Introducing Kew's Alpine Nursery and the people who care for the plants
By: Graham Walters - 14/10/2010
Find out about what goes on in the Alpine Nursery at Kew Gardens. Follow Graham Walters, the team leader of of the Nursery, behind the scenes and meet the people who care for the wonderful plants grown there.
So, as Richard said in his introduction, the Alpine Nursery is tucked away behind the scenes at the north end of the Gardens at Kew. It’s located in an area called the Melon Yard where, surprise surprise, they used to grow melons. Now it’s rather different and houses three separate nursery areas; one supporting the work of the Jodrell Laboratory, another growing all the bedding and decorative plants that brighten areas such as the Palm House Parterre, the Duke's Garden and the Queen's Garden and then our nursery.
A view of the Alpine Nursery
The Alpine Nursery has three different types of structure. There’s a large glasshouse split into five separate zones which is heated just enough to keep the frost away in the depths of winter. Next, there’s a group of polythene tunnels covering plunge beds filled with sand and finally a couple of structures which are a little unusual. Imagine two large glasshouses with the sides and ends removed to leave just the roofs, underneath which are raised beds and mobile benches.
Plants protected from winter rain
We also have a separate area, the Alpine Yard, hidden behind the School of Horticulture with traditional brick frames and old-fashioned glasshouses (no computer-control here). Here we grow some shade-loving plants, but the real star of the show is the bonsai collection. This is diligently tended by our specialist, Richard Kernick, who looks after many attractive and aged trees which are displayed in rotation in the Bonsai House.
Hidden behind the School of Horticulture is the Alpine Yard
Back in the Melon Yard, Jeremy Broome oversees the bulbous collections and has special responsibility for a very nice group of Mediterranean plants. Sue Skinner looks after a variety of bulbs and alpines including large groups of campanulas, saxifragas, roscoeas and sempervivums. Kit Strange mainly tends bulbous plants along with some moist shade lovers. She has a large collection of alpines at home and also gives lectures to local Alpine Garden Society (AGS) groups and organises an AGS show every year north of London. Alina Syed is responsible for propagating material for the Rock Garden and likes to experiment with different techniques. And then there's me, Graham Walters. I oversee the whole nursery and have a special responsibility for growing cushion plants such as dionysias and androsaces.
Alpine nursery staff.
Back row: Graham Walters, Richard Wilford, Jeremy Broome
Middle row: Kit Strange, Alina Syed, Sue Skinner
Front row: Richard Kernick
Next time I’ll tell you more about the different parts of the nursery and our day to day activities. See you then.
- Graham -
Several people contribute to the Alpine and Rock Garden Team blog. Richard Wilford is the Collections Manager in the Hardy Display Section at Kew. His responsibilities include all the areas where alpines are grown at Kew Gardens. The three team leaders, Joanne Everson, Graham Walters and Katie Price, each have their own particular parts of the Gardens to look after. Between them, these four experts have over 55 years experience of growing alpines.
Alpines at Kew Gardens are not only grown to create colourful and informative displays, they also play an important role in the research Kew carries out around plant naming, classification, biodiversity and conservation.
Mountains are found on every continent and each range has its own unique alpine flora, but these plants are under threat from climate change. As temperatures rise, alpines are forced higher and will eventually have nowhere to go. The alpine collections at Kew are studied to help us all understand the mountain flora better and make informed decisions about protecting its future.
"Probably the most beautiful glasshouse in the world is the Davies Alpine House at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew", John Hoyland, Gardens Illustrated, April 2011
Richard Wilford has written a book on alpines, 'Alpines from Mountain to Garden', published by Kew Publishing. You can buy it in the Kew shops or from Kewbooks.com.
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