Go behind the scenes, meet the team and get some great tips for your own garden at home. Join us as we look back at the week that was…
We began the week by chopping back giant rhubarb (Gunnera manicata) plants around our pond in the Woodland Walk. Each autumn, as the leaves begin to brown, we cut them off and turn them upside down, securing them on top of the crown of the plant with a section of sturdy leaf stalk. This is an old traditional method of protecting the plant from cold winter weather.
A native of Brazil, giant rhubarb would have once been considered quite tender, and winter protection essential. These days it’s reliably hardy in the Midlands and efforts to cover them are far from essential, but we like to continue the tradition where we can and tidy up the plants as we go.
“Cutting back the giant rhubarb was a really enjoyable task. Some of them had already started to die off and fall into the pond. Unfortunately, I also slipped into the pond at one point as well!” Tom Grice, Garden Volunteer
On Tuesday Area Supervisors Abby and Leighanne were busy replanting two alpine troughs next to the Alpine House. First, they got to work removing the old plants including a creeping thyme (Thymus serphyllum ‘Petite’) that was smothering out almost everything else, and a dwarf juniper (Juniperus communis ‘Compressa’) that will be re-used in the nearby Scree Garden.
Next, a fresh compost mix was made of equal parts loam, multipurpose compost, grit and perlite, with added lime and slow release fertiliser. The newly re-filled troughs were then re-planted with lots of different evergreen saxifrages (Saxifraga) that had been nurtured in our back-of-house frames.
“These troughs hadn’t been replanted for a number of years and were looking tired and rather flat. By using evergreens, we have ensured the troughs will have year round interest – but they will really come into their own in spring when the gentle mounds of saxifrages will be smothered in pastel flowers.” Leighanne Gee, Outdoor Area Supervisor
As the week progressed it developed into one of the coldest and wettest of the season so far, but through it all shone our various yellow flowered Mahonia. These tough, evergreen shrubs are indispensable in winter and we have several planted throughout the garden.
There are low, suckering species such as M. aquifolium and much taller, statuesque species such as M. japonica. The former flowers in spring and grows in the North American section of our Geographical Beds, whilst the latter flowers now and can be found in the Rhododendron Walk.
Perhaps best of all are the various cultivars of M. x media beginning to establish in our newly planted Winter Garden. These hybrids combine the best qualities of their parents habit – the hardiness and vigor of M. japonica with the spectacular early flowers of the more tender M. oiwakensis.
Thursday saw Horticultural Practitioner Jude potting on a number of Pelargonium plants she had successfully raised from cuttings just a few weeks earlier. Jude collected the semi-ripe cuttings when our Pelargonium display on the Terrace was cut back and brought under glass for the winter.
Jude selected cuttings from none flowering parts of the plant, trimmed them below a node to about an inch long and removed all but one or two of the youngest leaves. The cuttings were then inserted into cell trays filled with free draining compost and kept warm until they rooted.
Now showing signs of growth, it is time to pot the cuttings into a 9cm pot. Jude successfully potted dozens of P. ‘Cola Bottles’ and P. ‘Attar of Roses’. These highly scented varieties will be grown on in a heated glasshouse until late spring when they will replace this year’s plants on the Terrace and fill our sales benches in the Plant Sales Area.
All week the Garden Team have been collecting interesting and unusual items from the garden for use as inspiration in an upcoming botanical watercolour workshop. The team collected dried hydrangea flowers, colourful dogwood stems, rose hips, conkers and acorns. On Friday everything was gathered together in crates and vases ready for the weekend class.
Most impressive was a vase of harlequin glorybower (Clerodendrum trichotomum var. fargesii) berries with striking turquoise blue fruits surrounded by a brilliant pink calyx. These unusually bright berries are preceded in the summer by sprays of starry white flowers. The unpleasant scent of its crushed leaves is said to resemble peanut butter by some, and much worse by many others.
“Long winter walks are perfect for collecting a variety of things to bring back to the studio to paint. At this time of year plants reveal their intriguing structure, form and texture. I love using watercolour. It enables me to depict both transparency, strength of colour and intricate detail of natural hues.” Jeni Neale, Botanical Artist and Winterbourne Tutor