A Journey in Horticulture
Charlotte Gale, 2018 Horticulture Scholar
Before the trip
Planning my trip to the UK sounded like it was going to be a lot easier than it was. I was surprised how hard it was to get someone to want to have an extra helping hand for free. Nevertheless I was still able to send 100 ignored emails before finally getting some replies. With the help of Andrew Fisher-Tomlin, I secured 2 weeks in Wales with onsite accommodation. I then managed to score a week in Norwich at the John Innes centre at Grace Scott’s recommendation, and a week at a private garden in Bath. With placements set, new itinerary updated, and everything paid for, I was ready to start packing and head on my way.
After landing in England safe and sound, I spent the week fighting jet lag through visiting the local gardens and tourist points like the Maidstone Museum. I saw many beautiful landscapes such as Mote Park. This week I was able to spend catching up with my British family and was able to create new memories with my (since passed away) Grandad, which I will cherish forever.
At the Maidstone Museum they had a recycled materials display on, where artists used “rubbish” to create figures of endangered or extinct animals. This was important for me to see as I am hoping to try and make an impact on the world, and the ways we as humans are affecting it negatively.
This week was my biggest week for personal development. By driving well over 1200 miles (2000km) through new countries with tiny, tiny (did I say TINY!?) lanes I learnt that that when thrown into a stressful situation alone, I cope much better than when I subconsciously know that I have a safeguard just one phone call away. If I got stranded in the UK I just knew I’d get to my destination eventually (or easily just find a new one) so why stress about being lost? It made everything much easier, and I have been able to take this clear mindedness back home with me. Small confidence boosts like eating alone in takeout places or fancy restaurants, and realising it really just does not matter at all were huge milestones in my personal growth. By being in new situations and having to face them alone I was able to overcome many irrational hesitations that I used as excuses to not do things previously.
After driving my way back down through Scotland, I arrived at my accommodation at the Bath University. Due to start my placement on the Monday, I was concerned that I still hadn’t received a reply to my confirmation email asking about times and the exact address. I then started trying to get in contact with either the owner of the garden or the woman (Helen) who organised it for me, upon which I was basically told that it just wasn’t going to happen. Helen felt so bad for letting me down she offered to take me to the East Lambroke Manor Garden. Here I was able to learn about the history of the garden and about the amazing woman, Margery Fish, who started it in the 1940’s. On our way to the Manor Garden, Helen took me past the garden I was supposed to have my placement at.
John, the owner, is well into his 90’s and had simply not put it into his calendar and isn’t good with checking his phone and emails. Fortunately we were able to organise a day for me to come in and learn from him.
John’s garden has been based off of letting plants grow naturally and without chemicals. He uses compost to feed his plants or cow/horse manure and he would “rather have a few weeds than spray poison”. When John and his wife first moved in there was a pool in their yard which they didn’t want. He had the ingenious idea to turn it into a pond which is now a beautiful habitat for the native wildlife. He created a floating plant display out of old car roof racks, with ropes attached so they can be pulled in for maintenance. It was so refreshing to be able to speak to someone from an older generation who isn’t set in the typical mindset of over using chemicals and lets the garden grow on the wilder side to encourage native wildlife.
Helen then took me to the East Lambroke Manor Garden and gave me a private tour of it and explained how it was created by Margery Fish in 1938. It was here that she developed her own style of gardening, combining old-fashioned and contemporary plants in a relaxed and informal manner to create a garden of immense beauty and charm. Margery Fish was an amazing woman who maintained this garden almost completely alone as the Second World War had made labor scarce and expensive, and it was no longer a reality to have paid teams of gardeners. She used low maintenance plants to make this possible and strove to make things grow in cracks and crevices to add features. She planted things in areas they would thrive, working with the natural landscape such as the stream that ran along the back of the property. She also used plants that would self-seed and spread. It was a fascinating day to see her now Heritage Listed garden still thriving and based off her important concepts of which I hope to implement into my designs.
To make up for the days I missed, I met up with my cousin, Terry, in Gloucester to learn how he makes seed bombs to spread wild flowers. He uses them with children in the community through his local school to help encourage the younger generation into plants and pollinators. Together we selected some seeds and garden soil, added water to the soil, molded them into balls and pressed the seeds into the middle. We then went to a local park and threw them along the edges. By having the seeds already in their own soil ball you give them a better chance of germinating and sprouting.
He also explained how children love the idea of playing with dirt and throwing things so it’s an ideal process to get them involved. This is something that I would love to start doing back in Australia as it is so cheap and simple, whilst also being educational.
I also spent a day with Grace Scott in Nottingham helping her with her cotton experiment. I got to measure the chlorophyll content, height and leaf quantity on her plants and ask a million questions about the experiment. It was insightful to see how this award has positively affected her life after her trip and has enabled her to achieve everything she has.
After my week in Bath I moved onto the Royal Botanical Garden of Wales for 2 weeks. Here I was hosted by Will Ritchie and I was set the task of replenishing the soil in sections of their great glass house and boulder garden. This meant removing the top layer of gravel and sieving it from the soil, removing the old soil and then adding new soil and compost before the gravel could be re-laid on top. I also was involved in pruning and planting new specimens into the gardens. The work I undertook here really showed how much time and energy goes into maintaining such a huge garden that is nearly 20 years old now.
They also gave me the opportunity to shadow one of their Botany students. Her work was in DNA, bar-coding honey and wildflowers to decipher which plants their native bees actually prefer. Through work like this performed by scientists, I can use research to better design gardens that help our native pollinators. Without this experience I wouldn’t have known work like this was being done, and now I can use it to bring our industry a better understanding on which plants we should stock in our nurseries and place into gardens.
After several weeks away exploring the UK and experiencing horticulture I was keen to get into the John Innes Research Unit to get a firsthand look into plant science. I was hosted by Simon Orford who went above and beyond for me, making sure that I got to see every aspect of their institute as well as giving great tips on places to visit in Norwich. I began my placement in their tunnel houses helping their seasonal workers to harvest barley, wheat and oat seeds. I learnt how to differentiate between variations in each individual plant’s seed head and learnt how those variations came about through selective breeding and different locations.
Simon organised for me to have a tour of their research labs and have a look at how their production system works for the scientists who need different pots and soils ordered and made up for their experiments. He also organised an afternoon with their Department of Technology where I got to sit in on a Q&A for a student who was asked to do a presentation to a school group about plants. It was interesting learning how they would approach teaching a school group in a way that would be engaging but not overwhelming for the children. I was then given the task to research and find typically male dominated companies/services that have women working for them, and reach out to them about the Women in Trades event they were organising. As a young female who has always worked in male dominated industries, this was inspiring to know that there will be big changes in stereotypes for young girls. This will help encourage them to join a trade they love without the fear of being ostracised.
Simon also set me up doing my own data recording with measuring the length of spikelets in wheat and counting how many flowers it had. I was able to ask questions and add my own theories and spin on how it was done and what the outcomes could be. The point of this data is to back up the work they are doing of adding DNA from the original wheat species, into the current wheat crops we have today. By doing so they hope to create better yields from plants that require less fertiliser and watering.
Since returning to Australia I have felt like I have a much clearer mind for my future. I feel more confident in my abilities and inspired to make change. Several people over the course of my journey commented how I fit straight in and they believe that my voice will be heard in the years to come. I feel honoured and am still in disbelief that I was given an opportunity such as this, and I will treasure the memories forever. I hope to ignite passion and knowledge in others the way that my hosts were able to in me. I am so appreciative to BBM and my hosts and I thank you all for allowing me to undertake such a life changing journey.