Monday, 22 September 2014

Growing Along with the Botanic Garden... 'The Return'

This afternoon the autumn sun shone and we welcomed back some of the participants in our ‘Growing Along with the Garden’ project, a group of adults with learning disabilities. From March until July they tended their veggie patch down on the riverbank in order to gain their ASDAN certificate in horticulture. It seemed only fair to invite them back to enjoy some of the fruits (and veggies) of their labours.

They harvested bright Swiss chard, French beans, runner beans, carrots, courgettes/marrows plus a green salad of lettuce and rocket supplemented by a few tomatoes grown by the Glasshouse team.  Kate whipped up a winner of a stir fry for everyone to try. It wasn’t all noshing, they earnt their lunch by weeding, removing old plants, watering and tidying the patch. As they say, ‘no such thing as a free lunch’…

Then we took the group for a walk past Jim’s burgeoning veg patch to a new plot hidden from view in the cottage’s garden. The veggie beds there were pretty much good to go thanks to the work of the hardy team and a little hoeing and light digging soon had the patch ready to receive its first sowing of seeds with our group. It was a perfect day to enjoy the Garden and scrump a few raspberries – well, who could resist that?!

We hope to use the new patch with lots of different audience including school children, teacher training as well as our adults with learning disabilities. 

Thanks to Paula Simmonds from the Oxfordshire Skills and Learning Service, our course tutor Anne Freeman plus Linda Pedersen and Linda Lawes our indispensable volunteers for all their help and support through the summer!

Monday, 15 September 2014

An update of changes and developments at the Harcourt Arboretum

This month at the Arboretum we have made some quite substantial changes, in particular the Tree Team have been focusing on an area previously known as the Bamboo glade. Over the years this area has lost a number of specimens, due to frost damage in harsh winters. This had created an opportunity to change and develop the focus of this area along with an adjacent space, which has predominantly been self-seeded Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) and Birch (Betula spp). Over the previous weeks the Arborists have been working to remove a selection of these species in order to open up the area for future planting space.
 In addition to this, views of current and interesting specimens have been opened up. There is now a spot from which the full height of one of the Giant Redwoods (Sequoiadendron giganteum) can be appreciated, alongside the largest Dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) at the arboretum. In this process a young but important Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) is soon to be exposed, also.
Luke Rowland dismantling one of the Sycamores

Timber extraction

In the process of opening up the new space, a significant amount of stumps have been created, which on arrival of the new stump grinder will be targeted with vigour. The removal of these stumps will open up a large area of ground space, allowing ground preparation to be carried out, and finally to be planted with new species which are currently waiting in the nursery.

Guy Horwood and Luke Rowland

Monday, 1 September 2014

Anyone for a cuppa?

A bud about to burst open

Cobaea scandens is a vigorous climber from the tropical forests of Mexico. It climbs using hooked tendrils which spin round in spiral movements to grip onto supports. In its natural environment it grows as a perennial, but in the temperate zone it is usually grown as an annual, where it will put on a lot of growth in a short period of time, and flower at the end of the summer.

Each flower is borne singly, on outstretched stems, held above the foliage. They start out as a green, flanged, pod-like calyx which slowly opens up to reveal the closed petals which resemble an egg, and are whitish green. Once the flower has opened it starts to look more bell-shaped, and with the calyx sitting underneath the bell, it looks like a cup and saucer, which is the common name for this plant. As the flower matures it gradually changes colour from white to dark purple, although it retains some white stripes which radiate out from the centre.

A creamy white, newly opened flower
Protruding from the back of the petals there are five stamens, each carrying a pair of pollen parcels, or anthers at their tips. These parcels need to open up to release the pollen that they hold, and once this has happened the anthers are pushed forwards and held up ready for a pollinator. The pollinator of choice for a Cobaea scandens is a bat. This is significant because it explains some the flowers' morphology, and why they open their petals during the night. The size and shape of the flower is perfect for a small nectar-eating bat to sup from, while brushing its belly against the stamens to extract the pollen, and then to deposit it neatly onto the style of another flower.

The flower begins to turn purple
One of the major advantages of bat pollination is that pollen can be transported across further distances, and in significant quantities, providing plants with a bigger genetic neighbourhood, while reducing genetic subdivision between populations. Another reason why bats are good pollinators is that they carry pollen from several different potential fathers to the same stigma, which increases the genetic variability of the population.

A mature flower
Virginia Vargo, Trainee Botanical Horticulturist.