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Showing posts from 2018

Plant blindness

You may or may not of heard of the term ‘plant blindness’; it’s a phrase that we in the Botanic Garden have been hearing much more of in recent years and will continue to throw around in the future. It refers to the slow shutting off of plant knowledge from generation to generation resulting in an inability to acknowledge plants around us. The simple things that were once common knowledge, such as dock leaves used for nettle stings are becoming bred out of a collective instinct and plants are becoming irrelevant and annoying green things to many people.
I can remember when my eyes were truly opened. I noticed trees that I hadn’t before; as I walked along the street I started looking at the borders and the hanging foliage all around me. Before, I’m not sure what I looked out for in the streets, the pavement or the shops, who knows, but plants for sure changed my life and I see them changing the lives around me at the Botanic Garden. I think I could live to be three hundred and still …

At your convenience.

The Garden is changing year on year, saplings are becoming trees and borders now fill out showing maturity. One of the changes is visitor numbers to the Garden which have risen steadily, and as a result our facilities were becoming inadequate, such as the loos.
What is a forward thinking 21st Century Botanic Garden to do when the they need new toilets? We were in no doubt that we had to think of an alternative that is safe and sustainable.  Toilets are all about waste, drinking water is used to flush them and research suggests that the average person uses 45 litres of water each day just from flushing a toilet; if we could find a way of restricting this we could save thousands of litres in the Garden.

So, with the help of the University's Sustainability Department, the toilet we went for is French in design but wouldn’t look out of place in a Scandinavian woodland with its lodgey feel; they arrived in kit form, think of the biggest IKEA self build and you get the picture. It is n…

The Impossible Garden

We’ve always felt that art and the Garden work well together. Every Easter we run a sculpture exhibition which brings this home, plants and art are good friends; nature’s sculpture makes the Garden a gallery and placing human art amongst it embellishes both. With this in mind, for some time we’ve wanted to show a permanent summer exhibition but nothing has fit the bill.
Step in Luke Jerram this year. If art and plants are good friends, so are Luke and Bristol; he has created a perfect replica of the moon which is floating at various locations around the world at the moment; he created a giant water slide down one of Bristol’s busiest shopping streets for one day in 2014, a day that brought the city together, everyone was smiling; he also positioned pianos around the city for anyone to play, I’d love walking home from work to hear music drifting along the street. As you can see Luke is very much a force for good in the city, and unknown to us was regularly visiting the Garden with his…

Going to Extremes

For Bristol, this is extreme weather; usually we hardly go a week without rain, it’s been over a month. The plants in the Garden are taking it all in different ways; the aromatic Mediterranean plants look at home and are producing wonderful fragrant oils whose scents drift up as you brush past them.Tree ferns on the other hand need their trunks watered daily to stop them from drying out; native to wet forests they have adapted roots on their trunks to soak up all the rain.
All plants need are sun, air, water and food and with these four essentials they can grow anywhere. Some of these places are more extreme than we ever experience here in the West Country, in South Africa for example. Plants of the Cape mountains are known as Fynbos, and many of these are dependant on fire for their survival. Fire clears the land and brings nutrients to dormant seeds that lay under shrubs and spurs some bulbs into flowering; just a few weeks after a bush fire regeneration begins. Similarly, in Calif…

Let's hear it for the Volunteers

This week the Botanic Garden volunteers were awarded the highest accolade for volunteering in the land, the Queen’s Award for Volunteer Services; aka the MBE for volunteer groups. As a member of staff here I’m very chuffed for them because I know that without them the Garden would be a very different place.
It could be argued that one of the most precious commodities we have these days is time, and so the value attached to people offering us their time for an afternoon, morning or just a couple of hours each week is unquantifiable. The Garden has four full time Gardeners, including a job-share; one trainee; just under two administrator positions shared by three people; and, of course, the Curator. The number of volunteers on our books is two hundred and forty-four! The volunteers are guides, gardeners, stewards, leaflet deliverers, office administrators, newsletter editors, front gate welcomers, exam invigilators, marketing supremos and car parking attendants. They come to us from a…

Looking East

2018 marks the seventeenth year of the partnership between Bristol and the city of Guangzhou (formerly Canton) in Guangdong Province Southern China. Located on the Pearl River about 120km north west of Hong Kong and 145 km North of Macau, Guangzhou has a history spanning 2200 years and was a major terminus for the maritime silk road and continues to serve as a major port and transportation hub today as well as being one of China’s largest cities. In 2016 a stainless-steel kapok flower sculpture that was donated by the Mayor of Guangzhou to the City of Bristol and now stands proudly in our Chinese Medicinal Herb Garden. Many people and business have links with Guangzhou and the University of Bristol has made a number of links with organisations across the city including the San Yet-sen University. On a visit in January 2017 to Guangzhou our Dean of Science Professor Tim Gallagher visited the South China Botanic Garden to make contact with scientists in the Chinese Academy of Science. …

The stories of plants

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…

The Botanic Garden community

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

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

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 …