Growing IncrEdibles in Kew’s Decorative Nursery

By: Ginny Malmgren - 07/06/2013

Part of Kew's IncrEdibles festival is the 'Vegetable Medley' on the Palm House Parterre which is being prepared by the Decorative Nursery team.

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Some highlights

Over 13,500 plants are currently in the glasshouse for the Palm House Parterre alone – all grown from seed in our nursery. Each of the plants being grown for the festival requires different growing conditions, for example:

Bell peppers (the cultivar we are growing is Capsicum annuum ‘Topepo Rosso’) require very high temperatures to germinate. We have found that emergence of the cotyledons happens fastest when we can get the soil temperature up to about 30°C. To achieve this we put the seed trays on our heated bench inside large propagation cases with the lids shut so that heat cannot escape.

Celeriac and celery both originate from the species Apium graveolens which naturally thrives in boggy conditions and so we have made sure these plants get plenty of water. Cultivars that will be on display in the Parterre are A. graveolens subsp. rapaceum ‘Prinz’ and A. graveolens ‘Victoria’.

Other plants such as aubergines (Solanum melongena) need to be kept on the drier side, particularly with the coir-based growing medium that we use. Three cultivars will be on show in the Parterre bedding this year: ‘Giotto’, ‘Ivory’ and ‘Slim Jim’.

Leeks need a long growing period if they are to make any impact in the bedding display and so these were the first seeds to be sown in February. The cultivar we have chosen – Allium ampeloprasum var. porrum ‘St. Victor’. This particular cultivar has a beautiful purple tinge to its leaves and is decorative as well as delicious.

Joanna Bates watering

 Joanna Bates watering newly potted on runner beans with celeriac and kohl rabi in the foreground (Photo: Ginny Malmgren)   

Capsicum annuum ‘Super Chilli’ has lived up to its name and has romped away and is definitely ready to be planted out in the Parterre.

Capsicum annuum ‘Super Chilli’ 

Capsicum annuum ‘Super Chilli’ growing in the Decorative Greenhouse (Image:Ginny Malmgren)

Hardening off

Plants were moved to the polytunnel for hardening off two weeks ago. The doors were kept open during the day to allow the plants to slowly acclimatise to outdoor conditions after their cosy start in life inside the nursery. After about a week they were gradually moved to our standing out ground for a further week.

Planting out

The Victoria Gate team, with the help of our diploma students, started removing the spring bedding display on Monday 3 June. They then carefully levelled and profiled the Parterre beds ready for planting out. The planting out started on Monday 10 June and about one third of the northern half of the Parterre has already been completed with the assistance of Kew’s trainees and apprentices. It is worth a visit just to watch all the work and precision that goes into this process.


Palm House Parterre: Vegetable Medley

From July onwards the Palm House Parterre will be transformed into an edible display including aubergine, chillies, celeriac, celery, kohl rabi, aubergines, leeks, sweetcorn, bell pepper, beetroot, florence fennel as well as a few runner beans, tomatoes, kale and chard. Visitors who feel inspired will be able to pick up top growing tips from Kew’s horticulturalists.

In the nearby Broadwalk kidney beds, from mid-June we will be planting out pumpkins and squashes which will be well under way by mid-July, with fruits forming through to the autumn.

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