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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Bluebells in Kew's natural area

By: Anthony Hall - 23 May 2013
Few floral sights in late spring can better a mass of bluebells carpeting a woodland floor.
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Photo of bluebell woodland in Kew's natural area

Bluebell woodland in Kew's natural area (Image: Tony Hall)

With the cooler temperatures earlier this year, the bluebells here at Kew are a good two to three weeks later this year then they are normally, and still looking really good. The British native bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, has been protected since 1998 by schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act which makes it illegal to collect plants or seeds in the wild. Hyacinthoides non-scripta are relatively common in the UK but not worldwide. The UK has up to 50% of the world's population. 

Photo of the UK's native bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta

Our native bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta (Image; Tony Hall)

 Our bluebell wood here at Kew is situated in the south-west corner of the gardens (map reference B4 - Map of Kew Gardens) and, with the bluebells now in full flower, is definitely a sight to behold! Especially with the dappled sunlight shining through the early canopy of broad leaved trees, the habitat they usually favour.

The native bluebell is under threat from the Spanish bluebell, Hyacinthoides hispanica, which is a lovely plant in itself but, unfortunately, it hybridises with our native, creating the vigorous hybrid Hyacinthoides x massartiana, which also sets viable seed, thus increasing its spread.

It's fairly easy to distinguish between the different species as they have very distinct characteristics.

The native or common bluebells have a drooping flower spike with the flowers distinctly on one side. The petals are rolled back, it has pale cream-coloured anthers, and has a strong, sweet fragrance, especially on warm days. The flowers are deep violet-blue though also, though more rarely, come in white and pink forms.

Photo of the flower spike of our native bluebell with pale-cream anthers and rolled back petals

Photo of the flower spike of our native bluebell with pale-cream anthers and rolled back petals

Flower spike of our native bluebell with pale-cream anthers and rolled back petals (Images: Tony Hall)

The Spanish bluebell, by contrast, has a very upright flower spike, with flowers arranged on all sides of the stem, pointing outwards. The flowers are also usually a lighter blue than our native bluebell, with a more open bell-shaped flower. They are unscented and, significantly, they have blue anthers.

Photo of a Spanish bluebell

Spanish bluebell, Hyacinthoides hispancia showing blue anthers (Image: Tony Hall)


Photo of the white form of Spanish bluebell.  

Photo of the pink, Spanish bluebell.

White and pink forms of Spanish bluebell (Images: Tony Hall)

The hybrid form, although it shares characteristics with both species, has a drooping flower spike as in the native, but with a more open flower - like the Spanish species. It is only slightly scented and has greeny-blue anthers.

Photo of the hybrid bluebell

Hybrid bluebell, Hyacinthoides x massartiana, with greeny-blue anthers (Image: Tony Hall)

Photo of bluebells in Kew's natural areas

Carpet of bluebells in Kew's natural areas (Image: Tony Hall)

With the bank holiday almost upon us, it's a great time to visit and see this wonderful display before it disappears for another year!

- Tony - 


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Tags: fragile | rich | the UK | woodland

1 comment on 'Bluebells in Kew's natural area'

New trees for Kew's historic vistas

By: Tony Hall - 29 Apr 2013
The arboretum team have been out planting some new trees along Kew's historic vistas. This is to ensure they are maintained for generations to come.
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Every year in the Arboretum we plant around sixty new young trees. These are to replace old trees lost and also to add diversity to Kew's tree collection, which currently numbers around 14,000 individual trees. Most of these are grown in our own Arboretum nursery, as seed raised plants, from natural source, meaning they are grown from seed legally collected in the wild, and from seed donated from other botanic gardens and arboreta around the world. We also grow many from vegetative material i.e. grafts and cuttings.

Usually the trees are small and easily manageable, requiring only normal hand tools to lift, move and to plant them.

ARB_Arboretum nursery  

Plants lined out in the Arboretum nursery for future plantings (Image: Tony Hall)

ARB_Newly planted young tree

Newly planted young tree in Arboretum (Image: Tony Hall) 

We also plant much larger trees, bought in from UK nurseries. These trees are usually around 10-15 metres tall and weigh around three tonnes.

Over the last ten years we have been replanting some of the gaps left from losses of mature trees that grew along our historic vistas which were designed by William Nesfield and originally planted in the mid-1800s.

The vistas make up a triangle consisting of Syon vista, lined with evergreen holm oaks, Cedar vista, the longest of the three vistas, lined with cedars, and Pagoda vista, lined with deciduous pairs of trees, with a secondary vista of cedars.

The old photo below shows the original planting of the Pagoda vista, planted with its matched pairs of broadleaved trees flanked with a secondary planting of cedars (Cedrus deodara), and showing the old tea pavilion, top right, which was burnt down by the suffragettes in 1913! On that spot now stands the Pavilion restaurant.

ARB_Old Pagoda vista image

Original planting on part of Pagoda vista, late 1800s (Image: RBG Kew)

This year we are strengthening the 850 metre-long Pagoda vista. The large tree being planted here is an American tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera.

ARB_Before planting_vista       

Part of Pagoda vista showing area needing new vista trees (Image:Tony Hall)

  ARB_JCB digging hole for tree planting

Jerry and his JCB, helping out with tree planting! (Image: Tony Hall)

We decide the previous year which areas need replanting and then source the trees from large tree nurseries. Deepdale Trees is our main supplier, they will find what we need and then grow them on for us until we are ready to plant.

Unlike our normal tree planting, which is all done by hand, big trees call for big machines, so from digging the hole to positioning the tree it is all done with machines. These easily cope, making the job both quicker and less strenuous!

The large tree pits, though, are finished off by hand, ensuring the correct depth and final position of the tree.

ARB_Finishing large tree plantin hole by hand_vista

Arboretum staff Ed and Duncan hand-finishing a planting pit (Image: Tony Hall) 

ARB_New tree in place_vista

Tree in position, lined up along and across the vista (Image: Tony Hall)

Trees arrive on large lorries, usually two or three to a lorry depending on size.

ARB_Large tree delivery_vista

Vista tree delivered on articulated lorry (Image: Tony Hall)

They are then unloaded and delivered to their new home, to planting holes measured to exactly fit in, both with the tree opposite and those along the length of the vista.

ARB_Finished planted tree_vista

Happy in its new home - the finished job. (Image: Tony Hall)


ARB_Newly planted  line of trees on Pagoda vista

New vista trees strengthening the heritage landscape (Image: Tony Hall)

Once we are happy with the trees' positions, they can be back filled, have a new mulched circle, and take their place in the future history of Kew's vistas. Hopefully for generations to come.

- Tony -

5 comments on 'New trees for Kew's historic vistas'

Spanish Wildflowers In Spring

By: Tony Hall - 20 Mar 2013
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Every year I try to get away to the mountains of Andalusia between January and March, and have done so for the past ten years. I get a bit of winter sun, although there wasn't much of that this year, but more importantly I go to see the flora of this area.

The Mediterranean garden at Kew was designed as a result of my trips to Andalusia and when it flowers in our spring, I get a second spring!

I have a real passion for Narcissus and there are so many that flower in the early part of the year. I stay in a local friendly hotel, Hotel Dehesilla, situated in the mountains, close to many great walking locations. They are used to used to wet, slightly eccentric people looking at plants and birds!

Photo of the small yellow flowers of the daffodil (Narcissus baeticus)     Photo of the small yellow scented flowers on the daffodil (Narcissus jonquilla)

Narcissus baeticus                 The sweet-scented Narcissus jonquilla

These are just two of the many that flower at this time of year. Most are yellow, but there is also the small white-flowered paper white, Narcissus papyraceus, and the white hoop petticoat flowers of Narcissus cantabricus, as well as Narcissus tazettta, with its white 'petals' and orange cup.

Other early flowering bulbs include Muscari neglectum, the small blackish-blue grape hyacinth with its white edge, and Ornithogalum reverchonii, a rare Andalucian endemic.

Photo of small black-blue flowers of the grape hyacith (Muscari neglectum)    Photo of rare white flowered, Ornithogalum reverchonii

Grape hyacinth (Muscari neglectum)              Ornithogalum reverchonii

Southern Spain has been very wet this year, but still warm. This has meant that the spring season is ahead of where it should be. The Frittilaria below would not normally flower until April, but I found plants already in seed at the beginning of March.

Two other really attractive spring flowers are the Spanish periwinkle Vinca difformis and the Andalucian storksbill, Erodium recorderi which produces carpets of flowers in their thousands.

Photo of a mountain flower of Fritillaria lusitanica   Photo of a single flower, light blue flowered periwinkle, Vinca difformis

Fritillaria lusitanica              Periwinkle (Vinca difformis)

 Photo of Erodium recorderi

Andalusian storksbill (Erodium recorderi)

This is also a great time and place for orchids. They start to flower in February and with over thirty species, will continue right through the year, peaking around May.

Photo of the giant orchid, Barlia robertiana     Photo of the sombre orchid, Ophrys fusca

The giant orchid (Barlia robertiana)      The sombre orchid (Ophrys fusca)

I always try to visit local Botanic gardens when I'm abroad and on this trip I visited a new garden for me, the Jardin Botanico de Cactus y otras Suculentas.

Once a private collection, now open to the public, this botanic garden is close to the Natural Park, the Sierra de las Nievesand has over 2,500 species from around the world.

The Botanic Garden of Malaga is another wonderful garden to visit. Again, once a private residence from 1855 it changed hands in 1911 and was purchased by the city in 1990 and opened to the public in 1994. It has some of the best trees I have seen in any botanic garden. If you ever have a few hours to spare before a flight, it is only 10 minutes from the airport by car, with free parking.

Image of the Succulent Botanic Garden in Casarabonela.     Image of the entrance to Malaga botanic garden

The Botanic Garden of Cactus and other succulent plants          Malaga Botanic Garden

A trip to the mountains in this area would not be complete without mentioning the fauna. Vultures and eagles are a common daily sight whilst out walking. Tarifa, the most southerly point in Europe in the province of Cadiz, is on the main migration route of birds and butterflies from Africa. With the wind in the right direction, thousands cross daily during spring, heading for various destinations in Europe.

   Wild Spanish Ibex grazing on a hillside.  Image of a butterfly the Spanish festoon

Wild Spanish Ibex                                              Spanish Festoon

If you are really lucky you may spot some of the Spanish ibex (wild mountain goats) or if you are extremely lucky the rare mountain Lynx.

I have been fortunate to find their tracks, but look forward to seeing one in the flesh! 

- Tony Hall -



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2 comments on 'Spanish Wildflowers In Spring'

Kew's blackout trees

By: Anthony Hall - 20 Feb 2013
During the blackout in the Second World War, the edges of kerbs and some kerbside trees around Kew were painted white to help drivers find their way. Over sixty years later some trees on the Kew road still show traces of that time!
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Even though I have worked at Kew for nearly fourteen years, I am always coming across new historical facts. Recently a colleague of mine in the Arboretum asked me if I knew anything about the blackout trees on the Kew road! I didn't but was so intrigued I decided to try and find out more.

I came across a few articles on the subject, many showing old photographs and one in particular from the late Fifties showing some of the trees along the Kew road. Many still showed signs of the white bands painted on them in 1945, during the blackout, and which were still very obvious as late as 1979, as you can see in photograph below.

 ARB_Blackout tree, lime.

 Common lime (Tilia x vulgaris) painted in 1945, photographed in 1979 (Photo: Nigel Hepper)

ARB_Blackout lime2013

  The same tree photographed in February 2013 

There are fewer old trees around due to the Great Storm of 1987 and losses to disease, but photographs taken in an article in 2006 clearly showed some trees with blackout paint still visible. So here we are in 2013 some 68 years after they were originally painted. 

ARB_Blackout Acer 2013                       ARB_Blackout Horse Chestnut 2013

 These two trees both show the white lines (somewhat faded) painted on during the blackout in the Second World War

ARB_Blackout walnut 2013

White lines painted on a black walnut tree

On the black walnut tree, above, the lines probably show up the best of all the trees which were painted along the Kew road. In fact the lines are much easier to see 'in the flesh' than in photographs.

There are seventeen trees which still show some signs of the blackout painting between Lion gate and Victoria gate, though some with only the faintest markings. This just goes to show how long the outer bark on some trees can persist and that, conversely, damage done today may take the tree decades to repair!

It would be great to hear if you know of any other trees with their blackout paint still visible.


- Anthony -

6 comments on 'Kew's blackout trees'

Snowy Kew

By: Anthony Hall - 24 Jan 2013
It may not have made it in time for Christmas but the snow arrived at Kew over the weekend, turning it into a winter wonderland.
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Here are some of the sights for those of you who couldn't get here or may have decided staying at home was a warmer option....

Photo of the snowy arboretum taken from high up in the Pagoda

Part of the Arboretum including the Temperate house, taken from the Pagoda.


Photo of the Pagoda at the end of a snowy vista with people enjoying a walk                 Photo of Kew Palace in the snow

The Pagoda and Kew Palace during the snow 


Lots of families braved the cold over the weekend to visit Kew as it was transformed by heavy snow. Among the dozens of snowmen being built by children and adults alike were glimpses of Spring just around the corner.

The Hamamelis bed along Victoria walk, close to the King Williams Temple, is looking spectacular at the moment, particularly with a light dusting of snow.

Bright yellow flowers of Hamamelis 'Kew Sunshine' topped with snow.

The fragrant bright yellow Hamamelis 'Kew Sunshine' topped with snow.


More used to the warm sunshine of the Mediterranean than freezing snow, the European palm (Chamaerops humilis) is very hardy and looks stunning in its winter coat.

Photo of snow-covered Chamaerops, the European palm close to the King Williams Temple

The European palm, Chamaerops humilis close to the King Williams Temple. 


Lots of birds rely on us for a helping hand during Winter, particularly in cold snaps. Regular supplies are left in these feeders attracting dozens of great tits, blue tits and coal tits as well as nuthatches, friendly robins and not so friendly parakeets.

Photo of a great tit feeding in a bird  feeder

A great tit, grateful for a free meal.

 Photo of bird footprints in the snow

Sometimes you don't always see the bird...


Finally, as I mentioned, there were lots of snowmen being built, but this was my favorite. I am reliably informed by one of our Friends of Kew that he was called Norman the snowman.

Photo of a life-sized snowman called Norman, sitting on a bench

Norman the Snowman chilling out... 

- Tony -



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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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