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Showing posts from 2013

'Tis the season of seed cleaning

Weeks ago, Nick suggested I come in on a rainy day to the garden as there was lots of seed cleaning going on in the potting shed. Then it didn’t rain for three weeks. Defeated by the glorious Autumn weather we’ve had, I phoned Froggie, and asked whether I could come in to learn about seed washing...yes, that’s right, I said “washing”. I’m such an amateur! However, Froggie was kind and  refrained from laughing at me and just said, “we don’t really wash the seeds unless they have a particularly fleshy covering”.
We arranged a time for me to come in and, as it happened, it was yet another glorious sunny day. While this made for a nice bicycle commute for me, it meant that the volunteer gardeners were all out in the garden so I would be having an individual, hands-on learning experience with respect to seed cleaning.
So many envelopes As Froggie and I entered the potting shed, she took me immediately over to a bench lined with trays in which rows of envelopes were stacked up. On the out…

Forests may be more vulnerable to pests and disease in the future

As I sit in my home office watching the autumn rains and winds strip the last remaining colourful leaves off the trees outside, I find myself in awe of the tree. There’s a primary school across the street from my house and there are several huge beautiful chestnuts in its grounds where I watched the children shelter from the sun on hot days. There’s also the spindliest little apple tree that one could imagine, which despite its size produced at least a dozen enormous apples this year!
Trees affect every aspect of our lives – they provide food, timber, pulp and fibre, but beyond this they have important ecosystem functions in the natural landscape. Trees help to regulate our climate, they store and sequester carbon (about 30% of global CO2 emissions are absorbed by forests), they store water helping to prevent floods, they purify water and they provide habitat.
However, widespread pests and diseases have taken their toll on natural forests over the past century with outbreaks seemingl…

An apple a day

by Helen RobertsName three things Somerset is famous for and most people will say cider, Cheddar cheese and the Glastonbury Festival. While I could certainly talk at length about cider and its versatility (particularly having enjoyed a lovely mug of mulled cider recently at bonfire night), it is where cider begins - the humble apple – that is the subject of today’s post. I live near Wells, in the heart of Somerset, and the trees in the apple orchards are positively dripping with fruit at the moment, a welcome sight for orchard growers who had a dismal season in 2012. It was National Apple Day on the 21st of October, and many places around the UK have been hosting events to celebrate England’s national fruit. Humans and the common apple have a long history together in terms of its cultivation and it is a familiar fruit throughout the world. Essentially, the richness of this sweet little fruit lies in its ordinariness.
A brief history of the apple
The domestic apple (Malus domestica) is …

A snapshot of autumn

By Helen RobertsWith autumn having finally kicked in, what better way to spend a sunny Sunday than drinking in the colours of the Botanic Garden and tapping into our creative juices. A few weeks ago, Nicola and I did just this, enjoying the Botanic Gardens’ September colours whilst also taking part in the watercolour course “A Snapshot of Autumn”. It was five hours of uninterrupted, child-free, creative learning for two enthusiastic mums!
Annie Morris, an experienced botanical artist and member of The Society of Botanical Artists and Society of Floral Painters, taught 17 of us on the day. The course doesn't require any previous experience, which was good as Nicola and I are both beginners in watercolours. Though neither of us have ever attended a course, both of us (I think) are confident putting pencil or brush to paper in other media.
Annie started with demonstrations on drawing and basic watercolour techniques. We crowded around her as she worked confidently and swiftly, first …

Bringing the Levels to the Garden

If you’ve been to the Botanic Garden recently, you may have noticed an area by the pond that has been sectioned off with some ropes. This is the future home of the Somerset Levels and Moors display at the University of Bristol Botanic Garden.  It is one of the mini-habitats of areas that are found here in the West Country that the Garden is replicating as part of its display of rare and threatened plants.
The Somerset Levels run from the foot of the Mendip Hills through to the first rising of the Quantock Hills and occupy an area of about 150,000 acres. The Levels are an interesting habitat, which has formed as a consequence of some rather unique geological features as well as hundreds of years of human modification; they support a rich diversity of species and as a result are of national and international importance.
I had an opportunity to speak with both Andy Windfield, a botanical horticulturist at the Garden, and Nick Wray, the Curator, about the Levels display that’s being cons…

Bee and Pollination Festival Was Buzzing

Standing in the marquee at the Bee and Pollination Festival felt as close to being in a hive as one could imagine as it was absolutely buzzing with activity! As I weaved my way between the stalls I caught little pieces of conversations going on –“...beekeeping is not easy...first thing you need to do is take a course...”, “...which shutter speed should you use if you’re trying to get the wings of a bee in flight...” and “...have you heard of colony collapse disorder...” . My 5-year old was busy making a giant paper bee, while my husband spoke to the folks at the allotment display and I was admittedly taste testing some of the amazing local varieties of honey. There was something for everyone.
The University of Bristol Botanic Garden hosted the 4th annual Bee and Pollination Festival on the 7th and 8th of September, and as usual, people came out by the hundreds to celebrate bees and other pollinators that perform an essential ecosystem service. We do love our bees!
Becoming a beekeeper

RHS Courses: Getting practical in the garden

It’s Saturday morning at 9:30 and as I walk into the classroom there are fifteen small plates filled with different types of seeds lined up around a table. Along one of the walls, flowering plants are lined up as well. I recognise a few of the flowering plants but even then I wouldn't know the Latin names and I recognise even fewer of the seeds. I’m incredibly glad that I’m not taking the test.
I've come to sit in on the RHS Level 3 course ‘Certificate in Practical Horticulture’ that is currently running at the Botanic Garden. The course has been running every Saturday from 10am until 4:30pm since the 18th of May and it will continue until the end of August.
The course is taught by a number of tutors who teach for a block of seven weeks or so and it covers core units that include collecting and testing soil samples, collecting, preparing and propagating from seed, and identifying a range of common garden plants, diseases and disorders. The course is a balance of theory and p…

There's plenty of room at the bee hotel

Andy gently pushes some moss out of the way to allow me to peer in. “See there,” he says, “they've moved some of this moss and built that wall – this is occupied”.  I’m staring into one of the rooms of the hotel trying not to invade the guests’ privacy, but also too curious to look away. The occupant seems to be out getting a meal or tucked away so as not to be seen by peeping eyes.
We are standing in the wildlife area of the Botanic Garden, behind a city skyline of wooden planks. We are staring intently into what might at first glance look like a very artistically and precisely stacked woodpile.  However, this is indeed the Garden’s bee hotel - the sign above it even says so – and there are guests!
The Garden had quite a bit of bamboo left over from the construction of the Chinese herb garden, as well as other materials from some coppicing they had done, and what better way to use them than to create habitat to encourage native bees.
There are over 250 species of native bees and …

Plants that endure

by Helen RobertsWhether perched upon a windblown cliff or nestled in a small crack deep within a canyon, some plants seem to overcome all odds of survival. These survivors, which are frequently rare, quite often grow in remote inhospitable environments, show true resilience and perseverance and are highly adapted to their specific habitats. You just have to admire them for their sheer tenacity.
However, some of these ‘bulldog’ plants aren’t the hardy-looking brutes one might expect of such survivors; sometimes they are delicate and very beautiful. Discoveries of plants such as these are occurring regularly with over 2,000 new plant species being found worldwide each year. Many are found in far flung areas of the globe, as well as on our very own doorstep here in Bristol.
A Malaysian beauty
A rare and endangered endemic plant found in the biologically diverse Pennisular Malaysia has recently been described. The beautiful plant is called Ridleyandra chuana and is only found in two small …