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.
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.
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:
The common holy (Ilex aquifolium)
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.
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.
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.
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'.
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.
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!
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.
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:
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.
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
Garden tickets - Adults £14.50, concessions £12.50, kids 16 and under get in FREE (detailed ticket prices)
Opening times - the Gardens open daily at 9.30am (detailed opening times)
Location: Royal Botanic Gardens Kew Rd, Richmond, London, Surrey TW9 3AB (how to find us)
Garden map - Print out our handy Garden map (pdf)
Download the Kew Gardens App - available on iTunes and Google Play. Find out more about the app and its features.
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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.
The Mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia)
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.
The small showy white berries of Sorbus prattii collected in China.
The red berries of Sorbus alnifolia from Korea, covered in a white bloom, giving them a pink appearance.
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.
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.
Sorbus rehderiana. Its really large clusters of small orange berries make this species a target for birds stocking up for winter.
One of the best whites, Sorbus glabrescens, has large, smooth fruits.
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.
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
- Garden tickets - Adults £14.50, concessions £12.50, kids 16 and under get in FREE (detailed ticket prices)
- Opening times - the Gardens open daily at 9.30am (detailed opening times)
- Location - Royal Botanic Gardens Kew Rd, Richmond, London, Surrey TW9 3AB (how to find us)
- Download the Kew Gardens App - available on iTunes and Google Play. Find out more about the app and its features.
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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.
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.
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.
Asters are another group of autumn flowering perennials that come in the blue - red spectrum, and in white as well.
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.
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.
Agapanthus, the African lily
Agapanthus, the African lily from South Africa, is a late summer flowerer in hues of blue to purple and white.
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!
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"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 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 cone on Wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis)
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.
The first Wollemi seedling to germinate
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 Luke with the tallest of the Wollemis
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 -
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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:
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)
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 -
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Keep up to date with events and news from Kew
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.
The fruits of autumn at Kew Gardens: Like many "plant" lovers when I see something I am not familiar with I have to find out what it is. ... by: Miriam Hammond
The fruits of autumn at Kew Gardens: There is a sapling of Koelreuteria paniculata xpride of India planted in the Dean's garden at Canter ... by: Rama Sarkhel
Late summer flowers at Kew: The echinacea looks stunning with a glimpse of the Princess of Wales Conservatory behind it.. by: oak leaf
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