The scone was bigger than a man's fist and it had fresh, local sticky clotted cream and jam that had whole chunks of strawberry.  This was the mother of all scones!

The Eden Project even uses heiroglyphics for their visitors who may not be English savvy
All photos were taken by Amanda Plante at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew unless otherwise stated in the caption.

  • Desmond, Ray.  (2007).  The History of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew (2nd Edition).  London: Kew Publishing, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. 
  • The Plant List website
  • The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew website and staff

Monday, August 11, 2014

Week Seven

Although we did a wealth of different activities this week, I'm going to hone in on our work this Friday in Kew's aquatics garden.  Now that the internship is more than halfway over (where has the time gone?), I wanted to make sure that I wrote about this interesting spot just in case we don't have the chance to work in there again this summer.  Although I mentioned a bit about this in my second week's post, I think it would be worthwhile to go into a bit more detail about this section of the gardens.

All about the aquatics garden

A quick history
Water lily surrounded by duckweed (Lemna)
Although Kew has had aquatic displays in and surrounding man-made, in-ground lakes and ponds since the beginning, it wasn't until the directorship of Sir William Hooker that tanks were constructed to display hardy aquatic plants (Desmond, 148).  A somewhat small tank was installed near the northern side of the herbaceous beds in 1841, and was used for that purpose until at least 1873.  In 1879, Sir William's son and successor Sir Joseph Hooker replaced the tank with a larger brick tank that spanned 80 feet (Desmond, 211).

The improved tank was replaced in 1909 by a large central tank flanked by two rectangular tanks to the sides and four smaller ones on the corners (Desmond, 351).  According to some material that Shelley gave us earlier in the internship, the "new" aquatic garden was originally known as "White City" because it was made of bright, new concrete.  Needless to say, the appearance is quite different today.

Aquatics garden prior to weeding
White City had only cost £600 to build.  When the surrounding pavement was relaid in 2002, the improvements cost £5,000.  That's more than eight times the cost of the original construction!  This design is still in use today, although the central tank was raised up to give more depth for larger lilies in 1935 (Desmond, 353).

Much of the original plumbing is still in use, which means that its prone to leaks and breaks.  Five weeks ago, Shelley discovered that a pipe no longer filled one of the long tanks with water.  She immediately shut the tap off (because the water had to be going somewhere) and called maintenance.  The problem with fixing this system, as is true with all of Kew's irrigation, is that it is difficult finding the parts for such old plumbing.

Keeping it clean
Weeding is an important part of any garden maintenance plan.  For some reason, before I started at Kew I figured that water gardens would require less weeding than traditional beds.  Boy, was I wrong.  Duckweed (Lemna) and blanket weed need to be removed regularly to keep the desirable plants from being overcrowded and to ensure the surface of the water remains a dark, reflective surface.

Daisy demonstrates how to remove
blanketweed algae with a rake
Kew tries to prevent blanket weed algae from forming by dyeing the water blue.  The idea is that this type of algae forms below the water surface.  If the water is darkened, this reduces the amount of sunlight the plants receive, which should reduce growth.  The practice is effective in combination with regular weeding.  Algae can be removed by scooping it out of the tank with a rake or by simply harvesting it by hand.  Usually blanket weed will come up in a huge, continuous mass.  It actually resembles a blanket, which is why it's called blanket weed.

Duckweed is a whole different problem altogether.  It's brought into the tanks on the feet of aquatic birds (thus the common name "duckweed"), plant containers, and even tools.  The water dyeing trick doesn't work on Lemna because it naturally grows along the surface of the water.  That's why making the water dark doesn't slow growth.  Unlike blanket weed, duckweed doesn't stay in one big mass when you try to remove it.  Although it may look like a big, unbroken sheet from above, it's actually a collection of thousands upon thousands of itty bitty plants.  Try to scoop it out with a rake and you'll see all the pieces scatter away.  That's why we use nets to remove Lemna, but even then it's just impossible to get it all.

Bugging out
In addition to weeding, we also do pest control.  Although the water lilies were relatively healthy last time we worked in this area, they've developed a pest problem since then.  The water lily leaf beetle lays its eggs on the foliage.  When the eggs hatch, small black larvae emerge and begin chomping voraciously on the leaves.  They cut tunnels through the pads, which stress the plants out and look very unattractive.  It also doesn't help that the adults feed on the plants too.

Damage caused by water lily beetle larvae
There's not much that we can do to control the pests beyond simply spraying the eggs, larvae, and adults off of the plants with a water hose.  However, removing aquatic pests on aquatic plants with a spray of water into a tank of water isn't super effective.  Most of what we do is remove the damaged foliage so that the plants look cleaner and some of the pests are removed with the green waste.

This is nothing new
The information packet Shelley gave us for the aquatic garden contained a page from the Kew Guild Journal from 1909 to 1910.  The author was describing the new plans for the aquatic garden, and wrote about Sir Joseph Hooker's older garden.  "The old tank in the herbaceous ground, of which some of our readers will remain very muddy memories appertaining to its annual clean out, has been cleared away."  Although Daisy and I are only at Kew for a short time, it feels really special to share this murky experience with gardeners across Kew's past and into the future.

An intern's perspective
I think everyone enjoys working in the aquatic garden at this time of year.  When it's hot, humid, and sunny outside, this is a very cool activity.  Chasing after the Lemna is always a bit disappointing for me, because I really do want to get all of it out.  But that's impossible for reasons already stated.  The important thing is that the gardens look much better at the end of the day than they did at the beginning.

What else did we do this week?

We skipped edging the order beds on Monday, because the grass simply hadn't grown.  London's been in the grip of a drought since I arrived in June, and I guess the grass just couldn't handle it anymore.  This week much of the grass when from a dry green to a crunchy brown.  So there was no point in edging because nothing had grown.

Aquatics garden after weeding
Our crew spent a day and a half cutting and cleaning up the long grass along the boundary wall between the order beds and Kew Road.  This was intensely interesting, but I think I'm going to save what I was going to write about it for next week's post.  I don't want to overwhelm folks with too much information, and I'd also like a bit more time to observe how this difference affects the wildlife in our area.

Hitching my wagon to her star
Friday afternoon, Daisy was struck with a brilliant idea.  We've both been a bit distressed that we haven't been able to see much of the gardens, even though we've been working here for seven whole weeks.  It's hard to work up enough stamina for a romp through the 300+ acre property after a hard day of manual labor.

But Friday, Daisy proposed a fine solution.  Instead of walking through the gardens, she suggested that we hop on the Kew Explorer tram.  The tour guide was clear and informative, we saw loads of new things, and had a fun time!  I'd recommend the journey as a good way to start a visit to Kew.  It's only 40 minutes long, you get an idea of where everything is and of what you want to see.

Thanks for reading, and check back to read what happens next week in my internship with Kew.

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please feel welcome to leave a comment or send me an email.

To see more photos from this week, be sure to check out the album "Week Seven" on the Plante on Plants Facebook page.  "Likes", shares and comments are appreciated. 

This week's British treat is India's homemade white chocolate and pistachio cake.  Moist, smooth, and flavorful.  That girl knows how to bake!

India's tasty and delicious white chocolate pistachio cake.  Oh so good!

A nice, cool way to spend a Friday!  Photo by Daisy.

  • Desmond, Ray.  (2007).  The History of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew (2nd Edition).  London: Kew Publishing, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.  177-179, 345-346.
  • The Plant List website
  • The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew website and staff


Saturday, August 2, 2014

Week Six

As of Thursday, I have officially been an intern at Kew for one full month.  July completely flew by!  I can't believe that Daisy and I are at the halfway point of our internship.

I can't believe I've been in England
for a full month already!  Time flies.
If you've been following this blog, then you've read that we've been doing a great deal of deadheading all over our section, including in the order beds, birch border, DNA spiral, and secluded garden.  Weeks of deadheading has promoted new flushes of flowers in some specimens.  Others are still preparing for another show later in the fall.

All this deadheading and cutting back has changed the appearance of these spots pretty dramatically.  I walked through the order beds and tried to capture images in the same spot as some from my first week.  The colors and feel have changed quite a bit!  Scroll to the bottom of this post to see what I mean.

What did I do this week?

Monday was edging day, followed by weeding and deadheading. 

I spent the entire day Tuesday deadheading Sisyrinchium striatum around the DNA spiral next to the Jodrell Laboratory.  That's an activity where I really wish I'd taken "before" and "after" photos, because the difference is pretty dramatic.  I had mixed feelings about the task because the Sisyrinchium had really interesting seed heads, but they really did look quite messy.

A week or two ago I spent a whole day deadheading the Sisyrinchium in the secluded garden too.  I've decided that this is a fiddly plant, and those who want to grow it in their home landscapes should either have enough time to tidy it, or they should be happy to let it behave as it would naturally.

To read more about how Kew handles
pruner maintenance, check
out the Thrifty Gardener
Thursday was spent maintaining the rose pillars.  I would write more about that, but I went into a great deal of detail about this activity in the first week's post.  However, India did show Daisy and I how to disassemble, clean, lubricate, sharpen, and assemble our secateurs (bypass hand pruners).  I've been in horticulture since 2006, and somehow never learned how to do this.  What a handy thing to know!  I've dedicated a whole post titled "Hand Pruner Maintenance 101" in the Thrifty Gardener to this activity.  If you want to learn how to do it, I'd recommend having a read.

Friday morning Daisy and I took turns mowing around the rose pillars with the cylinder push mower.  I also detailed this activity the first week.

On irrigation

Drought tolerant?

Quite a few "drought tolerant" plants, like Salvia, Rudbeckia, and some grasses, have been struggling over the past few weeks.  Although these species are very water wise choices in dry areas, these particular specimens have been acting a bit wimpy in London's droughty weather.  The reason for this is that these plants have been spoiled by the rainy English climate.  The normally frequent rain has caused them to develop shallow root systems.  Now that the top of the soil is dry, these plants are flagging.

Normally many Salvia are pretty drought
tolerant.  The ones at Kew have been spoiled
by the normally rainy climate.
We have been trying to water deeply so the roots will grow down, but the whole area has needed a lot of TLC.  Martin, one of the diploma students, has been spearheading the watering brigade.  If you walked through the order beds at any point last week, you probably saw Martin lugging hoses, setting up sprinklers, and making adjustments.

Shelley and the water box

Although our activities this week were somewhat routine, Shelley was working on something really interesting.  There's a water box at the corner by the lavender beds that was prone to flooding and had filled up with silt and gravel.  While I was deadheading at the birch border, she kept me updated on what she was doing to make repairs.

Photo of a different water box than the one that
Shelley was working on, but you get the idea
First, she scooped out all of the soil and gravel from inside the box, until she hit the cement bottom.  Next, she replaced all of the rubber gasket fittings in each of the connectors and caps.  When she attached a hose to water the DNA spiral, the hose was very loose on the attachment.  She determined that larger gauge hoses won't fit correctly on that heading for some reason.  She switched to a smaller gauge hose, and it seemed to fit okay.  She let the drip irrigation run overnight, and the next morning there was only four or five inches of standing water in the water box.

It was really interesting to watch this trouble shooting process!  Like I've mentioned before, the irrigation system at Kew is really quite old.  As one of the premier gardens in the world, Kew has been on the forefront of cutting edge technology in horticulture.  As a result, it seems like they get these elaborate systems before the industry has had the time to work all the bugs out.  Once something like an irrigation system is in place, they can do small scale improvements, but a total overhaul isn't really feasible.

Thanks for reading, and check back to read what happens next week in my internship with Kew.

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please feel welcome to leave a comment or send me an email.

To see more photos from this week, be sure to check out the album "Week Six" on the Plante on Plants Facebook page.  "Likes", shares and comments are appreciated. 

This week's British treat is the warm and tasty bakewell tart, served with berries and vanilla ice cream.  Mmm...

Last week of June

First week of August

Last week of June

First week of August