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Showing posts from 2015

The hows, whys and wheres of composting…

By Alida Robey
I have had some intriguing responses to my previous post on composting – most commonly “Hurry up and tell us how to do it!” ; so without further delay, I give you the why, where and (most importantly) how of composting....

Why compost? There is so much more to composting than simply meeting our own personal needs.  For me, the global urgency is such that I would have us label all shop bought fruit and veg: WARNING: Not composting will lead to the depletion of our soils! Here's why:
Compost helps regenerate soils and improve soil structure Current agricultural practices suck nutrient out of the soil. The resultant produce has less nutritious value than in previous generations, [1] meaning we are needing to eat more to get the same nutritional benefits. [2] Commercial fertilisers are designed to promote maximum growth, not necessarily superior nutrient content of the fruit and vegetables produced. Nor do these fertilisers benefit  soil structure and health. The fibre o…

Bristol is buzzing, how the city is helping pollinators

By Helen Roberts
There has been a substantial amount of press coverage recently on the plight of our pollinators. They are now less abundant and widespread than they were in the 1950s. A number of threats are responsible, including habitat loss, disease, extreme weather, climate change and pesticide use.
There is not one smoking gun among these threats, but rather the combination that has endangered some species in the UK. Loss of wild flower rich habitat (due to intensive agriculture, industrialisation and urbanisation) escalates the effect of disease, extreme weather, climate change and pesticide use. Without food or shelter, pollinators are more vulnerable.
Whilst visiting the University of Bristol Botanic Garden this autumn, I noticed the abundance of pollinators busily visiting many different flowers from the orchid look-a-like flower of Impatiens tinctoria to the swathes of Rudbeckia sp. and Verbena bonariensis. This year saw the 6th year of the University of Bristol Botanic Ga…

Undergraduates get their first glimpse at the garden

By Alida Robey I've been promising myself a visit to the University of Bristol Botanic Garden since I arrived in Bristol four years ago. Life has intervened. Yet when the opportunity came to join the new intake of students from the University on their first practical of their 3 year undergraduate degree, I leapt at the chance. 
Once there, the thrill of the plants, garden, stories and mysteries within, were hard to resist!  I joined the briefing given by the Garden's curator, Nick Wray, as he introduced the day's second group of 70 students (over 250 students attended the practical over two days) to their PhD student demonstrators - there to inspire the undergraduates about different aspects of the gardens.  
An introduction to the day These biology and zoology students were visiting the garden as part of their ‘Diversity of Life’ module - taking a first-hand look at some of the adaptations that have enabled plants to diversify into the more than 400,000 species that exi…

Latecomers to the summer flowering party

By Helen Roberts It's the time of year when most people think that gardens are nearing the end of the full flush of summer blooms. Mid summer flowers may be dwindling but there are numerous late flowering species that still provide a riot of colour. I have always been interested in gardens at this time of year because we are often rewarded with a spell of bright sunny weather in autumn. I want to be outside enjoying the garden, hanging onto the summer for as long as I can before the cold deepens and the nights draw in. So planning for some autumn colour in the garden can be very rewarding. With thoughts of designing my own garden for a prolonged season of flowering, an excursion to the University of Bristol Botanic Garden was due. I met up with Froggie who showed me the bounty of colour at this time of year in the gardens.
First stop was the hot borders which can be found in front of The Holmes, which were evidently at their most scorching in terms of vivid colours, with swathes…

Why doesn't everyone compost?

By Alida Robey
Composting was an inherent part of how we lived when I was growing up – nothing was wasted.  Food scraps went to the chickens, kitchen and garden waste to one of several  compost heaps and leaves were piled into a pit for future leaf-mould.
Today,  I live in a flat with a small decked courtyard. I have access to five compost bins in an area of communal gardens in Clifton (Bristol, UK); this means with almost no effort at all the only rubbish I produce is recycling and an occasional black bag of non-recycleable inorganic waste. I don't even have to keep a compost bin at home. And still each week along my road I see quantities of black bags destined for landfill spilling out onto the pavement with fruit and veg and greenery.  Given the years I have spent trying to coax friends and neighbours in different locations to compost, this scene is a heart-rending weekly reminder of my lack of success in this personal campaign!
So when I was camping a few weeks ago, and had r…

We came for Shaun, we stayed for the Garden

I had water,  snacks and my 'Shaun Spotter' app primed and ready to go. Everything my son and I needed for a few hours of Shaun in the City hunting. Friends were seeking out Shauns in Bristol's City Centre while we did the Downs Trail - there would be some healthy competition on Facebook. Our first stop was the University of Bristol Botanic Garden as I knew that Shaun had been eagerly awaited by the Garden staff and I wanted to see how things were going. We met Shaun in the Jungle near the welcome hut. Morgan (my son) dutifully posed with Shaun so I could take a couple of pictures, but then he asked (closer to begging really) if we could go into the garden and have a look in the pond. Inspired by finding a newt in there a couple of years ago, he can't resist looking in every time we go.
Morgan has been coming with me to the Botanic Garden for several years now as I gain inspiration from the staff and surroundings for new blog posts. He's familiar with it and we no…

Why Garden?

By Helen RobertsMonty Don’s visit in July to the University of Bristol Botanic Garden did not disappoint. He delivered two lectures entitled ‘Why Garden’, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, with lunch and a tour of the garden in between. The subject of why to garden is vast and could be approached from a multitude of angles . However, Monty used his personal experiences in working his garden of Longmeadow to discuss how gardening can bring both restoration of the mind and body to people, as well as a reconnection to the landscape. Monty first began gardening because of his mother, but back then it was a chore to be got through, simply a means to an end. She would frequently use the phrase, "…and what are you doing this afternoon?", which meant "you had better get on with the gardening!" By the age of 17, Monty had a rudimentary knowledge of gardening and was looking after a half-acre vegetable garden.
His first realisation that gardening was what he wa…

Growing orchids, growing future horticulturists

By Helen Roberts
Zoe Parfitt is no stranger to the University of Bristol Botanic Garden. When she was just 16 years old, Zoe did a work experience with the Garden. Now, she is the Botanic Garden's first full time trainee entirely sponsored by the Friends through their Education and Training Fund. I recently caught up with Zoe in the glasshouses to discuss her work at the Botanic Garden, her future career plans and her long-standing interest in orchids.
Zoe is a graduate of Writhlington School and was involved with the School's Orchid Project from the moment she got there at age 11 -  in fact, she still has close links with the project. During her time with the Orchid Project, Zoe not only learned a vast amount about orchids, she had opportunities to travel and share her knowledge in different countries, including South Africa, India (Sikkim) and Rwanda. Whilst in Rwanda, Zoe visited local schools to teach orchid conservation and propagation methods.
I asked Zoe if she could…

The fascination of plants

By Helen Roberts
For the past three years, the University of Bristol Botanic Garden has hosted Fascination of Plants Day. The event is part of a much larger initiative launched under the umbrella of the European Plant Science Organisation (EPSO). The goal of the day is to get people interested in plants and share the significance of plant science in both the social and environmental arenas.

In 2013, the inaugural year of the event, a total of 689 institutions in 54 countries opened their doors to the public and talked about the wonder of plants. The activities carried out by each institution were extremely varied, but they were united in their celebration of plants. Here at the University of Bristol Botanic Garden, there was a focus on plant classification. In Russia, huge numbers of people attended guided tours on Siberian flora. In Nigeria, focus groups discussed possible partnerships between farmers, processors and scientists. In Norway, workshops were held for children to teach t…