The Comedy of Errors

William Shakespeare may have known a thing or two about writing a farce, but over the years the Winterbourne team have been responsible for some hilarious horticultural mishaps fit to rival anything described by the great Bard. A comedy of cultivation errors – there has even been the odd case of mistaken identity…

Oxalis triangularis, The Comedy of Errors, Winterbourne House and Garden, Digging for Dirt

Oxalis triangularis – One that weeded not wisely but too well

“I started my career at the tender age of 16 as a horticultural student at Birmingham Botanical Gardens and Glasshouses. Many new species were introduced to me in my first few weeks of employment including Oxalis, a pernicious, stubborn little weed that spreads in a very effective fashion. I noted this plant in my jotter with a black mark – it wasn’t a plant we wanted in the collection!

A short time after I was tasked with the regular maintenance of what was then known as Number 3 Glasshouse. I knew what I had to do first – rid the house of the dreaded Oxalis. I spent hours removing every sign of it disposing of many pots where the weed had taken over completely and defeated the original occupant.

A few weeks later I realised there are in fact many different varieties of Oxalis including some species which look very similar to ‘my’ weed but are in fact quite collectable, ornamental plants. These were cherished by the Head Gardener at the time, who kept his collection in Number 3 Glasshouse. That was my first horticultural telling off!”

Lee Hale, Head of Winterbourne House and Garden

Candelabra primula, The Comedy of Errors, Winterbourne House and Garden, Digging for Dirt

Candelabra primula – To compost, or not to compost, that is the question

“Whilst working at a botanical garden behind the scenes we composted the plant debris left on the potting benches to clear room for potting on.

A while later the Head Gardener arrived and asked where the national collection of primulas had gone!!!


Darren Rudge, Garden Designer and Winterbourne Centre for Horticulture Tutor

Runner Bean 'Black Emperor', The Comedy of Errors, Winterbourne House and Garden, Digging for Dirt

Runner Bean ‘Black Emperor’ – If stringy beans be the food of love, grow on

“My husband and I went away on a late summer holiday leaving our 17 year old daughter at home in charge of house and garden. On our travel-weary return she served us a lovely hot meal which included generous helpings of runner beans.

‘Sorry, they were a bit stringy so I thought I had better pick and use them.’

‘Where did you get them from?’ My husband asked.

‘The row just alongside the greenhouse.’

‘That was the row I was saving for seed to plant next year.’ Replied my husband through clenched teeth.

The following year we grew a variety of runner bean clearly labelled “SEED, DO NOT PICK” on each bean pole – I still find those labels now occasionally, 25 years later, and the incident has imprinted itself indelibly on both my daughter’s and my memory!”

Linda Eggins, Curator, Plant Heritage National Collection of Aucuba japonica held at the University of Birmingham

Pittosporum 'Tom Thumb', The Comedy of Errors, Winterbourne House and Garden, Digging for Dirt

Pittosporum ‘Tom Thumb’ – Is this a pair of secateurs which I see before me, their handle towards my hand?

“I once rigorously pruned out what I believed to be green reversions on a young plant of the famously purple leaved Pittosporum ‘Tom Thumb’. Although I was aware P. ‘Tom Thumb’ was slow growing, I have to admit I did wonder why it wasn’t making more progress under my care. Only when discussing the conundrum with a colleague did I realise that what I had been doing was removing not reverted foliage, but new growth, which as I learnt emerges green first before turning purple later as it matures.

Needless to say, my secateurs now stay in their holster and the plant in question has grown considerably larger since I’ve left it alone!”

Daniel Cartwright, Horticultural Supervisor, Winterbourne House and Garden

Jockey wheel stand, The Comedy of Errors, Winterbourne House and Garden, Digging for Dirt

Jockey stand – The course of Tresco’s lawns never did run smooth

“When I was starting out in horticulture I went to Tresco Abbey Gardens for a couple of weeks to volunteer. Whilst there I managed to put a deep ‘potato trench’ across the formal lawn by leaving the jockey stand lowered when I drove off on the tractor and trailer… whoops”

Stephen Haines, Head Gardener, Winterbourne House and Garden

“Up popped a seedling in one of my flower pots from nowhere. I have always been one for rescuing seedlings on the off chance that I come across something unusual. I pricked it out and placed it in a nice clean pot with fresh compost.

I tended it every day making sure it was well looked after. The leaves started to burst forth and they looked very interesting, like nothing I had ever seen before. I could not wait for it to flower.

When I investigated my plant a few days later, I noticed a bud forming. Now I was getting really excited. The bud grew up above the foliage– oh, what will this be, something new? I had nurtured this seedling and I was convinced it was something unusual.

I walked past my plant, now taking pride of place in a pot, in our garden. Weeks of love and attention and it certainly had grown well. However, I had to do a double take … imagine my amusement when I saw the flower. It was not something unusual and it certainly wasn’t going to make my fortune.  What was it? Well …. It was a DANDELION!!

It should never happen to a horticulturalist!!”

Teresa Moss, Rare Plant Fairs

Dandelion, The Comedy of Errors, Winterbourne House and Garden, Digging for Dirt

Dandelion – We bring forth weeds when our quick minds lie still

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