Hothousing 2

The Temperate House at Kew Gardens – once the world’s largest glasshouse and now the world’s largest Victorian greenhouse – re-opened last year (in time for my visit!) after 5 years of restoration. It is home to more than 10,000 plants of 1500 species.

The main part of the Temperate House, Kew Gardens in August 2018 (the drought would break during our visit, hence the moody sky but the still-brown grass). Photo: Sandra Simpson

Designed by Decimus Burton, the master of glass and iron who also designed the Palm House, the Temperate House is 4880 square metres, twice the size of the Palm House. It was built between 1859 and 1898.

Burton designed the interior so that plants could be grouped by geographical region and this planting style is still used today. Many of the plants, which need conditions above 10°C to survive, are familiar as New Zealand’s native plants mostly fall into that category.

The interior of the main Temperate House. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Kew is one of the world’s leading conservation organisations and ‘home base’ is a chance to share some of the successes and challenges the world’s plants face.

Cylindrocline lorencei (Mauritius tree daisy) “must be one of the most extreme cases of recovering a species from the brink of extinction”, says Carlos Magdalena, a Kew scientist. “It was not achieved from the last plant, nor the last seeds, but from the last living cells of the organism on earth.”

The seed which had been stored could not be germinated and the species was only saved by staff at Brest Botanic Gardens in France who successfully carried out in vitro culture of a viable part of a seed embryo. The shrubs are now flourishing at Brest and Kew and it’s hoped to re-establish a population in its native habitat. Read more here.

Cylindrocline lorencei in the Temperate House at Kew. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The friends who took us to Kew decided that day to sign up as Friends and have been back several times since for special events and just to wander. I well remember what a treat it was having Kew Gardens within striking distance of home with something different to see on every visit.

Sparmannia africana (African hemp or house lime) is native to South Africa and a member of the mallow family. Read more here. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Hedychium coccineum (scarlet ginger lily) is native to southern China, the Himalayas, India and Indochina. Read more about the Hedychium family. Photo: Sandra Simpson
The long needles of Pinus roxburghii (chir pine) help it survive fires, common in its native habitat of the Himalayan foothills, by drawing the flames away from the stem. Photo: Sandra Simpson
As part of the refit, viewing galleries have opened right around the Temperate House ceiling area, accessed by ornate spiral staircases. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Hothousing 1

During my tour of England last year I visited Cragside, the former home of a Victorian munitions millionaire in Northumberland and now a National Trust property. The huge grounds concealed several different types of garden, including a formal garden of several terraces.

The Top Terrace was once dominated by a great glasshouse, divided internally to create different environments – palm house, ferneries and an orchid house. The glass superstructures were demolished in the 1920s but the area is planted in summer as though it still is a conservatory.

“One day it will be possible to restore the conservatories, and to bring back the spirit of the great plant-hunting age,” the guidebook says. I like the optimism and would love to go back and spend more time in the gardens and, particularly, the striking home that we didn’t have time to enter.

Cragside, the first home in England to be lit by hydro-electricity. Owner William Armstrong also used water to power a sawmill on the estate, power hydraulic pumps to provide water to the house, and for ornamental purposes. Photo: Robin Drayton (Wikimedia Commons)

The Orchard House is the largest-surviving glasshouse and dates from the 1870s (restored 1992-94). It had a boiler in the basement and an elaborate heating system to beat the cooler Northumberland climate and produce fruit for the house.

The Orchard House at Cragside. Photo: Sandra Simpson
The ‘mousehole’ on the left was a duct for hot air. The grape vine pots sit on turntables to allow the plants to be turned to ensure even ripening, a system thought to be unique to Cragside. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The east wing features grapes and figs, the west wing peaches and nectarines, and the centre has pears, mulberries, apricots, plums, gages and citrus of all sorts. “It is intended that the Orchard House should reflect the glories of the Victoria fruit growers’ high art of cultivation.” The trees are all pre-1900 cultivars.

Pears in The Orchard House. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Heloniopsis orientalis

The flowers of this plant caught my eye in Japan recently – thanks to Bill Dijk who almost instantly named it for me! I have now learned this evergreen perennial likes a reliably moist soil in part shade, which would explain why I saw it growing beside water in the garden of Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion) in Kyoto.

Spring-flowering Heloniopsis orientalis is native to Japan and Korea. Photo: Sandra Simpson

There seems to be a few colours, ranging from white to purple, and some named hybrids available. However, the plant appears not to be for sale in New Zealand!

Photo: Sandra Simpson

For those in New Zealand, English garden broadcaster Monty Don is currently exploring Japanese gardens, screening on Choice TV on Fridays at 9.30pm or watch it on demand.

Gardening with a disability

Had an email recently from Gus Stewart who included a link to his website, GardenAble which he’s set up (with his cousin’s help) to support those with disabilities who would like to garden.

On the About page, Gus says he’s been in a wheelchair most of his life and initially had difficulty finding a hobby that kept him engaged. Gardening started out as a healthy outlet, a way to enjoy the outdoors, but quickly became his favourite activity.

There’s a page of practical Tips and a page of Resources, with two valuable links that offer advice applicable throughout the developed world.The Thrive website offers information about gardening with a wide range of handicaps, including after a stroke, and also includes information on gardening for emotional and mental wellbeing.

“Our research shows that gardening can help people through a specific period of difficulty in their lives. Gardening can help you get back on top of things and restore balance when it feels like your life is veering out of control. Gardening can help you feel happier, more confident and healthier.”

At the Flowerpotman website, there’s information on developing a garden for, or adapting a garden for, people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, while at the Arthritis Research UK website there’s a good page of ideas on how to get around mobility problems covering everything from weeding and mowing to choosing plants and paths. The RNIB website has a some gardening tips for those suffering sight loss.

Over the years I’ve met gardeners who have been wheelchair-bound, have lost a limb or whose sight has been markedly deteriorating. They were all doing what they could with two, in particular, finding ways around their disability so it affected them hardly at all. Inspirational.

Tokyo’s urban forest

In the heart of urban Tokyo is a 70ha forest, a place of peace among all the concrete and bustle. The forest was created using some 100,000 trees of about 365 different species donated from across Japan.

The Japan for Sustainability website includes a fascinating 2005 profile of the forest, which surrounds the Meiji Shrine. The main planners of the forest (from 1915) were Dr Seiroku Honda, Dr Takanori Hongo, and Keiji Uehara, then a student. At the time, most of the site was farms, grasslands and marshes, a far cry from today’s concrete jungle pushing in on all sides. “One of the important roles of the forest was to protect the shrine from dust carried by strong winds blowing off a nearby military drill court … It was also necessary to consider smoke pollution caused by steam locomotives of the Yamanote Line, which had just started operation.”

The planners laid out five main landscape sections, envisaging four 50-year natural stages in the forest as some species were overtaken. In 150 years, the forest was planned to be composed entirely of evergreen broad-leaved trees such as oak, chinquapin (Castanea pumila) and camphor (Cinnamomum camphora), and this is indeed happening.

Japanese cypress wood, 1500 years old and from a mountain in Taiwan, has been used in this torii gate on the way to the Meiji Shrine. A torii gate marks the entry to a sacred space. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Three rules for managing the forest were set: Do not pick any leaves, branches, etc., from the forest; do not walk in the forest; and do not bring out anything from the forest. “Even shrine forest managers are prohibited from picking fruit from the trees or from bringing out even a single dead leaf. And, they have strictly kept these rules,” says Koji Okisawa, a shrine forest manager.

Inside the shrine are a pair of camphor trees, the originals planted in 1920 when the shrine was dedicated. The canopies have been encouraged to grown into one and, as the sign beneath says, the trees have “grown under the protection of the deities to become huge and vivid and are considered sacred”.

The Husband and Wife camphor trees inside the shrine. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The pair of trees is known as ‘Husband and Wife’ (Meoto Kusu) and have become symbols of a happy marriage and harmonious life within the family – and are a popular place for photos.

Every year the Meiji shrine welcomes the largest number of visitors, of any shrine or temple in Japan, making the first shrine visit of the new year, some 3 million people. It’s also a popular spot for weddings – the parties seemed timed to be about 30 minutes apart.

A wedding party at the Meiji Shrine. The bride is wearing a traditional Shinto kimono and head-dress (that is either her mother or mother-in-law in the black kimono). The young women in the red skirts are akin to nuns. The groom is obscured by the priest in the foreground. Photo: Sandra Simpson.

Like almost all history in Tokyo, one must remember that although the shrine was dedicated in 1920 – and will celebrate its centenary next year – it was destroyed during the firebombing of Tokyo at the end of World War 2. The grounds and shrine were rebuilt in 1958. I’m unsure how much of the forest was destroyed and replanted.

Recent Plant Honours

Chelsea Flower Show’s Plant of the Year for 2019 is Sedum takesimense Atlantis, discovered as a sport (naturally occurring hybrid) by Hortech’s Dave Mackenzie, who specialises in plants for ground cover, green roofs and walls, in a nursery on the shores of Lake Michigan.

It’s the first time in 10 years that a variegated plant has won the top honour. Sedum takesimense grows only on Ulleungdo Island (Squid Island), a volcanic outcrop 150km off the coast of South Korea. This is not a desert plant and it won’t take full sun in hot climates.

Runner-up to the low-growing sedum with yellow flowers was the hybrid foxglove Digitalis x valinii Firebird with “90cm high flowering spikes of warm reddish-pink with apricot tones”. Bred by UK plantsman John Fielding, Firebird is more winter hardy and generally a stronger garden plant than previous varieties

In third place was a miniature agapanthus, Fireworks which has flowers that are blue at the base and white on the ends. Fireworks is said to be the first reblooming evergreen bicoloured agapanthus in the world! In 2008 Quinton Bean and Andy De Wet from De Wet Plant Breeders in South Africa germinated 12,000 seeds and in 2010 picked out Fireworks because it was already showing its first flowers.

The three plants were honoured from a shortlist of 20. See photos of the winners here.

The rose Knock Out – hybridised by William Radler of the US and introduced in 2000 – was last year inducted into the Hall of Fame of the World Federation of Rose Societies.

Blooming every 5-6 weeks, from spring to frost, it creates a stunning show of cherry red flowers that do well in most climates. “The Knock Out roses are the most disease-resistant on the market,” the notes with the rose say. “All of the Knock Out roses are self-cleaning so there is no need to deadhead.” See the Hall of Fame here.

Last year Britons voted for their Tree of the Year in each of the four countries. Here are the results.

Each year the National Garden Bureau in the US designates various ‘Year of’ categories. For 2019 it’s the Year of the Snapdragon (annual); Year of the Dahlia (bulb); Salvia nemorosa (perennial) and Year of the Pumpkin (edible).

Chelsea Flower Show 2019

The Best in Show at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show in London has attraced the usual sort of controversy – too green and not enough flowers! It wouldn’t be Chelsea without some disagreement, though, would it?

Designer Andy Sturgeon – one of Britain’s top garden designers – says of his 2m x 1m Gold medal garden: “Inspired by nature’s power to regenerate, this woodland landscape will be interspersed with stone platforms and huge burnt timber sculptures representing natural rock formations. Populated by pioneering plants and jewel-like flowers, the landscape has been colonised by trees, ferns, primordial horsetails (Equisetum) and restios giving the garden an ancient quality.” See the planting plan here. Read what the naysayers think (although the author still likes the garden). Another Gold went to the Resilience garden, celebrating the Forestry Commission’s centenary, which also won the Best Construction award for the Show Garden category.

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Above: The Savills and David Harber Garden won the show’s only Bronze medal. Pictured are garden designer Andrew Duff and sculptor David Harber.

Designer Chris Beardshaw tried to get real about sustainability – a lot of money and effort is spent creating these gardens that are then demolished after a few days. He used an electric-powered excavator and grew plants in recyclable (non-plastic) pots. He has taken home one of the 12 Gold medals awarded this year. Read about some of the trends spotted at this year’s show.

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Above: The Art of the Viking garden and its firewood wall. No idea why ‘Picasso’ was there!

Other Gold medal gardens include The Art of the Viking garden, all about wetlands and water meadows and including a magnificent garden wall made from stacked firewood; Beyond the Screen, a coastal-theme garden, features plants from New Zealand, Scotland, Mexico and New England (which sounds like an unlikely combination) but this also won its category (Best Space to Grow) and the Best Construction award for its category; and two Asian-theme gardens also took Gold – one with a Japanese theme and the other with a Chinese medicine theme. The Best Artisan Garden is Family Monsters. See all the winning gardens here.

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Above: ‘Granny’ and Wills visit the garden co-created by the Duchess of Cambridge. While giving Chelsea marvellous publicity this year, it was unplaced.

Please note that I can access only those Getty images from Chelsea which are free to use, hence the lack of photos of the winning gardens – hopefully they will be added to the ‘free list’ soon. At present it’s a lot of ‘celebs’ on the opening evening.

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