19 December 2017

Great Broad Walk Borders: 13,000 bulbs and counting

Part III: the team behind our Great Broad Walk Borders discuss the winter work undertaken in preparations for spring.

Alstroemeria, Indian Summer. RBG Kew

A mammoth bulb planting task 

Every task undertaken on the Broad Walk is mammoth due to the 320 metres of double borders. This was especially so when it came to the task of bulb planting. 

We had 13,000 bulbs to get into the ground before the end of October 2016. Before we could start planting, we needed to cut back some plants for ease of access. 

Dead plant structures can look attractive and the seed heads can provide food for birds and insects, so normally we would leave cutting back until plants looked unsightly. However, this year our mission was to make way for the bulbs. 

Making way for the bulbs 

We employed bulb planters to help with the task, a tool specifically designed to remove a core of soil creating a hole the approximate depth for a bulb to be dropped into. 

There’s a knack to using this tool which involves the gentle wiggling of one foot in conjunction with rotation of the hips and arms in a 360 degree circle – the bulb boogie, perhaps? 

We had the job done in 10 days with large teams of helpers from across the Gardens. We have planted varieties including Narcissus ‘Thalia’ and ‘St. Patrick’s Day’, Allium ‘Mont Blanc’ and ‘Ambassador’, Tulipa ‘Red Shine’ and Gladioli byzantinus which will create swathes of colour running through the beds from early spring to summer. 

Early winter surprises 

The borders began to settle down for their winter hibernation as temperatures started to drop but some plants were still putting on a fine show in November. The grasses were giving a wonderful display and we especially loved the furry heads of Pennisetum ‘Fairy Tails’ and ‘Red Head’. Miscanthus nepalensis with its arching wands of golden seed heads. 

We were amazed at the longevity of Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’ which started flowering back in May right into early winter. 

We had a few problems with mildew in early summer and suffered a few losses but the remaining plants bounced back after a thorough dead heading in late June, and were still looking fresh and bright in November. 

Rosa ‘Mortimer Sackler’ tried hard to clamber up the metal obelisks towards the beautiful cedar cones on top, sculpted from recycled copper pipes. This rose rewarded us with a regular show of flowers into November. 

Alsotroemeria ‘Indian Summer’ wowed on the Broad Walk for five months with its bright orange, red and yellow flowers and deep purple foliage; a firm favourite with our visitors. 

Waterlogging damage 

If you visited the Broad Walk in November you may have noticed a large pit appearing in the South West bed at the Palm House end of the Borders. We have been monitoring this bed and the next one Northwards throughout the year as they have suffered waterlogging issues and plants have not survived in parts of these beds. We are removing the soil from these areas and replacing it with fresh topsoil and mulch. We will then leave the organic matter to do its work over the winter and replant these zones next spring. 

Winter work 

We still had many tasks throughout the winter period – no hibernation for Kew horticulturists! We mulched the Borders which provided our plants with a warm blanket to help them survive the cold winter, improvs soil structure and add nutrients to it. The rich, dark brown of the mulch also looks smart and forms a perfect backdrop for the deep green yew pyramids and remaining stands of grasses through the winter. 

We hope you come and enjoy a stroll through the Gardens and ponder the thousands of bulbs all cosy in their underground beds preparing to burst into life very soon.