Arboretum team blog
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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.

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Magnificent magnolias in the Arboretum at Kew Gardens

By: Tony Hall - 27 Mar 2012
The wonderfully showy magnolias are in full flower, many dating back to the early 20th century. Colours range from pure white through to deep pinks with some flowers reaching over 20 cm across.
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Magnolias put on a spectacular show and draw you in from far away. They are magnificent flowering trees and shrubs that are native to South East Asia, Himalaya and from North America to Brazil.  They really stand out at a time of year when they have little competition.

Kew has over 250 magnolias across the Gardens. Many large trees dating back to the early 1900s. Most are grouped together in the main Arboretum, but they can be found close to the Main Gate, Victoria Gate and close by the Broad Walk. Fingers crossed, without any frost they should last a little while yet. 

Magnolia trees at Kew Gardens

On sunny spring days these spectacular magnolias are a wonderful sight, with their large flowers which stand out and draw you in from a long way off.

White flowered Magnolia in full flower.    Magnolia spengeri 'Diva' large pink flowers.

Magnolia sprengeri 'Diva' is a medium sized tree but can grow to over 10 m, with large fragrant pink flowers. The cultivar 'Diva' derives from a tree in Caerhays, Cornwall which came from the only Wilson seedling of this typical variety to survive. 

Magnolia quinquepeta x stellata 'Jane' Deep pink flowers of magnolia.   Magnolia x loebneri 'Leonard Messel' White starshaped magnolia flower.

Magnolia stellata is a variety of Magnolia kobus  it is slow growing and makes a medium sized shrub with fragrant starry shaped white flowers. A rare species in the wild, restricted to a small area in western Tokai, Japan. There are many excellent cultivars and crosses with M. stellata, like the deep pink flowers Magnolia quinquepeta x stellata 'Jane' above.

Magnolia cylindrica, large pink magnolia flowers.         
Magnolia cylindrica (above) is a rare large flowered large shrub, with wonderful pink flowers really standing out on their naked branches normally in April.

 Magnolia 'Kewensis with it's creamy pink striped flowers.

Magnolia 'Kewensis' (above) with it's striped underside to the flowers, one of the best clones of Magnolia salicifolia, originating at Kew.

These are just a few of the many magnolias at Kew Gardens. Magnolias are easy to grow, tolerant of most soil types, although they prefer good drainage they will also do well in clay soils. Magnolias grow to all sizes, so can even be grown in the smallest garden or patio.e.g. Magnolia stellata. They should ideally be sheltered from frost, which tends to catch the early ones out most years, damaging the flowers.

There are also the summer/autumn flowering evergreen magnolias, like M. grandiflora, with large creamy white fragrant flowers set against their glossy green leathery leaves. Magnolias are such a wonderful genus of showy flowering plants dating back millions of years.

- Tony -

1 comment on 'Magnificent magnolias in the Arboretum at Kew Gardens'

The arrival of spring in the Arboretum

By: Tony Hall - 22 Feb 2012
Colourful bulbs and scented flowering shrubs are brightening up the coldest days in Kew's Arboretum - with the promise of better things to come.
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There are already many colourful and wonderfully scented flowering shrubs and bulbs in this early part of spring.

Apart from brightening up our days, most of the early bulbs are a great source of nectar and pollen for bees and other insects - even the occasional, very early overwintering butterfly which bright sunny days can sometimes trick into thinking it's warmer than it really is. A red admiral butterfly was spotted in the Arboretum this year on the 27 January!  Queen bumble bees rely on  the early flowering shrubs and bulbs to feed themselves and the first of their broods.

Here are some of the highlights:

Yellow flowered winter aconites.    Large group of snowdrops             

Group of early flowering lilac coloured Crocus.

Some of the earliest flowering are the aconites, snowdrops, and some species of crocus. Here C. tommasinianus are soon to be followed by lots of daffodils and bluebells in May.

Red flowered Witch hazel Hamamelis 'Diane'    Witch hazel. Hamamelis 'Orange Peel'

The vibrant colours of just two of the many witch hazel cultivars.

Silk tassle bush. Garrya eliptica

The elegant and impressive long tassles of the male form of Garrya elpitica 'James Roof' '.

Sweet box in flower   Viburnum x bodnantense flower with hover fly feeding.

Fragrant shrub, Sweet box and Viburnum x bodnantense, brighten the coldest early spring days.

 Hellebore  in flower  Hellebore in flower

These are some of the many Hellebore seedlings raised from seed at Kew. The variety in their size and colour is amazing.

Spring morning, sunrise through the trees in the Arboretum.

Apart from flowers, you can't beat a crisp spring morning sunrise.

- Tony -


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New hollies for Kew's Holly Walk

By: Tony Hall - 15 Feb 2012
The Arboretum team continue the improvements to Holly Walk, planting new trees to ensure its future as a 'world's best' avenue of mature hollies.
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Looking after the Holly Walk

The Holly Walk at Kew has the largest number of mature holly cultivars in the world but in recent years some of the older specimens have started to go into decline. The main walk was given a bit of a makeover a few years ago, pruning some of the plants in an attempt to increase their vigour, decompacting the ground around them and giving them all a feed and mulch. This has already made a big difference but there were still gaps where we had lost a few trees over the years.

Visiting a holly nursery

Tony Kirkham (Head of the Arboretum), Susyn Andrews (a consultant horticulturist and taxonomist) and myself, Tony Hall, took a trip out to Highfield Hollies, a holly nursery in Hampshire, to choose some new plants for Kew's Holly Walk. We had a walk around the nursery, which has a very novel plant labelling system using recycled plastic bottles.

Blue bottle label showing cultivar name. 

Several cultivars of interesting hollies were selected. We chose about a dozen new and interesting plants and labeled them up for collection, to be transplanted to Holly Walk at Kew a few days later

Two of the Arboretum team lifting one of the hollies.   Laurent, Doris and Susan lifting variegated holly.

Trees on the move

The following week the Arboretum team headed off down to Highfield Hollies to collect the plants, which the team lifted from the nursery field.

Karen, Laurent, Simon and Chris carrying large holly.    Arboretum team loading hollies onto our van.

Getting them back to the van was a tricky operation, having to negotiate a steep slippery slope! 

New plants laid out on Holly Walk prior to planting 

 The trees lined out next to their new home, ready for planting. 

Sam and Susan planting small holly  Paul and Ed placing one of the new holies.

With the planting mostly done, we still have a few more trees to select at a later date to complete the Holly Walk revamp. But meanwhile these young new plants take us a step closer to completing our planned improvements.

Holly Walk covered in snow

Newly planted trees. Just in time!

- Tony -

Tags: spiky | pretty | ornamental | new | big

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The holly and the ivy

By: Tony Hall - 20 Dec 2011
Tony Hall tells tales of holly folklore and describes the amazing variety of colour to be seen along Kew's historic Holly Walk.
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This has been a great year for berries. Wandering down Kew's historic Holly Walk at this festive time of year, you can see some of the amazing variety of colours in both berries and leaves, as well as some of Kew's attractive ivies.

Red berries on common holly.    Ivy, Hedera helix

British natives: the common holly, Ilex aquifolium, and the ivy, Hedera helix


There is so much mythology and folklore associated with holly, from Christian links with Jesus and the crown of thorns in which the berries represent drops of blood, to stories of the Holly King in Celtic mythology. One of my favorites is that hollies were left uncut in old hedgerows, not only because it is supposed to be bad luck to cut down a holly tree, but also beacuse it stops witches running along the tops of hedges, as they were of course well known to do!

 Ivy hedge, surounding Palm house   Holly hedge and holly dumplings.

The holly hedge and dumplings behind the Palm House

There are many hollies around the garden, including the holly hedge and dumplings, planted in 1906, and those around the rose garden behind the Palm House. There is also an ivy hedge surrounding the Palm House. 

The hollies...

But it is along Holly Walk that we find most of the mature hollies laid out in 1874. Many of these trees are over 130 years old and are part of the largest collection of mature hollies in Europe. The majority of the hollies along Holly Walk are cultivars of the common holly, Ilex aquifolium and Ilex x altacerensis. Like the ones in the pictures below, they show a great variety of berry colour and leaf shape, and not all are spikey.

Yellow holly berries.  Ilex 'Frucu Luteo'  Ilex X altacerensis 'Gold King' varegated holly with red berries.
Image left: Ilex ' Frucu Luteo' Image right: Ilex x altacerensis 'Gold King'

... and the ivies

There are also some great looking ivies and again most of the more showy ones are cultivars:

 Hedera colchia, variegated ivy with berries.   Hedera 'Pennslyvanica' white veined ivy leaves
Left: Hedera  colchica 'Dentata Variegata'; Right: Hedera helix 'Pennsylvanica'

But we can't forget...

Even though the title of this blog is titled 'The holly and the ivy', when it comes to festive plants you must not forget mistletoe. Not a common plant at Kew, but another one most people associate with Christmas.  

 Mistletoe with berries on small crab apple tree
Mistletoe, Viscum alba 

Look out for my next blog in the new year, when the Arboretum team will be replanting many new hollies along Holly Walk, filling in gaps where we have lost trees the past, and adding more and different cultivars to keep this historic avenue growing for future generations.

- Tony -


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Tags: historical

2 comments on 'The holly and the ivy'

Visit to the Arnold Arboretum Boston, USA

By: Tony Hall - 05 Dec 2011
The Arnold Arboretum on America's east coast is renowned for its autumn colour and old trees. On a recent visit, Tony Hall delved into Kew's historic links with the arboretum, through plants and plant hunting.
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I recently had a wonderful visit to the Arnold Arboretum in Boston USA. 

     Arnold Arboretum  name plate at garden entrance

The grounds, consisting of 265 acres (107 hectares), are open free of charge to the public from sunrise to sunset 365 days of the year.

Boston from St Peters Hill.

View of Boston from the top of St Peters hill, the highest point in the arboretum

The main purpose of the trip was to look at their plant database with colleagues from IT and our Gardens Development Unit.  An Arboretum tour was included as well as a trip to Mount Auburn Cemetery on a day off, which also has some magnificent trees.

Hunnewell Visitor centre.

The Visitor Center in the Hunnewell Building also includes the library and offices and is close to the new Weld Hill research building.

Kew's links with Arnold Arboretum

The plant collections contain around 15,000 specimens and include many historic introductions, mainly from eastern Asia and by collectors such as Ernest Wilson Charles Sargent, Joseph Rock, and William Purdom. It is the great plant hunter Ernest Wilson who links Kew with the Arnold Arboretum. We both have plants from his original collecting trips to Hubei and Sichuan in China. Plants that are now common in gardens were new, rare and much sought after in the early 1900s.

Wilson trained at Kew in 1898 and was picked by Thistelton-Dyer, the then director, to go on a joint collecting trip for Kew and Vietch nurseries to Hubei in China between 1989-1902., and again from 1903-1905. He then left Kew to work for the Arnold Arboretum from 1906-1909 and collected for them in Sichuan province during 1910.

Some highlights

This is the original Heptacodium miconioides, with its wonderful peeling bark, showing the pink calyx long after the flowers have finished.

 Heptacodium micoioides showing calyx

Heptacaodium miconioides bracts

Another highlight was this Franklinia alatamaha, an American native, perhaps last seen in the wild in 1803 by the American collector, Lyon.

 Franklinia alatamaha in flower

Franklinia alatamaha in flower

During a wonderful tour around the arboretum with Michael Dosmann, the curator, we saw many great plants and trees and were introduced to many of his colleagues working in IT, the arboretum, and the nursery.

Autumn colour

The fall colour in this part of the east coast is legendary. But as here in the UK, this year has been a bit on and off and the autumnal reds were only just starting to show during our visit.

Acer x freemanii red leaves

Acer x freemanii in its stunning fall colours

Days out

On the Sunday we enjoyed two extra excursions. First stop was at the Harvard Museum of Natural History to see the Ware collection of glass models of plants! These were so realistic as to be almost unbelievable.

Glass flowers in cases.  Glass platanus leaves.

 After that it was on to Mount Auburn cemetery, America’s first landscaped cemetery consecrated  in 1831. This cemetery has some amazing trees among it's 5,000 mostly labelled specimens. Twenty-eight are state champions and 11 are New England champions.

 Old family tombs in the cemetery

Old family tombs in Mount Auburn Cemetery  

 We also saw lots of wildlife, including black squirrels - and even wolves! There were lots of amazing fungi too, including this strange looking Hercium sp.

 Weird looking Hercium fungi with spines underneath

Weird looking Hercium fungi with spines underneath

- Tony -

3 comments on 'Visit to the Arnold Arboretum Boston, USA'

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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.

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