Arboretum team blog
RSS Feed for the blog Arboretum team blog

Arboretum team blog

Kew's Arboretum team is responsible for managing approximately 240 acres of the Gardens at Kew and all of the trees on site, including all tree planting.

The Arboretum is made up of predominantly woody collections of trees and shrubs, laid out taxonomically, with some herbaceous plantings which support these collections, mainly in the Woodland Glade. Key features in the arboretum are the Japanese landscape with the Chokushi-Mon, the Mediterranean Garden, the Rhododendron Dell and Berberis Dell, the bamboo collection with the Japanese Minka House and the Xstrata Treetop Walkway. Some of the key shrub collections include Caprifoliaceae, Oleaceae, Celastraceae and Rosaceae.

Sward management, management of the Natural Areas surrounding Queen Charlotte’s Cottage and the management of the Arboretum Nursery also fall under the direction of the Arboretum team, and will feature on this blog.

Donate now - help us look after our amazing gardens

A great year for berries

By: Anthony Hall - 12 Dec 2013
This has been a really good year for berries with the result that the hollies along Holly Walk are looking very festive.
  • Close

This has been a really good year for berries. Last month I highlighted some of the Sorbus varieties with their interesting range of berry colours.

The hollies along Holly Walk are also looking festive and some trees about 10 m tall are festooned with berries. The holly is in the genus Ilex and has the advantage of having many evergreen species and hybrids with lots of different leaf forms, as shown in the various photos below.

Kew's hollies

Ilex is a very large genus of trees and shrubs, both evergreen and deciduous. There are around 400 species from around the globe, from both temperate and tropical regions. At Kew we have more than 750 individual hollies, including 43 different species and hybrids. Some of the best of these are to be found growing along Holly Walk, and the oldest dates back to 1840.

The common holly, Ilex aquifolium, is a great native plant, providing nectar for insects as well as nest sites and winter food for birds. But horticulturally it has produced many cultivars and is one of the parents of Ilex x altaclerensis, a large tree with large leaves, flowers and berries. The other parent of this hybrid is Ilex perado. This cross has also produced many popular hybrids. Below are both of the parents:

Photo of Ilex aquifolium

The common holy (Ilex aquifolium)

Photo of Ilex perado

Ilex perado from Madeira

The cross between I. aquifolium and I. perado is thought to have been made sometime around the early eighteen hundreds. We have 23 different cultivars of this hybrid, with some fine tall specimens. 

Photo of Ilex x altaclarensis 'Camelliifolia'

Ilex x altaclerensis 'Camelliifolia'

Ilex x altaclerensis 'Camelliifolia' has generally spineless, glossy leaves with large berries and is a popular hybrid. It grows into a large tree.

Photo of Ilex altaclerensis 'Golden King'

Ilex altaclerensis 'Golden King'

Ilex altaclerensis 'Golden King' is one of the finest variegated hollies, possessing large, golden-edged leaves with dark red berries. It originally came from a sport in 1884 from a cultivar called 'Hendersonii', in a famous Scottish nursery, of the Lawson Company. 

Photo of Ilex aquifolium 'Silver Milkmaid'

Ilex aquifolium 'Silver Milkmaid'

Ilex aquifolium 'Silver Milkmaid', with its very wavy leaf margins, will brighten up even the dullest of winter days. This is an old cultivar, originally called 'Argentea Medio-Picta'.

Photo of Ilex aquifolium 'Fructu Luteo'

Ilex aquifolium 'Frutu Luteo'

Ilex aquifolium 'Frutu Luteo' is a cultivar with yellow berries, which really stand out against the green foliage and the more common red berries of other hollies.

Photo of Ilex aquifolium 'Ferox Argentea'

Ilex aquifolium 'Ferox Argentea'

Ilex aquifolium 'Ferox Argentea'.  The silver hedgehog holly, with its curious bands of spines on the leaf surface, is a male form and so does not produce berries, but makes up for that with its purple stems and attractive variegated leaves. There is also a green form called 'Ferox'. 

Many of the holly species are very different from the common British idea of a holly, with their spikey, spiny leaves. There are actually deciduous hollies!

Photo of Ilex dipyrena

Himalayan holly (Ilex dipyrena)

The Himalayan holly (Ilex dipyrena) is a majestic tree. Kew's specimen is over 10 m tall. Although this species rarely produces berries, it is still a stunning tree to look at. This specimen was already over 5 m tall in 1900.

As with many hollies including the common holly, the juvenile leaves of the Himalayan holly start off very spiny when the plant is young, but as the tree grows taller they become less so and eventually become spineless (entire). Spiny juvenile leaves are thought to be a defence against herbivores while the tree is young, that are not needed in later life. Some other trees do this as well i.e Quecus ilex, a Mediterranean oak with leaves that resemble those of a holly when young, but which become entire as the tree matures.

Photo of Ilex fargesii

Ilex fargesii

Ilex fargesii has long slender leaves which again look very un-holly like. Introduced in 1911 it will eventually make a large shrubby plant or small tree up to 5 m tall.

Finally two deciduous hollies: Ilex decidua and Ilex verticillata:

Photo of Ilex decidua    

Ilex decidua

Ilex decidua was a very early introduction to the UK, from SE USA in 1760. The orange to scarlet berries often persist until the new leaves come out the following year, around May.

    Photo of Ilex verticillata

 Ilex verticillata 

Ilex verticillata, the Winterberry, from E North America, has the added bonus of autumn colour. The yellow autumn leaves fall to further reveal the bright red berries. It was introduced even earlier, in 1736.

Both of these species have cultivars with yellow berries and with more abundant berries.

The joy of hollies

Hollies really are a very versatile plant, growing in almost all conditions of sun and shade, and on most soils. And they don't have to be like ours in Kew at over 10 m tall. They can fit into most gardens, with small, medium, dwarf and weeping varieties looking cheery throughout the winter months, with or without berries. They attract birds into the garden to feed on and nest in them, and the larvae of the small holly blue butterfly feed on all parts of the plant and the adults are often seen flying around the hollies later in the spring.

Though you will need both male and female plants to get the berries... !

- Tony -


Visit the Holly Walk at Kew Gardens

Book tickets button

0 comments on 'A great year for berries'

Sorbus for spectacular berry colour

By: Tony Hall - 01 Oct 2013
This year has been a bumper one for fruits and seeds. I have picked just one plant group - Sorbus - which not only produces spectacular coloured berries but is also a source of food for both our native and winter visiting birds.
  • Close

The genus Sorbus is more commonly known as Rowans and Whitebeams. It produces a wide variety of spectacularly coloured berries - brilliant whites, pinks, oranges and reds, with some quite large and almost apple-like fruits.

Many of the fruits we commonly eat are in the same family, Rosaceae. Apples, pears, plums, peaches and strawberries are all in this family, which of course also includes the roses with their colourful, fragrant, and sometimes edible fruits/hips.

Photo of Sorbus aucuparia

The Mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia)

Photo of Sorbus aria

The Whitebeam (Sorbus aria)

Above are two of our common native Rowans, easily distinguished by their different leaf forms. We also have Sorbus domestica and the Wild Service Tree, Sorbus torminalis. These have now been put into different genera, although in most publications they are still referred to as Sorbus.

We have many micro-species of Sorbus around the British isles. These all have red-orange berries although there are a few, rarer, yellow variants. In the wild - in places such as the moors of Devon or the highlands of Scotland - these trees look spectacular - multi-stemmed and covered in lichens.

Many of the most colourful species come from Asia. Here at Kew we have a good collection of these, with their striking berries. The main group grows close to the Japanese Gateway

Photo of Sorbus prattii

The small showy white berries of Sorbus prattii collected in China. 

Photo of Sorbus alnifolia

The red berries of Sorbus alnifolia from Korea, covered in a white bloom, giving them a pink appearance.

Photo of Sorbus latifolia

One of the larger-berried types, the golden berries of Sorbus latifolia in the subgenus aria, is from Central Europe and is also found in the UK.

Photo of Sorbus hupehensis
The lovely pink-fruited Sorbus huphensis is native to China and is one of the best pink varieties. This small tree also has good autumn colour.

 Photo of Sorbus rehderiana

Sorbus rehderiana. Its really large clusters of small orange berries make this species a target for birds stocking up for winter.

 Photo of Sorbus glabrescens

One of the best whites, Sorbus glabrescens, has large, smooth fruits.

Photo of Sorbus x Kewensis

Sorbus x kewensis

Sorbus x kewensis is a cross between the Chinese and European Rowans, Sorbus pohuashanesis x Sorbus aucuparia, and has large clusters of orange/red berries and, like many of the Rowans, is a really good small to medium sized tree for the smaller garden.

Sorbus is a really great genus of deciduous trees and shrubs with sizes to fit into most gardens. They are good all-rounders with attractive spring flowers, colourful berries which can persist until January, attracting wildlife into your garden, and many have really good autumn colour too. Sorbus commixta is probably the best for autumn colour, turning bright orange and red. 

Photo of a Waxwing on Sorbus

A migrant bird species, the Waxwing, that I was lucky enough to see feeding on Sorbus berries last year

And who knows, if you are really lucky, as well as our usual thrushes, blackbirds and starlings, you may see fieldfares, redwings and even waxwings feeding on the berries in your local park or garden.

- Tony Hall -


 Visit Kew Gardens

Book tickets button

0 comments on 'Sorbus for spectacular berry colour'

Late summer flowers at Kew

By: Tony Hall - 11 Sep 2013
Here at Kew Gardens, before the main autumn colour of leaves on trees and shrubs arrives, there is still a wonderful array of brightly coloured flowers to brighten up the shortening days.
  • Close

When you mention autumn colour, most people will think of the vivid yellows, reds and orange shades which our trees and shrubs turn as summer comes to an end. But before then, there's still a chance to see an amazing array of autumn flowering perennials here at Kew which, if anything, are even more brightly coloured than the foliage to come.

I have picked a few to ease you into autumn.

Photo of Rudbeckia deamii

Brilliant yellow Rudbeckias

Many of these late flowering plants are single flowered, great for bees and other insects as a late source of nectar. On warm days you will find them covered in a variety of bee species.

Photo of Echinacea tennesseenis

The cone flower, Echinacea

Echinaceas are from the eastern and central North American prairies. Their flowers come in  many different colours from white through to the deepest purples. 

Photo of Aster amellus


Asters are another group of autumn flowering perennials that come in the blue - red spectrum, and in white as well. 

Photo of Helimium autumnale

Helenium autumnale

The yellow Helenium autumnale above is, along with all the others shown so far, a member of Asteraceae, the daisy family. There are many more in this family that give all year round pleasure, but the autumnal ones are the most spectacular, providing a wonderful end of summer display in any border. 

Photo of Anenome 'Honorine Jobert'

Anemone 'Honorine Jobert'

This Japanese anemone with its pure white, single flowers on wiry stems is a great stand alone plant or can be used to brighten up a herbaceous border. It lasts for weeks flowering from August until well into October. 

Photo of Agapanthus

Agapanthus, the African lily

Agapanthus, the African lily from South Africa, is a late summer flowerer in hues of blue to purple and white. 

Photo of Kniphofia

Kniphofia, the Red Hot Poker or Torch lily

And lastly another hardy African perennial, Kniphofia, the Red Hot Poker or Torch lily, both common names being very apt. This is a great plant adding stature and form with many colours in the red-yellow spectrum and some plants standing 1.5 metres or more tall.

Most of these flowers can be seen in the Dukes garden, around the Grass garden, Rock garden and Order beds. And while you're in this area, check out the grasses which also look spectacular at this time of year.

So while you're waiting for the autumnal colours to arrive on our trees and shrubs, why not come to Kew and enjoy the brilliantly coloured perennials which will brighten up even the dullest of days.

- Tony - 


Tickets to Kew Gardens - adults £14.50, concessions £12.50, children 16 and under FREE!  

Book tickets button

1 comment on 'Late summer flowers at Kew'

UK's first Wollemi pines from seed

By: Tony Hall - 07 Aug 2013
In 2011 seed I collected from Wollemi pines growing at Kew were germinated in our Arboretum nursery, producing dozens of seedlings. Now, two years, on we have lots of new young plants to add to our collections.
  • Close

"The botanical find of the century"

In 1994 David Noble, a field officer for the National Parks and Wildlife Service Australia in the Blue Mountains area of Australia, discovered a small group of very large trees in a in remote canyon of the Wollemi National Park that were until then only known from fossil records. The new species was named Wollemia nobilis, the Wollemi pine.

Collecting the seeds

In September 1997 two plants were presented by the Hon. Mrs Pam Allan, New South Wales Minister for the Environment, to the then Director of Kew, Professor Sir Ghillean Prance. A further batch was sent to Kew in 2005 for hardiness trials and subsequently planted in the arboretum in 2008. Back in 2010 I noticed some of the Wollemi pines growing in the Arboretum were producing seed-bearing cones. I had meant to collect some of the seed in that year but missed the opportunity. Marking it in my diary for the following year, I managed to collect some seed in 2011. (A short article detailing the collection and germination of the seed was published in the Kew Scientist October 2011 issue.)

Wollemi pines on lake island.

Wollemi pine in the arboretum, at just over 4 metres - with me for scale.

25 Cones were produced on one individual in that year and six were collected and sampled for seed. The cones had an average of 187 seeds in them although seed viability was generally low at just over 10%.

Ripe Wollemi pine cone.

Ripe cone on Wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis)


Wollemi pine seed.

Some of the collected seed prior to sowing. 

Sowing the seed

The seeds were sown in batches from each cone in the Arboretum nursery,  which is where all of Kew's woody temperate propagation is carried out, by my nursery manager Andrew Luke. Germination of the Wollemi pine seed started at 42 days. We didn't sow all of the seed: the bulk of it was sent to the Millennium Seed Bank for storing.

Germination of Wollemi pine seed

The first Wollemi seedling to germinate

Young Wollemi pines.

Small group of two year old Wollemi pines

Germinating the trees

The seedlings pricked out and potted on have now given us lots of new young plants to join the others in our collections and, hopefully, in time they will grow as large as those in the wild.


Andrew with Wollemi pine    

Andrew Luke with the tallest of the Wollemis

  Maturing Wollemi pine bark.

    Typical bubbly coco pop-like maturing bark

Some of the original Wollemi pines planted in the gardens are doing really well, growing approx 1 metre per year, with a small group of five all around 6 metres tall, the tallest being 6.3 metres. These original trees were part of hardiness trials carried out at Kew between 2005 and 2007, with the trees being planted out in the Arboretum after the trials had finished. The ones being planted in lower pH areas are doing the best.

Where to see them

You can see a specimen Wollemi pine in front of the Orangery restaurant at map reference 5-O on the Kew Gardens map (pdf). It is in a protective cage and was planted by David Attenborough.

- Tony - 


Book tickets for Kew Gardens


3 comments on 'UK's first Wollemi pines from seed'

The Kew diploma's 50th anniversary

By: Tony Hall - 26 Jun 2013
Strolling round the Chelsea Flower Show in this, its centenary year, I bumped into more ex-Kew Diploma students than ever before, broadcasting, writing, designing and building, and it made me realise what a huge contribution the diploma has made not only to gardening in the UK but around the world.
  • Close

Chelsea Flower Show's centenary

This year's Chelsea Flower Show was more special than usual, being its centenary. It is 100 years since CFS was founded and it certainly rose to the occasion:

Photo of the Brewin Dolphin Show garden

The Chelsea Flower show garden I would have most liked to take home: the Brewin Dolphin Garden deservedly won a gold medal. (Photo: Tony Hall)


Photo of the tree root exhibit, East Malling Research

I found the exhibit in the Great Pavilion from East Malling Research of tree roots amazing. (Photo: Tony Hall) 

The Kew diploma's fiftieth birthday

But as I strolled around admiring the exhibits, I was also aware that this year is the 50th anniversary of the Kew diploma. Time goes so fast and students come and go, but every year when I meet them at Chelsea, it gives me the opportunity to find out what they have done since graduating. Over the years ex-Kew students have designed gold-winning show gardens in their own right, and many work with the designers, helping with the builds. Many old students travel from around the country to attend the show, and some even fly in from around the world.

Haven't they done well?

One of the best-known ex-Kew students, through his work on television and heading the TV coverage of the Chelsea flower show, is Alan Titchmarsh who studied at Kew as part of course 7 in 1969-1971.

Alan Titchmarsh and fellow TV presenters

Alan Titchmarsh and fellow presenters. (Photo: Tony Hall)

Greg Redwood, a student in 1984-1986 (course 22), is now the head of the Great Glass House section at Kew, which includes the School of Horticulture. Greg is also a senior RHS judge. Course 22 also included garden designer Dan Pearson, who has designed show gardens at Chelsea.

Photo of Greg Redwood, Head of the School of Horticulture and RHS judge

Greg Redwood, head of the School of Horticulture at Kew and RHS judge. (Photo: Tony Hall)

Through the past five decades, students have come to study at Kew from all around the world, some taking their expertise back to their mother country, while others have continued to travel, working on different continents. Some names that will be familiar to many are:

  • Tony Kirkham (course 16: 1978-1980), now Head of the Arboretum at Kew, an author, television presenter and member of the RHS woody plant committee.
  • Matt Biggs (course 21: 1983-1985), TV presenter, author, lecturer and panelist on Radio 4's Gardeners' Question Time.
  • Tom Hoblyn and Alys Fowler, who studied both with the Royal Horticultural Society and at Kew (course 36: 1998-2000). Tom is a landscape and garden designer and has won three gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show and Hampton Court. Alys has been a presenter on BBC Gardeners' World and more recently presented the BBC series the Edible Garden and is a respected writer. 

Photo of ex-Kew diploma student, Gavin Meggy

Gavin Meggy (on the right), ex-Kew diploma student, now working for a landscape designer. (Photo: Tony Hall)

Gavin Meggy was a student on course 43 (2005-2008), and is here explaining some of the concepts of the Sustainability Garden designed by Sallis Chandler Landscape Designers which he was helping to build in the Great Pavilion. Gavin also lectures on garden design on the diploma course 

Photo of Emma Crawforth ex- Kew diploma student

Emma Crawforth, sub-editor of Gardeners' World magazine. (Photo: Tony Hall)

Emma Crawforth was a student on course 44 (2006-2009). She was at the show, getting ideas for  coverage of the show by Gardeners' World magazine.  

Old photos

Photo of Kew diploma students course one, 1966        

Students on the original Kew Diploma course back in 1966, wearing very smart suits - I'm sure it would have only been for the photo! (Photo: Kew Archives)

In the School of Horticulture at Kew are all of the group photographs going back to the one above, which shows the original student course in 1966. It is really good to look back through these and see just how many students are now, or have been, influential in their roles. Many are curators of botanic gardens, working as head gardeners on large estates and famous gardens, or are writers, lecturers or work in many, many other roles. I have only mentioned a few.....

This year's crop

And so to course 50 and this year's 14 keen young students.

 Photo of the current students on course 50

The newest Kew Diploma intake, course 50.

Some come with solid horticultural backgrounds already, but all are here to continue their learning, before going off into their own, no doubt exciting, careers.

Here's to the next 50 years of the Kew Diploma!

- Tony Hall -


Related links

0 comments on 'The Kew diploma's 50th anniversary'

Page  1  | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5  of 5  
Displaying 1 to 5 of 24 posts  

Follow Kew

Keep up to date with events and news from Kew

Sign up to Kew News

About us

The Arboretum team blog includes stories about individual plants growing at Kew, information about the growing techniques that we use, and reports on our field trips to see woody plants growing in their natural habitats. You can also find out how we look after Kew's renowned world plant collections.

  • If you’d like to publish material from this blog in a separate publication, please get in touch with Kew’s Press Office at See our full Terms & Conditions here.

Follow Kew on twitter

Sourced from @KewGardens

View this blog