Arboretum Nursery

The Arboretum Nursery is where temperate woody plants are sown, grown on and looked after behind the scenes.

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The Arboretum Nursery

Did you know?

  • Although the Nursery is not on general view to the public, a window has been cut in a holly hedge near the Compost Heap viewing platform, from which it is possible to see work being done in the Nursery field.
  • The Arboretum covers some 80 hectares, roughly two-thirds of Kew Gardens. Its 14,000-strong botanical and ornamental collections represent more than 2,000 species and varieties.

The Arboretum Nursery is located, along with the Stable Yard and Compost Heap, close to the Woodland Glade. Its collection of glasshouses and fields is where temperate woody plants are sown, grown on and looked after behind the scenes. Occasionally herbaceous species are grown in the Arboretum Nursery too. For example, thousands of oxeye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare) were grown from seed to be displayed in the long grass along Riverside Walk.

One full-time member of staff, one Diploma student, an apprentice and several volunteers run the Arboretum Nursery. They carry out daily tasks such as checking that irrigation systems are working, pricking out and re-potting seedlings and ensuring everything is watered correctly. Other work is dictated by the season, with soft-wood cuttings being taken in spring, semi-ripe cuttings in summer and autumn, and hardwood cuttings in the winter. Generally seeds are sown in autumn. In September the trees lined out in the field are root-pruned in preparation for planting out in their final positions in the Arboretum between November and March.

Kew’s conservation work is also supported by the Arboretum Nursery. One project involved growing hundreds of sweet chestnuts (Castanea sativa) to make an area of coppice for the Conservation Area of the Gardens. Further afield, Arboretum staff recently collected seeds of Quercus alpestris from its only home on a cold mountainside in Spain. This oak is endangered because the population is small, so Kew could only collect 30 acorns. The resulting seedlings, grown in the Arboretum Nursery, will act as an insurance policy should the wild stocks dwindle further.

When specimens in the Gardens become old or sick and may soon die, the nursery staff seek to replace them. Propagating these plants ensures spares are available. Staff usually do this by taking cuttings so that the genetic material remains the same. For example, some plants at Kew that were originally collected by the famous plant hunter Ernest Wilson have been systematically propagated for their safe-keeping. If new seeds are needed, they are either collected from the wild on expeditions or sourced from other botanic gardens.

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