In mid December Phil and I completed a 2-week placement at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Kew is, of course, a world famous botanic garden rich in a history which begins in 1759 when Augusta, Dowager Princess of Wales (1719-1792) founded a 3.5 hectare botanic garden on her erstwhile husband’s estate at Kew on the banks of the River Thames. Iconic buildings such as the Pagoda and Orangery soon came courtesy of the renowned architect, Sir William Chambers (1723-1796) whilst horticultural and botanical advise was sought from head gardener, William Aiton (1731-1793) and from Lord Bute (1713-1792), Prime Minister of Great Britain, 1762-63. King George III (1738-1820) inherited the gardens on his mother Augusta’s death in 1772, uniting it with the adjacent Richmond estate he had inherited from his grandfather George II (1683-1760) 12 years previously. After several years of acting as an informal advisor to George III on his development of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820) became the unofficial director in 1797. Under Banks Kew arguably became the world’s leading botanic garden; plant hunters and explorers journeyed to many corners of the globe to seek out new and interesting plants for Kew’s burgeoning collection of plants.
Sadly the garden fell into decline following the deaths of George III and Sir Joseph Banks and was subsequently bequeathed to the state; further donations of land from the Royal family have increased the garden’s size to the 132+ hectares it is today. The first official Director Sir William Hooker added the Palm House (completed in 1848) and Temperate House (started in 1860) and established the Library and Herbarium. Subsequent Directors have continued to make their own additions and modifications to the gardens right up until the present day, with recent building works including the Princess of Wales Conservatory (1997) and The Davies Alpine House (2006). Kew was awarded World Heritage Site status in 2003 in recognition of the major contribution it has made to botanical and environmental science throughout its 256 year history, its efforts towards plant conservation and public education, and what is considered the largest and most comprehensive collection of living plants in the world.
I spent my first week at Kew working in the Hardy Display department, spending one day each in the rock garden, alpine section, order beds, woodland garden and broad walk. In the rock garden I helped to weed some of the beds and to collect fallen pine needles from the gravel top dressing around the plants, in the alpine section it was repotting part of the extensive allium collection, in the order beds I helped to cut back the hardier Salvia species in the long Salvia border beside the rock garden, while in the woodland garden it was time for a spot of leaf clearing. On Tuesday the entire body of horticultural staff and students were called into action on the broad walk to help dig up and remove the thousands of spring bulbs in preparation for a new herbaceous planting scheme which will make the broad walk the largest herbaceous border in Europe. A busy week!