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The stories of plants, by Andy Winfield

At the Botanic Garden we have educational visits from all age ranges and all subjects. Primary school children come to learn about the very basics of plants, what they need to grow and what they do to survive; secondary schools come to learn about plants and what it is to run a business like this; sixth form art students can often be seen sitting around the Garden. The University brings a diverse selection of faculties to the Garden; the Biologists come and have complex tours based on evolution and adaptation; the School of Medicine will be using the Garden more in the future with the angle of plant's role in medicine; the Philosophy students visit each year and have a tour before sitting next to a favoured plant and writing their thoughts.
This week we have a visit from the School of Geography who would like a tour in the context of plants and colonialism, so I’ve been doing some reading. This is a fascinating subject and laced with repercussions that we still feel today; the ea…
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The Botanic Garden community by Andy Winfield

Easter sees one of our biggest events of the year, the Sculpture Festival, come around again. This is a lot of work to put on but an occasion that we all enjoy very much; the Garden lends itself well to sculpture and has such diverse displays that there is a perfect place for any piece of work. Dinosaurs in the evolution dell, a barn owl under the old oaks and metal flowers among the story of flowering plants; it’s good fun helping the artists place each work.
Over the weekend we have a large number of visitors enjoying the Garden, and this is what working in a place like this is all about. I get a bit misty eyed when I see people walking amongst the Mediterranean flora with classic stone sculptures placed amongst the foliage because I remember barrowing the soil to create the slope; crowbarring the huge stones up the bank; digging in sand and chippings to create the Mediterranean soil and planting the olives, rosemary, lavender that soaks up the south facing sunshine. Seeing the peo…

The Beast from the East, by Andy Winfield

It's colder here in the UK than its been for a number of years, but probably not as cold as the rest of Europe as the so called ‘Beast from the East’ whips across the land. Only last week I was thinking that we’d made it through winter and the only way was spring now; primulas were flowering, blossom buds were swelling and the garden birds were flirting. Now they’re all in a frozen stasis waiting for this period of cold to end, and it will.
One thing that I have learnt in my years as a gardener is to try and enjoy this unpredictability. We often have volunteers who come from warmer countries and I’ll always remember our Columbian volunteer, Bertha. During a long cold, dark and wet spell she told me that she loved the climate here. She came from an equatorial region of Columbia and said that the sun rose at six, went down at six and the weather was either hot or hot and raining; she thought this was boring compared to here. I also remember Tom who worked here a number of years ago…

The wacky, wonderful world of orchids.

According to a report by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in 2016, there are around 391,000 species of plants in the world and around 94% of these are flowering plants. Plants are grouped in families based on their physical and genetic characteristics. One of the largest flowering plant families is the Orchidaceae, or Orchid family with around 28,000 species, so around 10% of all flowering plant species. Recent DNA research shows that at over 90 million years old, orchids are amongst the most ancient of the flowering plant families.

Orchids can be found throughout the world in every type of habitat and climatic zone apart from the
very driest deserts and glaciers, and on every continent except Antarctica. The majority of orchids are found in the tropics of Asia, South America and Central America and new species are constantly being discovered, particularly in these areas. Their tiny, dust like seed that has enables orchids to disperse and travel great distances, carried on the wind a…

Why the complicated plant names? Here's why...

I studied Latin at Secondary school. Not because I wanted to but because I had to at the time. Bam bas bat bamus batis bant. For some reason this has stuck in my head, as has ego sum (I am ) and salve magistra (greetings teacher). I never thought it would be of use to me until I became a gardener. It has been of great help in learning and more about plants and I am going to try and explain why and how you too can discover more about plants.
To start with. It's not just Latin you will come across but Greek and Arabic derived words too. I am asked regularly, why can we not just use the common names? Why, because it helps to avoid confusion. We need a universal name, one it will be known by, the world over and then anyone, anywhere will know just which plant is being referred to. Take for example, the bluebell. We all know what it looks like in England, right? The Greek/Latin name is Hyacinthoides-non-scripta (Gobbledeygook you may think!) Cross into Scotland and if you asked to see …

Scent and spring promise by Andy Winfield

The garden has taken a battering over the last few weeks with high winds and the heavy soil saturating rain has made gardening difficult. Despite it all there is interest with flower, colour and scent now and the promise of it in the next few weeks.
One of my favourites and a true signpost of January/February is the winter aconite (Eranthis hymalis); in a few weeks it will dot the borders with tiny butter yellow flowers. Growing naturally in deciduous woodland, this plant flowers before the leaves on trees shade out the forest floor and as the sun strengthens as it gets higher in the sky.
In the phylogeny display a small plant with a big name, Scilla mischenkoana 'tubergentana', is flowering its little flowers. Native to Southern Russia and Iran this plant can grow in a variety of sites, shade or full sun, drought tolerant and very tough, just plant it where you’ll be able to see!
Daphne bholua 'Jacqueline Postill' is in full flower, you smell it before you see it as its …

Christmas and the Botanic Garden

Being out and about in the Garden gives a sense of the changing of the seasons, a sense brought about by the combination of light, temperature, wildlife and, of course, plants. This is felt most keenly at this time when we are the furthest from the sun that we will be, until next year. I find mid-winter an uplifting time; leafless trees show their bones and wildlife is easier to spot. It’s amazing how much life is flitting around in an old oak tree when you take the time to look into its branches. The sky seems bigger in winter and the sunsets more vivid. This might just be that we don’t get to see them so much in midsummer, but at this time of year we see the sun rise in the Garden and set in the Garden.
From this moment the days get a little longer and we begin to see movement in the soil, small signposts to spring that don’t occur before midwinter. Snowdrops and winter aconite emerge in January; tiny and fragrant flowers emerge on shrubs such as witch-hazel, Daphne, winter flowerin…