Good lot of flowering plants and visitors at yesterday’s winter show in Hamilton Gardens. Hope you enjoy the photos as much as I enjoyed seeing the plants!
It’s been nice to think about being in a winter garden in the middle of winter – bathed in sunshine today but a cool edge to the wind and more rain forecast later this week. So, on we go …
Last year was my first chance to visit the Princess of Wales Conservatory at Kew Gardens, opened by Princess Diana in 1987, although the glasshouse is actually named for another Princess of Wales, Augusta, mother of George III, who founded the Gardens in 1759.
With a floor space of 4,500 square metres, the glasshouse contains a whopping 10 different climatic zones and a huge variety of plants, from cacti and carnivorous plants to orchids and bromeliads. Each of the zone climates is maintained by a computer which adjusts heat, ventilation and humidity automatically. Hot-water pipes are used for heating.
Architect Gordon Wilson designed the conservatory for maximum energy efficiency so much of it sits below ground to conserve heat and has a low volume compared to floor space so temperatures can be altered rapidly, while its specially designed stepped glass roof effectively collects solar energy. Rain water is collected and stored in tanks beneath the building before being used for irrigation.
Sir David Attenborough buried a time capsule in the foundation containing seeds of important food crops and several endangered species. It will be opened in 2085, when many of the plants it contains may be rare or extinct.
The Conservatory is home to the world’s largest water lily (Victoria amazonica) and the smallest and rarest waterlily (Nymphaea thermarum). In 2014 someone decided to help themselves to one of the few examples Kew had of this tiny plant, extinct in its only known location in the wild, a thermal hot spring in Rwanda. Read a long, but very interesting piece, about this case and plant theft in general.
My only problem with the glasshouse was getting out! My friends were patiently waiting for me to have my fill of taking photos and I decided it was time to get back to them. My first attempt at following the Exit signs took me round in a big circle so I asked an attendant (who, bless her, kept a straight face). I set off again and at a certain point made a left instead of a right and voila, there were some faces I recognised and a door to the outside world. Whew!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.