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Kew Modular Certificate in glasshouse display practices: Palm House

One of the specimens Masson brought back from South Africa was the Eastern Cape giant cycad - the world's oldest pot plant - which can still be seen growing in Kew's Palm House.
Encephalartos altensteinii in the Palm House

Course duration:

Option 1 - October to December
Option 2 - January to March

Introduction:

The Palm House 

The Palm House is one of Kew’s most iconic and historic buildings and is home to its rainforest display. Built between 1844 and 1848, the house is planted as one habitat, the tropical rainforest. Plants are displayed in three geographical regions:

  • Americas in the centre of the house,
  • Africa in the south wing
  • Australasia in the north wing.

The planting simulates the multi layered nature of a rainforest with canopy palms and trees above understorey plants.

The main collections located in the Palm House are:

  • palms, nearly 10% of the world’s palms are grown in an area just under 2000m2
  • cycads including possibly the oldest pot plant in the world (Encephalartos altensteinii)
  • woody tropical plants including many fruiting trees (Carica papaya, Annona muricata, Eugenia uniflora, Theobroma cacao, Musa spp.) and flowering shrubs
  • tropical climbers including the amazing Jade Vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys) and Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia ringens)
  • tropical herbaceous plants such as Calathea, Ruellia, Neomarica, Zingiber and many others

The main aim of the display in the Palm House is to give visitors the experience of a rainforest without leaving London, as well as to educate about the fragility and threats to this unique ecosystem. The display also holds plants from all over the world which are threatened with extinction and is an important gene bank for some of the world’s rarest plants.

The various collections are also used by Kew’s science teams for DNA work to understand relationships between plants, as well as molecular studies or studies on plant products.

The Waterlily House

The Waterlily House was built in 1852 in a desire to display the giant waterlily, Victoria amazonica. This small display house is also managed by the Palm House team.

The display in the Waterlily House is a seasonal one which changes every year though the main attraction remains the giant waterlily as well as numerous colourful varieties of Nymphaea.

Available options:

Option 1: October to December

After the main growing season in the spring and summer, the autumn period involves pruning back may of the plants to remove excess growth and allow more light back into the understorey layer.

During this period skills learned include:

  • daily manual irrigation including correct amount for specific plants and monitoring
  • weekly manual fertilisation including spotting chlorosis, mixing feeds and monitoring conductivity
  • general display maintenance including small pruning, thinning out, leaf picking
  • pest and disease management using Integrated Pest Management (mixture of cultural, biological and chemical controls)
  • high level pruning using cherry pickers
  • dismantling of Waterlily house display

​Option 2: January to April

The winter months are some of the busiest in the Palm House’s calendar and involve creating the appropriate conditions for the plants to flourish in the season ahead. It also sees the planting of the Waterlily house after the winter break.

During this period skills learned include:

  • daily manual irrigation including correct amount for specific plants and monitoring
  • weekly manual fertilisation including spotting chlorosis, mixing feeds and monitoring conductivity
  • general display maintenance including small pruning, thinning out, leaf picking
  • pest and disease management using Integrated Pest Management (mixture of cultural, biological and chemical controls)
  • mulching of Palm House beds to replace organic matter and suppress weeds
  • planting of the Waterlily house including filling beds with soil, planting in beds, irrigation system set up as well as pond work including preparation of the pond for planting, planting a variety of waterlilies and other aquatics

Underpinning knowledge:

Both options will provide underpinning knowledge regarding the Palm House itself. This will be done via tours and will look at how the environment within the Palm House is created and maintained (building structure, heating system, venting system, irrigation system, misting system), the history of the building (reasons for its creation, plant collecting, the restorations…) as well as an overview of the collections and display.

Course work:

Candidates will be required to undertake an in-depth Horticultural Management report on an area within the Palm House.

Eligibility:

Candidates must have at least 6 months practical experience in a professional horticultural environment and must be able to communicate in both written and spoken English.

In order to attend these courses at Kew, students from outside the European Economic Area will need to apply for a visa from the UK Border Agency to enter the UK.

Cost and Application:

See information on cost and application