Patterns of the Palm House

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Last week, on a rare dry day, I made my very first visit to Kew Gardens in London.  It is almost ridiculous that I have never visited before but living where I do it involves at least 6 hours on trains so you can understand why I have talked myself out of a visit time and again.  However, as I wanted to meet up with some horticultural friends who live in London and who I hadn’t seen for just over a year it seemed a good venue for a Christmas get together.

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The main attraction was the Palm House, which was particularly apt as I was with a group who are very into exotics and knowledgeable on the subject. However,  I found myself distracted completely by the structure of the Palm House with most of my photographs looking up beyond the foliage to the roof.  The Palm House was built between 1844 and 1848 by the architect Decimus Burton and the iron maker Richard Turner.  It was the first large scale structural use of wrought iron.  Sadly the Temperate House, which is even larger, is closed for restoration and will probably be shut until 2018 but I might get around to another visit by then!

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I loved the spiral staircases which take you to the top of the Palm House and on to a walkway from where you can look down on to the foliage.

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You also get to see close up the detail of the building’s construction.

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I found the contrast of the lush tropical foliage with the hard and geometric structure fascinating, especially with the benefit of a beautiful blue sky in the background.

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Just like the structure of the building many of the plants housed here have strong architectural shapes, such as this Dioon spinulosum (I think!).

We also visited the Alpine House and the Princess of Wales Conservatory, which I really enjoyed but is hard to photograph well unless you take plant close-ups which I didn’t as again I was distracted by the overall view.

All in all it was a lovely day out despite leaving home in the dark and a return journey completely in the dark.  Maybe a summer visit will allow a longer visit with the opportunity to explore the outside of the gardens more.  Maybe an overnight visit would be an even better idea, maybe to coincide with RHS Chelsea – I feel a plan forming!

 

 

Tweet & Grow – Kew Goes Interactive

Kew Gardens has joined the increasing number of organisations realising that social networking, and in particular Twitter, is an excellent way of increasing awareness of themselves and their products. However, unlike many organisations Kew Garden’s approach is a little more entertaining – a virtual botanical growing game  – Tweet and Grow.

Tweet and Grow was launched on the 25th May and is available to anyone who wants to register.  You have your own growing zone with four initial plants for you to tend.  You can provide them with sun, water, nutrients, heat and a special plant boost if you choose to play the game via Twitter.  However, what was less clear is that you only have 25 tend actions a day which you can get through very quickly and you need to distribute them evenly or your plants will die.

With each of the plants (Black Bamboo, Houseleek, Tilt-headed Aloe and Flaming Sword Bromeliad) you are provided with information about where the plants grow in the wild and what conditions they like.  This is an excellent way of explaining different habitats to children and I think that Kew has missed a trick by not making the rewards you can earn at each level more child focussed.

There are four further plants which you can unlock in various ways. Through finding a code on Kew’s twitter feed, through tending the other plants, through finding a clue on Kew’s website and through visiting the garden.  My one real complaint is that this game is too focussed on people being able to visit Kew Gardens.  The rewards are excellent if you can visit the garden – two for one entry, free coffee in the shop, discount on gifts from the shop.  If the purpose of the game is to get people to visit the garden then I can see the logic in this but it is very limited to people who can get to the gardens.  For someone like me who lives in the West Midlands a visit to Kew is not that likely.  However, if the purpose is to raise awareness of what work Kew do and to educate people about  different habitats then the rewards and clues need to be more online focussed.  It would be possible to provide an opportunity to buy discounted goods  online from Kew’s shop or to build up vouchers to use from another online source.  I feel it is a pity as I believe many people will lose interest when they realise they need to actually visit a garden which is a long way from them.

The game does make you think about what plants actually need to grow so my black bamboo needs more water than my Houseleek and so on and as I have said I think there is huge potential to develop this game to education younger people about different habitats in the meantime I will go back to looking after my Tilt-head Aloe to see what other rewards are hidden away.

The Times Eureka Garden – RHS Chelsea

Aerial impression of Times Eureka Garden design in association with Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew  (Credit: Marcus Barnett Design + NEX)
Aerial impression of Times Eureka Garden design in association with Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (Credit: Marcus Barnett Design + NEX)

Highlighting the importance of plants to mankind’s survival is the theme of The Times Eureka Garden at this year’s RHS Chelsea Show which is being designed by Marcus Barnett for joint sponsors The Times Newspaper and Kew Gardens.

I am fascinated with the concept of this garden.  Over the last year my interest in botany has started to emerge and I am increasingly curious about the properties of plants, where they originate from and how they were discovered.  So the idea of the central structure of the garden which is based on cellular plant structure intrigues me particularly as it has been created by the architectural practice, NEX,  using computer algorithms based on cell structure etc!

The garden sets out to demonstrate how plants impact on our everyday lives.  From plants that are used for medicinal  reasons such as:  Foxglove (Digitalis x mertonensis) which is used for heart conditions and Geranium (Geranium sanguineum) which is used to treat kidney conditions and apparently the leaves make an excellent mosquito repellant (that I didn’t know) to Roses (Rosa glauca) used by both the cosmetics and drinks industry (how I don’t know!) and at the far end of the spectrum Deschampsia cespitosa that was/is used to thatch houses. I think it will be fascinating to look at the garden and try and work out the uses of each of the plants included.

However, as we all know it is notoriously hard to get a close look at show gardens at RHS Chelsea so it is hoped that planning permission will be granted to relocate the garden to Kew once the show is over.  Not only will visitors be able to see the garden without the crowds but also to walk in it and see the plants up close and personal.

This is the first time The Times will be sponsoring a garden at the  RHS Chelsea Flower Show and it is some years since Kew Gardens exhibited at the show.  They have been brought together through an interest in plants, science and the environment and the garden is designed on this basis.   As many of us know Kew Gardens has been a botanical garden for 252 years and as well as its 132 landscaped hectares which contain large collections of plants from around the world it is also responsible for the Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst which contains the largest bank of wild seed in the world. The Times is the only national newspaper to have a dedicated monthly science magazine, Eureka, and so this is a fitting partnership for its first ever show garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

The garden has the potential to be fantastic not only does it have the horticultural expertise of Kew behind it but Marcus Barnett has already got two RHS gold medals and a silver gilt medals under his belt and the construction company, The Outdoor Room, has built 11 awarding winning gardens including 4 gold medals – so lots of expertise!

I for one will definitely be looking out for this garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show as, if I’m honest, I don’t get that excited about show gardens or garden design so to have a show garden designed specifically to highlight the plants really appeals to me but I will have to wait until the end of May to see if it lives up to my expectations.