Horticulture In a New World
Katanah Jas, 2018 Horticulture Scholar
Proudly Supported by Mayfield Gardens
Katanah wanted to thank everyone at BBM Youth Support, Australian Garden Council and Mayfield Gardens for working together to create and fund her scholarship experience. Please enjoy the following highlights from her trip. If you would like to read her full report you can do so here.
The Royal Botanical Gardens of Kew
As soon as I arrived at my first Airbnb in Richmond (a fabulous 20-minute walk from Kew) I had begun planning my week and touched base with my contacts at the School of Horticulture, who’ve arranged a private tour around the gardens and behind the scenes with Lily whom was an apprentice at the school.
I had a few days to explore the gardens at my own pace before meeting Lily on Thursday, luckily the weather was perfect when I headed out on my own meaning, I had the perfect opportunities to snap some great photos!
I could write a book about my time spent at Kew Gardens covering all 326 acres of its glory however I’ve managed to narrow it down to some of my favourite experiences and features.
The Davies Alpine House was one of the first places I visited, where some of the world’s most resilient plants can be found. The Davies Alpine House had been designed to resemble the cool, dry and windy conditions the Alpines need to thrive without using any energy-intensive wind pumps or air conditioning. In a world of ice and wind, these Alpine plants are immersed in snow for many months which also protects them from the extremes of the winter. Once the snow starts to melt in spring – it provides the plants with much needed watering that allows them to burst into growth and being the flowering process.
The Princess of Wales Conservatory contains 10 computer-controlled climate zones ranging from carnivorous plants, spiky cacti and succulents, dry tropics and even the dense, steamy zones where the tropical orchids and bright bromeliads are bouncing with colour.
“Did you know that in 1985 Sir David Attenborough buried a time capsule containing seeds of basic food crops and endangered species in the foundation of the Princess of Wales Conservatory. It will be opened in 2085, when many of the plants it contains may be rare or extinct.
– Kew Gardens
The Temperate House was one of my favourite highlights during the week I spent at Kew Gardens, this glasshouse contains 10,000 individual plants from 5 different continents all over the world (Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific Islands). With over 1,500 species of plants and 245 of them being rare species, the Temperate House tells the story of how Kew and it’s 310 scientists and partners around the world are working together to rescue rare plants and find solutions to some of the world’s most pressuring issues such as climate change to loss of food security and biodiversity.
The Temperate House opened in May 1863 however construction continued for 36 years with around 13,800 hours of transformation.
The Xstrata Treetop Walkway towers 18 metres above the ground providing a birds eye view of the surrounding gardens where you can observe the ecosystem of the trees uppermost branches where birds, insect, lichen and fungi are thriving. The walkway is made from over 400 tonnes of weathered steel and is designed to flex slightly in the wind to prevent any damage. I’ll admit, I was a little scared when the structure started to move with the wind as I didn’t expect it – so if you have a fear of heights maybe admire this from afar…
Walking through the branches of Sweet Chestnut, Beech, Horse Chestnut and different Oaks that border the walkway almost made me feel like Tarzan swinging through the trees. On the ground there were sculptures carved from tree trunks that illustrated microscopic elements of trees which explained how they grow, there was also a path that leads below ground to the Rhizotron where an underground lab was constructed to study the soil.
Lastly but certainly not least is the Rock Garden which was originally constructed in 1882 and is over an acre in size making it one of the oldest and largest in the world. It’s framed by rising sandstone peaks and beautifully cascading waterfalls which mimics life in the world’s mountainous regions. 70% of plants in the Rock Garden are grown from wild-collected seed, making it Kew’s largest outdoor area dedicated to Horticulture and a vital resource for research.
Flora is displayed from 6 mountainous regions of the world however the display is naturalistic and uses changes in levels and different perspectives to guide visitors to a rugged and wild landscape. The various planting combinations are designed to evoke the ecosystems seen in nature which includes plants that aren’t considered hardy in the UK.
Behind the Scenes at Kew
After spending several days exploring Kew Gardens on my own, it was time for my one on one tour with Lily, who showed me the behind the scenes of Kew Gardens where I got to meet some of the staff and master minds behind the diversity of plants and gardens at Kew.
I also got to explore some of their more scientific and Horticultural components at Kew for tasks like propagation, cultivation, classification and treating diseased or nutrient deficient plants. One of my favourite areas I got to see was the different zones they had for different plant collections and nurseries, such as the Conservation Plants, Aquatic Collections, Carnivorous Plants, Ex-situ Conservation Plants and Madagascan Flora (just to name a few!).
Each zone or nursery has a precise indication for what the temperature and humidity levels should be set at depending on the time of day/night and what season it is. The collection of plants at Kew is outstanding, I hope one day we can have something similar to this in Australia as I believe many young Horticulturalists (and other trades) would benefit so much from having access to such a diverse collection letting them explore and study their keen interests.
The 2019 Chelsea Flower Show
When I was able to lock in a two-week placement assisting on the Montessori Centenary Children’s Garden designed and constructed by Jody Lidgard (who has assisted medal winning gardens at Chelsea for 15 years) from Bespoke Outdoor Spaces, I was over the moon! Being a young aspiring Horticulturalist, I could only dream of attending let alone working at an event like this, the knowledge, friends and experience I’ve gained from this is something I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.
The Montessori Children’s Garden includes a wildlife dipping pond, edible living walls, a sunken greenhouse and multicolour cabin filled with activities for children. Commenting on the design, Jody said; “The design of the Montessori Garden celebrates the work of Montessori St Nicholas by being child led but future driven. We have showcased plants grown hydroponically, aeroponically, under artificial light and under glass in order to demonstrate the many methods of growing in small spaces that are accessible to children. This design offers an engaging space to nurture children, teach them about the natural world and allow them to explore horticulture in their own way.”
The Chelsea Flower Show summed up during the construction of all 90 different exhibits looks like one monstrous work site with a thousand trucks, tradies, plants and machinery all working on top of each other. The amount of work and materials it takes to make these beautiful exhibits come to life is outstanding, all for a weeks’ worth of show and appreciation!
I assisted the Bespoke team in a range of different tasks, such as looking after the delivered plants ensuring they don’t fry in the sun, which also came with a competitive sport of battling everyone for a turn of the hose. I assisted the Landscaping Team with filling the million gabions with pebbles, levelling the ground for planting, plant placement, some odd ends of stonework and anything that the team needed help with.
During my second week at the Chelsea Flower Show, Jody had organised for me to come and look after (and water!) the garden, especially the edible greenwall and explain to the crowds how it was built and how the irrigation system works, I’d say it definitely was the biggest attraction of the design aside from the tsunami of colours. It amazes me how many people in the UK were new to the whole greenwall/vertical garden concept, it’s quite popular here in Australia so when I explained the edible wall to them it was interesting watching their faces glaze over with amazement. During the show week I had plenty of time to walk around and look at the different gardens and exhibits, the crowds were big but the appreciation for the show was bigger.
To celebrate and inspire young people in Horticulture, the RHS in partnership with M&G were hosting a breakfast event at the Chelsea Flower Show (I managed to score the last invitation thanks to Kate Grace) with the aim of the event to offer inspiration to young people at the start of the careers. This year they’re showcasing different careers and perceptions of our industry with the help of Social Media.
The speakers offered great advice and encouragement to everyone in the room, it was also a great networking event with people in the industry which I thoroughly enjoyed. Huw Richards, Jenny Long, Sally O’Halloran, Michael Perry and Ellen Mary, thank you for the cool stories and words of wisdom!
The amount of hard work and detail that goes into every component and feature of the garden is incredible, even planting out a small space requires the most pickiest perfectionists and perpetual perspectives from every corner, luckily we had a great team of many different skills and strengths which all played a part in winning a Gold Medal. When the Chelsea Flower Show came to an end it was hard to believe it was over, however walking away with a Gold Medal and lifelong friends made up for it.
Capel Manor College
For the remaining two weeks in the UK, I had organised a placement at Capel Manor College & Gardens in Enfield, Greater London with the help of John Mason and his contacts. The college offers a range of full and part-time land-based courses such as Horticulture, Arboriculture, Floristry, Animal Care and Management, just to name a few. The College doubles as a garden open to the public boasting over 30 hectares of gardens including a walled garden, rock garden, winter garden, 17th century garden, a Koi Pond and a sensory garden (plus many more!). Capel also manages Forty Hall Farm, a 57-hectare organic farm in Enfield, my student accommodation was here so I got to enjoy a peaceful 20-minute walk to and from the college.
On the morning of my first day at Capel, the walk to the college felt like it was going on forever, however I was so excited to meet the team and get my hands dirty that I almost broke out into a little jog to get there faster. As I walked into the mess room I was greeted with big smiles and the smell of fresh coffee, I introduced myself to the team and quickly realised I was the only Australian, meaning that everything I said sounded funny and I had to dull down the Australian slang (which was harder than I thought).
After a quick team meeting with everyone and the head gardener (Mark Cook), I was assigned to work with the lovely Costanza for the day, assisting her with some general maintenance and transplanting some Iris to fill in the gaps of a border garden. I can confidently say my hand weeding skills have dramatically improved should anyone require a speedy-weeder.
One thing I can say about the British, they love their tea-time! We had two tea breaks a day (and then lunch) except on Fridays when we got to finish an hour early. For the next few days I worked with Costa on a number of different gardens conducting maintenance, transplanting, splitting of some overgrown plants, and even assisted her with some plant suggestions and design ideas for her Mediterranean Garden, it took some time understanding her Italian accent although I think she had the same troubles with mine as well.
The next person I got to work with was Daniel, I assisted him with the clean up of the Gold Border Garden, I’ll admit that at first it was hard identifying which plant was a weed, and what wasn’t due to the difference in plants that are grown in the UK environment, however with the help of the team I quickly became familiar and more confident in what I was doing. Come Friday afternoon after work, some of the team head down to their own personal allotment where they have started an organic vegetable garden, I was invited down to join in on the fun and check out the hand-made raised garden beds.
One of my favourite things about my placement at Capel was how friendly everyone was. If I had a question or needed some help with a task, whoever I was working with were happy to help and explain why a certain task may have a certain technique. Pruning hasn’t always been my strongest skill, when I was working with Frankie in the Princess Diana Legacy Garden, we had a lot of roses to prune and I knew that it was going to take me while to get through the task. Frankie was more than happy to demonstrate the different pruning methods depending on the plants growth and I can proudly say I now enjoy pruning – Thanks Frankie!
The second week of my placement at Capel I got to work on the some of the many different show garden displays that are at Capel, most of these gardens were awarded medals and have been looked after by the team keeping within the original design. I also had the opportunity to work in the tunnel where all the re-potting and labelling of plants occur, I’ve never re-potted so much spinach and kale in my life however it’s a great skill to learn and I also got to perfect my technique to make it quite time efficient.
Throughout the last week there was lots of rain, not heavy rain but enough to bring out the waterproofs and the thought of the Australian sun waiting for me back home. Capel was an amazing and educational experience where I got to learn how to maintain and work in many different types of gardens, exposing myself to new plants that I’ve only ever seen online. Hearing about the different industry interests of the team and connecting with people who also share an interest in the Horticulture Industry has really made feel really strongly about how Australia needs this connection with young people and to let them know that their interest in Horticulture is just as important as any other trade or career path.
My experience and time in the UK has opened my eyes to the endless possibilities of which direction I could take my career in. I’ve made lifelong friends and opened doors in a different country, tried Guinness Beer and eaten fish ‘n’ chips without chicken salt. I’ve worked on a Gold Medal winning garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and had the opportunity to explore the wonders and secrets of Kew Gardens. Experiencing Horticulture in a new world at such a young age is so encouraging and empowering for myself, to know that people still care about Horticulture and it’s importance, especially in today’s world.
Thank you to everyone who’ve supported me and encouraged me throughout this journey, thank you to other BBM awardees for the advice and tips which helped me prepare. Graham Ross, John Mason, Andrew Fisher Tomlin and Kate Grace are such extraordinary people who really do care about encouraging young people in Horticulture, I recommend any future awardees to get in contact with them or please don’t hesitate to contact myself!
Again, I would like to give my biggest thanks to BBM Youth Support and Mayfield Gardens, my confidence has skyrocketed and the experience I’ve gained has changed the way I now look at my future, although I do know for sure that Horticulture will play a massive part in it.