Gardening Journal – Entry 23

Sunday 23 January 2022

It’s amazing how quickly things come around once the ball gets rolling. It feels like it was only yesterday that I accepted a new role and handed in my notice at my current workplace; now I’ve come to the end of my final week.

Changing jobs is exciting, but it comes with a lot of nerves. After starting my horticulture career in this place, it feels like I’m removing the safety net and diving into the unknown. On the other hand, I’m starting work in one of my favourite botanical gardens in a couple of weeks and my confidence and competency have been reinforced. Going into a new, more challenging environment is exactly what I had envisaged at the end of my apprenticeship. Now I just have to keep my imposter syndrome under control.

Fortunately, to keep my mind off all of that, I had a lot of work to get on with and frosty temperatures to contend with this week.

Tuesday 16 January 

After being away from work with a nasty splinter (read: large wood chip embedded in my finger), I spend today at a site I don’t usually work in. It is an area we know as ‘the podium’ with several large raised beds, some spanning hundreds of square metres. I was tasked with clearing the Anemone x hybrida that had died back, as well as cutting back the flowering stalks of the Agapanthus africanus.

I do love a good before and after photo, as it is all too easy to underestimate the impact of your work without the visual aid. However, in this case, the difference was striking. The bed had a graveyard-like quality due to the vast number of tall, dead flowering stalks of the Anemone. I believe the celebrated garden designer Piet Oudolf said of plants that the “skeletons… are as important as the flowers”. However, in this case, the hundreds of stalks were quite overpowering and nothing like the stunning melange of textures, colours and layers that Oudolf delivers. So they had to go.

Typically the cutting back of perennials like this takes place in early spring, just as the new growth starts to emerge, however, when working in a busy site like this, sometimes we don’t have the privilege of perfect timing. Nonetheless, these plants will be just fine, as the temperatures are much milder now and the raised bed is well sheltered by the adjacent buildings, which will prevent any frost or wind damage to the delicate emerging shoots.

Initially, I started by cutting the plants back with my secateurs, cutting the dead stems as close to the base as I could without damaging new growth. However, after only making very slow progress, I reached for some shears and quickly cut all the plants to a height just above the green shoots. After that, I very gently tugged on the dead plant matter and the majority of it easily came loose. Any pieces that resisted were cut close to the base with my sharp, clean secateurs. While this method was much faster than my spot-pruning, getting this bed to a good horticultural standard was going to be a two-day job.

Wednesday 19 January

Today was spent finishing the bed I was working on yesterday and clearing it up. After finishing cutting back and clearing the Anemone x hybrida, I moved on to the Agapanthus. Their beautiful flowering stalks eventually set seed and die back over winter, sometimes toppling over. I used my secateurs to cut as close to the base of the flowering stalk and removed any dead foliage from underneath the plant. This was also a good opportunity to look through the foliage for any litter or remnants of previous flowering heads that may not have been correctly removed. These are usually dry enough to simply pull out.

After a good clear out, I moved my attention to the soil, which needed light cultivation, largely to remove the moss that had spread across the surface. Moss is a common tell-tale sign of waterlogging or excess water in the soil so I made sure the drainage pipes and grates were clear of debris before removing as much moss as I could with a springbok rake. It is very difficult to remove all the moss without also removing a lot of soil in the process. Regular light raking of the moss, cultivation and improved drainage should solve this issue in future.

I cultivated the soil using a three-pronged cultivator and started at the sandier areas, where the soil was lighter. This allowed me to drag across the more clayey, compacted soil from underneath, leading to a good and consistent depth of cultivation. I was careful of the delicate new growth took my time around the root environment to prevent any damage to the plants.

After this, I created a sharp edge around the lawn using a half-moon and edging shears before packing up for the day and a well-deserved hot chocolate when I got home.

Thursday 20 January

After donning my thermal tights, under layers and ice-handling gloves (no, really, they are made for working in -30℃ weather), I headed out to another raised bed on ‘the podium’. This one seemed like a quick job: leaf clearance, weeding, and cultivation. That was until I realised I was working with pure clay. I mean, this soil was so heavy I could have made pottery with it. One benefit of working with very compacted soil is that the conditions can be so inhospitable that even the hardiest of weeds can’t survive. After some very, very light weeding, I moved on to cultivation using a spade. After about an hour of hacking away, the area was looking more like soil and less like tarmac. It was such as good workout that my watch recorded it as an outdoor run! I did the same on the other side of the bed, which mercifully had a far better, more workable structure.

Friday 21 January

I finished off the week working on one of my favourite beds on ‘the podium’: a little Heuchera and Ilex bed. I started by cutting back a few of the Anemones and removing any dead plant matter I could see. After that, I dealt with the suffocating Cymbalaria muralis. Which, although pretty, spreads like mad and was tangled up in the all Heuchera and needed to go.

Then I cut back the dead flowering stalks of the Heuchera and gave the soil a good cultivate. As it is a narrow bed and I didn’t need to stand on the soil at all, it was a breeze to cultivate and the soil capping was quickly removed, which means that these plants will be able to access all the water they need when it next rains or they get watered.

Around the corner there were a few Ilex trees that needed sweeping out and the soil cultivating. This was a quick job and I was soon giving the lawn a quick edge. I finished off the day giving the area a quick sweep to remove any debris and putting my tools and wheelbarrow away in the lock-up for the last time!

I’m really going to miss these sites, but I’m so glad I got a chance to give them a bit of love before I head off. Now it’s time to buckle up for a week of annual leave before I get my teeth into the new job.

Gardening Journal – Entry 22

Sunday 16 January 2022

During these cold months, as we all recover from the busyness of Christmas and the occasional dreariness of January, I like to keep my weekends fairly open. I use the end of the week to rest and recover from working out in the cold and take the opportunity to spend some quality time with my family.

However, even after the freezing temperatures recently which warranted a hibernation weekend, I loved going to the Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses on Sunday. Sometimes the best kind of motivation and inspiration comes from doing what you do every day in a completely different space. It left me ready to start the new week and get my sites looking great as my days in my current job come to a close. The next couple of weeks are going to fly by and before I know it I’ll be handing over my keys and packing everything up. Might as well make the most of the time I have left!

Monday 10 January 

Monday mornings are always slightly frantic, largely due to the fact that we have all got a bit too used to waking up later and not needing to be in uniform at 7am. This morning, I started by checking on the sites I had worked on last week. Some areas that had been under fallen leaves for months had accumulated an algae-like slimy substance, which needed to be dried out. After a weekend of airing, the site was safe again and looking great. Someone had even placed my safety cones in a lovely ring around the base of the tree – very kind but a tad unhelpful. A friendly reminder; health and safety signage is there for a reason, not just for fun! 

After that, I worked on edging up a bank close to one of the lakes. Edging or edging up refers to the redefining of the edge of a lawn through either slicing downwards and along with a half-moon or using edging shears. It helps the edge of the lawn look neater, prevents encroaching of the grass on hard standing and even prevents trips! This particular bank had not been edged up since before I started working here, so it required a good slice with the half-moon to cut through the dense sward that had formed over the brickwork. After pulling away the larger, more obvious clumps, I swept along the edge with a broom, dislodging any loose blades of grass. I also worked on getting another defined edge a bit neater. For this kind of thing, I use sharp edging shears, which cut through the blades of grass that have grown outwards and help to maintain a small gap between the soil profile and the paving. I like using this method as it makes further maintenance a lot easier and gives you a little more time before the grass begins to encroach on the pathway. 

This is a great task to do first-thing at the start of the week, as it gives such an immediate impact and makes you feel like you’ve actually achieved something that will last for a while. Well, until the grass starts growing again in spring and it becomes a weekly job!

Tuesday 11 January

Today was spent finishing even more edging – this time of tree pits. While tree pits are technically the hole that a tree is initially planted in, I’m referring to a circle or square that is cut out of the lawn around the trunk of the tree. While not everyone loves them, here are some of the reasons I’m a big fan:

  • Tree pits make mowing around tree trunks easier and prevent damage to the roots and trunk when strimming too
  • Seasonal mulching of tree pits helps to return nutrients to the growing environment
  • Tree pits look neat, as they are easier to clean up with some edging, whereas it can be tricky to get an even cut when the grass grows right up to the trunk
  • They prevent compaction of the soil, as people do not tend to step inside tree pits and prefer to keep to the grass
  • Tree pits can help more water reach the roots, as there is less of a barried between the atmosphere and the soil
  • In addition, when measured out correctly, the tree pit will extend to the canopy edge, also known as the drip line. This means that rainwater caught in the tree’s branch network will fall onto the tree pit, taking the water straight to the root system
  • Tree pits tend to look very neat and are common in botanical gardens, which is something we can all aspire to even in our own gardens

When edging up tree pits, I tend to start with a half-moon and carve out the circle or square, flicking the soil upwards to create a small mound closer to the tree trunk. After that, I go over the edge with the shears to get a lovely, crisp finish.

Wednesday 12 January

For me, Wednesdays are always spent looking at my to do list and realising that as much as the week is dragging, time is running out! My plan for the next couple of weeks is to get my sites up to a nice standard before I move on to my new job. Hopefully, the person who takes over from me can have a good framework to work off.

Today I started to tackle a bed that I hadn’t looked at in almost a year. Back in summer, I climbed through the overgrown brush to give the Pyracantha a once over. While I removed a large portion of the shrub, it barely looks like I’ve made a dent. Typically, you wouldn’t take too much off a tree or shrub during this time of year, as there is strict legislation surrounding the disturbance of nesting birds. However, as long as you are vigilant and carefully check the plant for any evidence of this, it is usually okay. I had always wanted to go back over this shrub and prune it back into shape, however, I needed to get rid of the three D’s first (that’s Diseased, Damaged and Dead, but I also like to add Distorted to the list to cover things like nutrient deficiencies and reversion). The shrub was suffering with bad coral spot, which is a fungal disease that is best removed by careful pruning.

After hacking away at it for a couple of days, a wildflower meadow was planted right next to the bed, making maintenance of this border a little trickier. So once I had mown the meadow down, I got to work on the neglected border until the end of the week!

Thursday 13 January

I started on the border bright and early today, removing some of the weeds that had been happily growing for 11 months. By this point, they came up to my waist, which made them easier to pull out without too much digging, but does mean that they have likely already set seed and are going to be a nightmare for the next few years!

I removed as many large, annual weeds before moving onto the fiddly perennials and their stubborn taproots. Since receiving a hori knife for my birthday last year, perennial weeds have been no match for me, and digging them out is a breeze. If you’re looking for a garden multi-tool, a hori is the way to go.

Friday 14 January

Today was a race from start to finish. I had it on my list to complete the aforementioned weedy border by the end of the day and, while there is still a little bit of work to be done, I came pretty close.

Today I essentially removed the dead. I swept out all the dead leaves, cut away any dead Pyracantha branches and removed any dead plants below the shrub, which included several self-seeded Solanum capsicastrum that were struggling to compete with their parent plants. While the space may look quite bare after the removal of the weeds and failing S. capsicastrum, it is important to give plants enough space to grow and provide them with a good amount of airflow to prevent fungal diseases from spreading (I’m looking at you, coral spot). All in all, I got some big jobs finished that had been postponed for months, which is always a good feeling.

Next week, I’ll be finishing this off with the removal of some epicormic growth on the Pyracantha and getting the edge nice and sharp. I can’t wait to finally see this border looking its best, just in time for me to leave!

Gardening Journal – Entry 21

Sunday 9 January 2022

And just like that, a new year is here! So much has happened this week; I took down a Christmas tree, got a brilliant new job and have been given a Sensory Garden border to work on in one of the gardens I volunteer for.

Tuesday 4 January

Today was exactly what I had anticipated on my first day of work in 2021: utter chaos. It started out fairly normally with a quick wander around my sites to look for any glaring issues and to get to grips with the work that needs doing this week. 

This week is all about the final leaf clearance, weeding and mulching; all typical January jobs. After cutting the dead out of a stunning Prunus shrub (and getting tiny pink petals all over myself) I got to work on clearing some leaves out of a border. 

Then I received a call from an unknown number and was told that a job I was previously rejected for was mine if I wanted it. I did and do! So in the next month, I’ll be a botanical gardener! Almost exactly two years since I started this new career, I’ve landed myself a job working for the oldest botanical garden in London! I don’t know when this feeling of surreality will go away, but I’m enjoying it for now!

Wednesday 5 January 

I started the day with pond maintenance. The bulk of the aquatic work I do involves leaf clearance and litter picking. Fortunately for me, today we cleared the leaves from the side of the lakes. Typically, I enjoy getting into my waders and hopping into the water; it feels like an adventure, every time. However, on mornings like this when it’s still dark at 8am and only three degrees, I am very grateful not to be sloshing through the icy water. 

In fact, in February of last year, I found myself using a rake to smash through sheets of ice that had formed on top of the water. We had started the annual cutting back of reeds on the sunken beds in the middle of the lakes. While it was frigidly cold in the water, I had a wonderful time collecting the floating reeds from the top of the water and passing them to the people on the bank. 

You may be wondering why such an emphasis is put on removing leaves and reeds from the water. Lakes and ponds in the wild manage fine without careful dredging and leaf removal, don’t they? However, there is a very delicate balance that occurs in the water and it is important to maintain it. When plant matter breaks down in the water, this decomposition necessitates oxygen. When this happens to a handful of leaves in a large pond, it isn’t an issue. However, when nearby deciduous trees defoliate en masse in autumn and winter, a huge volume of organic matter could simultaneously decompose in the water, thus deoxygenating the water enough to render it inhospitable for other organisms in the habitat, including fish, plants and important bacteria. On top of that, when the water in a pond becomes too nutrient heavy following the addition of organic matter, disruptive and invasive organisms can thrive. And even more importantly, artificial water courses involve pumps which can easily be clogged by decaying plant matter falling to the bottom of the water. 

Managing an aquatic space is by no means my area of expertise, however, I love learning new techniques and going for a wander about. Sometimes when I’m creeping through the overgrown reeds, hunting for litter, I do feel like a crocodile could be swimming up behind me. But when I turn around, it’s always the same pair of ducks, probably laughing at my inefficient waddling through the water.

Later on in the day, we waved goodbye to the festive season and took down the Christmas tree. I say took down – we dismantled it. In order to reduce the waste that comes with growing, harvesting, displaying and disposing of christmas trees, we use an artificial tree that can be reused year after year. It consists of a scaffolding-like upside down cone shape on which clumps of branches are attached. Each clump has its own isolated circuit of fairy lights, which helps to prevent a total blackout when only one clump is faulty. 

Considering the scale of the job, we made quick work of it and had dismantled the tree entirely within an hour. I then spent the next half hour meticulously easing apart the wires into neatly wound bundles for next year. Putting up a Christmas tree is stressful enough without having to untangle 50m of wire! 

Today has been a perfect example of why I love what I do. I got involved in unexpected tasks, saw an immediate difference in the work I was doing and me and my muscles are more than ready to get home and curl up on the sofa. 

Thursday 6 January

Today started with me scraping ice off my bike seat and furiously pedaling to work and the warmth of our mess room. Freezing days like today are always a bit of a challenge, as you have to keep moving to stay warm and some tasks just don’t fit the bill. This morning I found myself crouching (thankfully on a foam pad) and weeding some neglected tree pits. By the time I headed back in for my break, I couldn’t feel my toes. Fortunately. I invested in some waterproof, fleece-lined gloves intended for handling ice and snow. While they are a little overkill for gardening, they have kept my fingers perfectly warm, even in the harshest weather. After sweeping up a mountain of fallen leaves and packing up, the day was pretty much over and I hopped on my de-iced bike and cycled home.

Friday 7 January

This is the first Friday of the year and I was more than ready for it to come. Waking up at 5am isn’t ever easy but the cold weather and dark afternoons make getting out of bed even less appealing. However, it’s a small price to pay to work outdoors with plants every day. 

Today was all about finishing off the tasks I started yesterday. I cleared all the tree pits first thing and swept up (what I hope are) the last fallen leaves until autumn. 

We always finish half an hour early on Fridays and while you wouldn’t think thirty minutes would make a difference, the day always flies by. I can’t deny that I’m looking forward to the weekend, which is going to start with celebratory new job drinks with Kyle at an art deco pub and finish with a border maintenance workshop/ volunteering session at Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses on Sunday. 

Sunday 9 January

Today was the first Border Workshop session of the year at the Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses. We started off by sharing some planting plans we had put together over the Christmas break for a border called the Seating Circle. It is a place used by volunteers and visiting schools as a starting point and a spot to have tea and a biscuit to warm up on cool wintery days like today. My planting plan is below and uses the Piet Oudolph drawing style of ‘blobs’ to mark out the positioning of the plants. Typically, designs are drawn up using circles to delineate the location and ultimate spread. However, I find this more effective and realistic, as it demonstrates the way plants actually grow. They spread into each other and fill in the spaces around them. It is also particularly effective when demonstrating planting in drifts, which I am particularly fond of.

After that, I led the work on the sensory garden, which is a border championing plants that please all the senses: sight, sound, taste, smell and touch. We replaced a plant support that had fallen apart with a new woven Salix structure. It was quite a tight fit, but after some pruning of diseased, damaged and dead, we managed to make it fit. We finished the border with some leaf removal, weeding and sweeping. 

At the end of the session, I was offered a chance to work more closely on the border and support the current curator in her work maintaining, designing and planting it up. Over the next few months, I will be choosing a few new plants to fill in two gaps that have developed in the bed and working on bringing it up to a really great standard. I can’t wait!

Linescapes: Remapping and Reconnecting Britain’s Fragmented Wildlife by Hugh Warwick

This year, I have set myself the very modest challenge of reading 12 books about my field. Not limited to horticulture, I’m excited to explore more nature writing, conservation literature and – unexpectedly – books about animals. When you change career, it can be tempting to develop tunnel vision for your new industry, but it is important to explore the periphery too. So to kick this off, I have done exactly that.

In this book, ecologist and hedgehog expert Hugh Warwick uncovers the history of the lines that have fragmented British land, from the reaves in Dartmoor dating back 3,500 years to the rail network cutting a patchwork pattern in all directions. While anyone with a modicum of interest in conservation will be familiar with the high-profile challenges we are currently facing, habitat fragmentation is not nearly as mainstream, considering its enormous impact.

Habitat fragmentation is a fairly straightforward issue – when impenetrable man-made structures such as fences, canals and train tracks are put in place, once sprawling land becomes finite. Resources become depleted, predators face more competition and animals may be forced into urban settings to find food, a mate and shelter.

Fragmentation is much more complex and has bigger implications on the delicate network of nature for me to explain, but when I first started reading this book, I was acutely aware of the parallels that exist between fragmented wildlife in Britain and the ever-narrowing plains in sub-Saharan Africa. Urban expansion – and the consequential transport and energy infrastructure that comes with it – have forced animals into land that shrinks year by year.

When I think about some of the issues I am most interested in, they all come down to the same thing: the natural order has been disrupted. Where animals once fed on vegetation as they moved through the land, boundaries now keep them confined to a space with limited resources to feed growing populations. We often see this as a driving force in elephant culling. Vegetation is destroyed faster than it can recuperate and this leads ecologists to deem a cull necessary – to protect the plants and maintain the ‘delicate balance’.

Let’s just say I have questions.

  • What if we used a variation of crop rotation, a familiar vegetable growing technique, to give the soil, trees and organisms a chance to recuperate?
  • Would it be possible to ‘rotate’ these animals around different parts of the larger nature reserves?
  • Would this allow the important vegetation time to recuperate?
  • Does it need to recuperate, when we know that dead vegetation created a habitat for a humungous range of organisms?
  • Would all of this simply be creating more fragmentation?

I don’t know, but this book has brought a lot of questions out of the woodwork for me, which I think is the tenet of any good book. So if you saw this in your local bookshop and were on the fence about grabbing a copy, make sure you do. But be warned, by the end of it, you’ll want to rip that fence out of the ground and plant a species-rich hedge instead.

Gardening Journal – Entry 20

Friday 26 March 2021

What a week! I feel like I haven’t stood still since Monday. It has been a week of learning and there as not been much gardening, at home or at work, but I don’t mind – I’m here for the knowledge! This week started off feeling like spring had finally come, with enough sunlight to have me stripping off the layers. It truly felt like the first time I had felt the sun on my skin in years. I simply cannot wait for the warmer weather to finally arrive in earnest. 

Monday 22 March

I moved sites on Monday, to a location I have been obsessed with since I moved to London. I spent the day getting used to the site and trying to find my way around the maze-like stairs, gates and underground car parks. I eventually found my way to some herbaceous borders than needed digging over in preparation for some planting later in the week. 

I found myself crawling under spiny Mahonias and hopping around delicate lillies as I lightly dug over the soil. The sun was out and my pasty arms were as well! It was a lovely day and, while I missed working with Laurence, I loved the quietness of the site and the quirky characters practicing their fencing, wandering through the shrubs and chatting away to me about planting. 

Tuesday 23 March

This was a field trip day. We visited Regent’s Park to have a look at their winter bedding displays, as we are going to be designing our own bedding schemes for our workplace. We noted a heavy use of Heuchera villosa ‘Palace Purple’, as well as Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrecens’ for a darker look across the beds. It was interesting to see the planting choices and the unique designs they had created, although some had missed the mark, in my very humble and inexperienced opinion!

Wednesday 24 March

Our college day was spent… in college! Again! What a treat it was to see our classmates again and work on some of our upcoming practicals. We focused on planting containerised shrubs, spreading fertiliser, did our Alpine plant ident test and worked on edging a lawn. 

Planting containerised shrubs

  • These had to be a minimum of 2L pots
  • We made the holes we dug for these plants at least twice as big as the root ball and kept it sharp and square, to encourage the roots to grow outwards and down, instead of continue their circular growth pattern after being kept in a pot for a long time.
  • We prepared the soil by giving it a light dig over and raking it to a good tilth for planting of this nature. 
  • We checked the plants for weeds, pests, disease and ave it a little prune for diseased, damager or dead growth. 
  • The end result was quite pretty and it was shame to immediately have to remove them from the ground for the next group to practice with!

Spreading fertiliser:

  • This task is a lot more finicky than you might thing, due to the calibration required.
  • The calibration involves matching your walking pace and the size of the fertiliser spreader holes in order to achieve 35g of fertiliser per square metre. 
  • As most gardeners make two passes over a lawn, we worked to 17.5g per pass to add up to the total 35g. 
  • We measures the amount of fertiliser distributed by laying out a plastic sheet with a square metre drawn on it. We walked over this space at a steady pace and swept up the fertiliser that landed in the designated area and weighed it. 
  • We used vermiculite, as fertiliser is expensive and harmful if not handled correcting with appropriate PPE. 
  • Laurence and I worked together and managed to get to 18g on both the spreader and the drop spreader. But it took a good ten tries!

Edging a lawn:

  • This is where it all fell apart. 
  • Laurence and I have edged lawns at least twenty times, usually with excellent polished results. This time, we were contending with a hidden rotten wooden board and the wrong tools. 
  • We used a guide string to mark out the line we wanted to follow. Then we used scaffold boards to line up and stand on as we cut into the edge with a half moon. 
  • We removed the grass and soil that was protruding passed over the area with some edging shears, which tidied up any long blades of grass.
  • In theory, this should have been a quick job. In reality it took the best part of an hour and didn’t even deliver a straight line! 

Thursday 25 March

On Thursday we worked at a different site pruning fruit trees. I was incredibly excited for this practical day out, as I have only ever worked with ornamental plants. We started by identifying the species we were working with. There was a lot of Pear, Apple, Cherry, Damson, Plum and even Fig! The pear after bud break was incredible, as they had beautiful leaves protecting the emerging, plump flowering buds. 

The orchard was very neglected, with very few tree pits remaining and extensive damage to the trees, including broken branches and plants that had died completely. This was likely due to the popular football pitch adjacent to it. 

We started by removing the three Ds (dead, damaged and diseased), then removed any crossing branches that could lead to rubbing and then infection. After that, we used a half moon and hears to redefine the tree pit. This proved to be hard work, as the tree pits had likely not been attended to for over ten years. 

After that, Laurence and I walked to a nearby park and recorded our latest podcast episode

Friday 26 March

Fridays are always quite fleeting, as I am only in for half the day. On this particular Friday I was able to lay out some plants on the site I dug over on Monday. There were such beautiful ferns, including Dryopteris, Polystichum and Asplenium, as well as some Clyclamen, Euphorbia and Anemone

After that, I walked around the sites we will be designing winter bedding for and measured them out. We discussed our ideas for designs and have decided to opt for a winter prairie design, but I have created a more formal design using dot, subdots, groundwork and edge, just in case. But fingers crossed – it would be nice to add a little Jardins de Luxembourg, Paris to London. 

Gardening Journal – Entry 19

Friday 19 March 2021

I decided to take this past week off social media because the recent news was getting very heavy and I found myself ‘doom scrolling’ a little too much for my liking. It was a breath of fresh air. I spent my evenings being fully present, whether it was revising for a plant ident test or just sitting watching RuPaul’s Drag Race UK (#TeamBimini all the way). So instead of a daily journal, this one is going to be a round-up of the week, including work tasks, college practicals, my own garden work and the new volunteer job I’ve picked up.

Monday 15 March

We kicked off this week with some border maintenance. The weeding had been done a few weeks before, so all it needed was a good cultivate. We were working in a stunning churchyard, with shrubby borders currently bursting with Narcissus ‘Ice Follies’ and a few violet hyacinths. I used a cultivator to ‘tickle’ the top two inches of soil. This helped to break up any large clods, buried annual weeds before they set seed and left the soil looking fresh. 

Tuesday 16 March

On Tuesday it was much of the same, except for a mammoth litter round. I’m incredibly excited about more people being out and about and using the gardens as we navigate this roadmap leading to 21 June, but the litter is going to pile up! 

Wednesday 17 March

This week I was back at college, for the first time since last year! It was lovely seeing all my classmates and tutor again, after our months of online learning. We used the session to catch up on practicals. We learnt about the safe use of rotavators (which is a brand name for a rotary cultivator, by the way!), sowing seeds of three sizes, looked at some of our plant idents in person and planted some bare root trees. Here’s how they went:


  • Rotary cultivators come in many sizes and are used for several tasks, including simple cultivation of soil, removal of weeds, digging up lawns and digging in vegetables
  • We looked at pre starter checks and talked about the importance of having split pin bolts to replace any broken ones 
  • Then we actually used the machines and practiced our turning techniques. Both machines had forward, neutral and reverse gears, which meant that we were able to do a three-point turn in the corners. I preferred the wide turning technique used by farmers with large tractors. This involved keeping turns wide and passing up and down the bed in long lines, allowing you to keep moving and spend less time changing gears. Overall, this technique saves time and fuel and I found it a lot easier on my back 

Sowing seeds:

  • We had done this practical task before, but it was brilliant to get some extra experience, as I don’t often get the chance to do propagation
  • We sowed small, medium and large seeds. I sowed Papaver orientale mixed with sand, Cabbage seeds and ornamental broad been seeds
  • To find a quick guide to seed sowing, check out this video I put together

Plant ident:

Every fortnight, we get a new list of plants to learn, each in a different group. We started with evergreen shrubs and have since learnt bulbs, perennial weeds and now alpines. I love alpines. On any given day, you can find me either dreaming of – or wandering around – the beautiful South American and South African rock garden at Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew. I love the succulent-like leaves, the minute details and the stunning, showy blooms. When it comes to creating a curated but rugged aesthetic, nothing beats a rock garden-fernery hybrid, in my opinion.

If you’re interested here are the plants we learnt for our alpine plant test. While it is okay to only know the common name when working with the plants in your garden, it is always helpful to know the botanical name when working with them professionally. While it is largely considered a dead language, Latin is universal in horticultural circles and this helps to avoid miscommunication when working working in other countries, with people who speak different languages. I also like to learn the family name, as it helps me to make connections between similar plants and is a good way of grouping plants and understanding common requirements.

Genus species ‘Cultivar’ – Common name – FAMILY NAME

  1. Armeria juniperifolia – Juniper-leaved thrift – PLUMBAGINACEAE
  2. Echeveria elegans – Mexican gem – CRASSULACEAE
  3. Gentiana sino-ornata – Showy Chinese gentian – GENTIANACEAE
  4. Lewisia cotyledon – Siskiyou lewisia – PORTULACACEAE
  5. Phlox douglasii ‘Eva’ – Creeping phlox – POLEMONIACEAE
  6. Sedum spathulifolium ‘Purpureum’ – Spoon-leaved stonecrop – CRASSULACEAE
  7. Sempervivum arachnoideum – Cobweb houseleek – CRASSULACEAE
  8. Saxifraga ‘Tumbling Waters’ – Saxifrage ‘Tumbling Waters’ – SAXIFRAGACEAE
  9. Saxifraga x urbium – London Pride – SAXIFRAGACEAE
  10. Thymus pulegioides ‘Archer’s Gold’ – Thyme ‘Archer’s Gold’ – LAMIACEAE

Planting a bare root tree:

This is another practical we had done before, but the more practice, the better! Here are a few new things I learnt this time:

  • Placement of the stake is very important. In London, the prevailing wind comes from the South West, so you want to stake your tree against the wind. The stake should be between the direction of wind and the tree, as this allows the stem some movement and avoids unnecessary rubbing, which can result in cuts to the epidermis and the risk of disease.
  • When tying the tree to the stake, the strap can look unsightly if there is too much excess sticking out. You can use a nail and a hammer to secure the end of this and keep it looking neat.
  • Suckers and any dead, diseased or damaged branches should be removed with secateurs once the tree is planted.

Thursday 18 March

Yesterday was spent practicing plant division. We divided some Liriope in a raised container and replanted half of them in situ, leaving some others for another site. Division is a form of propagation which involves lifting clumping and spreading plants out of the ground and slicing through the rootball to create more than one plant and thin it out every three to five years.

I kept about half of the divided plants and planted them in a shady corner of my garden. They look lovely and lush.

Friday 19 March

Today was my half day at work but it was busy! I started off doing a litter round and tidying up a graveyard in one of our churchyard sites. This involved clearing some of the paths of soil that spilled over with the recent rain. Then I cleared the weeds and ripped off the dead leaves from some Iris. I love the look of a graveyard – the moss creeping over the soil and the classic Ilex aquifolium tucked into the corners. The Helleborus were out in full force today, with the beautiful magenta flowers and their Jurassic-like toothed foliage. I saw that the Hellebores had self-seeded and potted up a few larger seedlings. With the Liriopes and Helleborus seedlings in my bag, I looked like a cycling garden centre on the way home!

After work, I planted all my finds in the garden. This garden is a doer-upper and I’m doing it up as cheaply as a can. In the past two weeks we laid some paving we found to create a little seating area and my grasses and hellebores will be a lovely addition.

After planting up my seedlings, I cycled off to Whittington Park, where I volunteer once a week. It’s a great opportunity as a multi-use space where we grow food, plant for pollinators and keep a wormery – all in close proximity to passersby, who we can chat to about gardening and nature. It’s a great way to get people interested in horticulture! Today I filled some potato grow bags in preparation for the chitted potatoes to go in, I cleared an overgrown area and weeded it, and finally I gave the lettuce seedlings I sowed last week a good water.

All in all it was a very busy week, and I’m so glad. I felt a little bit like I had been hibernating since November. Spring is in the air and the maintenance work is getting a little more exciting. It has been wonderful to see plants coming into bloom. Of course, we’re seeing Narcissus all over the place, but watching the cherry blossom and magnolias open up has been such a treat. Bring on the warmer days.

The perennial question: are we beyond seasonal bedding?

While bedding is a pillar of gardening, and in particular European gardening, bedding schemes have long been a point of contention, with some industry leaders suggesting they be totally eradicated from our gardening plans, and others suggesting they be kept for their social and cultural benefits. As with most topics like this, there is likely a happy medium that can be reached to improve certain aspects of life without detracting from others. In this research I will be looking into the environmental, economic, social and cultural impact of seasonal bedding and referencing case studies and garden designers who may have found solutions.

Bedding is by no means a novel gardening concept, and dates back to the 17th Century, when the practice of ‘bedding out’ involved planting plants raised in greenhouses in spring and summer (Garden features: bedding displays – The English Garden, 2014). By the Victorian era, bedding schemes were at their height. This coincided with two important developments: newly discovered exotic plants and advancing postal and railway networks. Seeds could be sent all over the country, where bedding schemes entered small suburban gardens in the 1880s. Elaborate shapes and designs were incorporated into the garden, with island beds placed in the middle of lawns and butterfly-shaped displays becoming a common occurrence. Low plants would be used to create dense carpet bedding, which would sometimes create images or lettering in the design. It was also believed that this dense planting would help to suppress weeds!  Bedding was so loved at the time that author George Moore wrote that it had an effect “so dazzling and satisfactory as to make this style of gardening popular with all lovers of the beautiful” (Moore, 1888).

While beauty may seem immeasurable, one of the major benefits of bedding cited currently is the colour and beauty it brings, particularly to urban settings, where moments of colour are rare in the concrete jungle. From a private gardening perspective, bedding plants offer instant impact – from March onwards, bedding plants are readily available as plug plants and, depending which species are chosen, may last until the autumn. A study conducted in 2019 cited that encountering greenery can help to generate cognitive, affective and psychophysiological benefits, reducing stress and attention fatigue (Hedblom et al., 2019). In other words, natural environments provide restful experiences where direct attention is not required. It is clear that having these green spaces readily available in high stress environments such as the financial hubs of global cities such as London can be beneficial.

While colour in the city is important and the connection between wellbeing and green spaces is undeniable, bedding may not necessarily be the best option. Studies show that informal gardens are perceived as more restorative than formal displays, which can mean that while traditional bedding displays may add in some much needed colour in winter months, they are not as effective as more informal ferneries, as an example. Another important point raised in this same 2019 study is the multi-sensory importance of green spaces. In their research, scientists discovered that individuals generally responded negatively to the lack of non-visual natural stimuli, citing that they missed the ‘smells and sounds’ of nature. The most important factor: smell. Researchers have suggested that city garden designers put their energy and resources into creating ‘smellscapes’, as high pleasantness ratings of the green spaces were linked to “low physiological stress responses for olfactory and to some extent for auditory, but not for visual stimuli” (Hedblom et al., 2019). It is clear: if we are looking to use bedding displays as a way to improve mental health and stress levels in busy city workers, we need to provide an experience that does not solely rely on a visual impact, like as does bedding. Currently, urban planners prioritise visual stimuli, but multisensory qualities need to be considered. 

In the case of urban council gardening, a certain balance has to be struck between the longest, best colour for the lowest cost. This is why annual plants are such a common and favored choice – they are cost effective, with whole trays of winter bedding plug plants costing around £7.99. For only 20p per plant, it is no wonder that annual bedding displays have continued to be so popular in built-up areas, where redevelopment into herbaceous perennial displays would cost hundreds of pounds.

However, it is important to look into the accumulated costs of bedding displays over the years, because while a sub-£100 bedding display may be appealing, the cost of purchase, transportation, planting, maintenance, watering, removal and disposal quickly add up, especially when bedding is updated every six months. The average bedding display can cost anywhere between £90 – £3000, depending on the size of the bed and the display. In the space of five years or less, the cheapest bedding displays cost the same as a low-cost herbaceous perennial renovation, with plants that would last for decades, if cared for correctly. With ever tightening budgets, it is likely that we will see urban garden planners opting for planting schemes with more longevity and less maintenance work required.

Waste is another grave concern when it comes to bedding plants, as they are – by nature – ephemeral. The bulk of bedding plants are either annual, biennial, half-hardy annuals or perennials grown as annuals. This means that all but the latter are likely to be added to green waste or composted. Some people justify single-use plants due to their compostability. However, when looking at the The 3Rs model: ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’, recycling is the final step, with reducing and reusing as priorities. Indeed, recycling is a better option that knowingly sending waste to landfill, however, there are copious tales of people’s recycled waste being incinerated or sent to other countries, where it ends up in landfill anyway. In fact, Westminster council sent 82% of all household waste (including waste put in recycling bins) to be incinerated in 2017/18 (Franklin-Wallace, 2019). As such, recycling is not a viable counterargument for reducing the use of annual bedding plants, and some councils are even considering stopping recycling services entirely. The best thing we could do is reduce the number of single-use plants, while filling up bedding displays with perennial plants that can later be reused (or replanted), perhaps as a gapping up scheme, for example. Nonetheless, bedding schemes are time consuming as is and it is unlikely that councils will want to dedicate the extra time it takes to carefully remove, transport, store, care for and replant used bedding plants.

Another perspective is the economic impact removing bedding could have, as well as the job losses that might result. As of 2018, the Oxford Economic report on the Economic Impact of Ornamental Horticulture in the UK found that ornamental plant production (of which, some will be bedding plant production) contributes to 4% of direct employment in the horticulture industry (Oxford Economic, 2018). This amounts to 15,700 jobs working in growing all ornamental plants. In fact, pot plants, including bedding plants, were valued at £297m in 2017. Sadly, this is close to a quarter of the value of all ornamental plant production (where hardy ornamental nursery stock is valued at £933m and flowers and bloom are valued at £121m). As such, it is evident that this a small part of the horticulture industry as a whole. It is unlikely that bedding displays would be entirely removed and it is far more conceivable that perennial plants would simply be used in the place of annuals. This means that the bedding plant sector would likely be absorbed by the hardy perennial nursery stock sector and jobs would likely be secure due to transferrable skills that are non-specific to growing bedding plants. It is important also to note that as industries progress, it is not uncommon for job losses to occur. Similar to the end of the industrial revolution, a movement towards more environmentally friendly and renewable energy sources led to some people losing their jobs. However, retraining and changing approach led to many people remaining in employment, and simply changing their field.

A great concern for those against bedding planting is the lack of pollination possible, due to some plants being bred not to be pollinated. Some bedding plants either have no nectar or pollen or bees cannot access it. While this is not true for all bedding plants, it is interesting to observe the contrast between the impassioned drive towards pollinators by industry leaders such as Kew and the Royal Horticultural Society and the continued use of these plants in bedding schemes. Appointed last year, the new President of the RHS Keith Weed stressed his interest in promoting the growth of diverse plants that could be beneficial to pollinators (Keith Weed appointed as the new RHS President seeks to accelerate the positive impact of gardening on our lives, society and the environment, 2020). It is important that those in the industry consistently reassess their practices and ensure they are up to date with industry standards and innovations.

Another important point is the issue of design and planning of bedding schemes. While bedding can offer beautiful swathes of colour, stunning form and beautiful repetition, these design principles are often overlooked in favour of quick, cheap and easy planting schemes. Unfortunately, these planting schemes do not offer the beauty that the aforementioned George Moore wrote so passionately about. In fact, some planting schemes that use only one species are less diverse than a garden lawn, where blends of grass species are used. As such, some bedding schemes are more of a monoculture than a lawn and certainly do not offer the ecological benefits that a varied herbaceous perennial border would, for example, either for pollinators, vertebrates or soil organisms, particularly when disturbed by the twice annual cultivation of the soil and often a lack of routine mulching to return the nutrients and keep an adequate soil texture.

Another approach is that of Nigel Dunnett and James Hitchmough. These garden designers and ecologists are well-known for their planting. They prioritise colour, texture, form, ecology and the very important social interactions with nature that people in cities so rarely have. By using herbaceous perennials that flower in bright swathes and plants that look just as good in the depths of winter, people can enjoy the planting for longer. Furthermore, their planting choices and general approach to garden design is significant. In a recent Kew Mutual Improvement Society lecture, Nigel Dunnett spoke of meeting the public on their level, avoiding highly technical language (Dunnett, 2020). In addition, he used a recent example of his work and how he tries to reach people and encourage a special moment with nature. At the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, which he co-designed, he discovered a patch of flattened perennial plants in the days after the site was opened to the public. Instead of cordoning off the area, he made this a feature, where people could take photos and immerse themselves in the plants (Barras-Hargan, 2021). This immersive and tactile nature of bedding planting may be stopping the public from interacting with it and reaping the same benefits of an informal herbaceous planting, with just as much colour, but truly multi-sensory.

One final point that must be considered when talking about the use of bedding in urban spaces is the cost of land. London is currently the greenest major city in Europe, with 40,000 hectares of green space, or 25% of London (Ledsom, 2019). In London overall, industrial land costs an average of £490 per square metre and residential land costs £1,570 per square metre (Greater London Authority, 2016). When we consider the value of some central city sites, it is important to assess how they are being used and if the current use correlates with the value of the space. Here are a few ways a 20 square metre space in the centre of a city could be used, with the aim of balancing the environmental, social, economic and ecological issues around bedding:

  • Sensory garden for those with disabilities, utilizing planting at different heights, plants with interesting textures and prioritising scent
  • Potager garden producing yields to be enjoyed by local communities, alongside ornamental plants
  • Pocket wildlife garden for schools nearby to visit and try to spot the pollinators
  • Wellness garden using a combination of cooling water features and tall, enveloping planting to transport the visitor away from the city
  • Historical garden showcasing traditional bedding schemes and techniques, as an educational tool

It is clear that there is no single way forwards on the topic of bedding. As always, the best step involves compromising. By limiting single-use plants, combining perennial plants with a small number of annuals, reusing plants when the season is over, and considering innovative uses for high-value spaces, we can start to create spaces that offer more. If tradition and heritage are the only reasons for having as much bedding as we do, our approach needs to change, urgently. These spaces need to be beneficial for people, the environment and ecology, as well as cost effective. Until this balance is reached, or come close to, bedding is going to continue to be a contentious issue.


Barras-Hargan, L., 2021. The recreational garden as society’s living museum [Blog], Available at: <; [Accessed 17 February 2021].

Dunnett, N., 2020. Future Nature, Transformational Green.

Franklin-Wallace, O., 2019. ‘Plastic recycling is a myth’: what really happens to your rubbish?. The Guardian, [online] Available at:<; [Accessed 17 February 2021].

Greater London Authority, 2016. Economic Evidence Base for London 2016. [online] London, pp.136-139. Available at: <; [Accessed 17 February 2021].

Hedblom, M., Gunnarsson, B., Iravani, B., Knez, I., Schaefer, M., Thorsson, P. and Lundström, J., 2019. Reduction of physiological stress by urban green space in a multisensory virtual experiment. Scientific Reports, 9(1).

Ledsom, A., 2019. What Is London’s National Park City Status And Which Other Cities Will Follow?. [online] Forbes. Available at: <; [Accessed 17 February 2021].

Moore, G., 1888. Semi-tropical bedding and carpet gardening. London: Forgotten Books.

Oxford Economic, 2018. The Economic Impact of Ornamental Horticulture in the UK. [online] Oxford: Oxford Economics, pp.2-14. Available at: <; [Accessed 17 February 2021]. 2020. Keith Weed appointed as the new RHS President seeks to accelerate the positive impact of gardening on our lives, society and the environment. [online] Available at: <; [Accessed 17 February 2021].

The English Garden. 2014. Garden features: bedding displays – The English Garden. [online] Available at: <,mid%20to%20late%2019th%20century.&text=The%20practice%20of%20’bedding%20out,flowers%20in%20spring%20and%20summer.&gt; [Accessed 17 February 2021].

The recreational garden as society’s living museum

The influence of botanical and recreational gardens on society as we know it today is undeniable; especially in the last 10 months. Indeed, one public park in England saw an increase in visitors of 640% between the summer of 2019 and 2020 (Covid drives huge increase in use of urban greenspace, 2020). In the last eleven months, as a global pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns confined the public to their homes and locales, open spaces and greenscapes have helped to bolster wellness, morale and education. However, this is not a novel idea, as the use of various tools such as design theory and the panopticon effect have long been used to guide visitors spatially as well as in how they interact with displays. In this essay, I will paint the museum as the blueprint for the educational, recreational garden. I will touch on the historical purpose of public gardens, their role in bringing communities together and how they can be modernised to suit modern values.

In its inception, the museum was not as we know it today – it required much more than a day ticket to enter. In fact, early museums were simply private collections following the precedent set by the Florence-based Medici family. Noblemen commissioned and collected artefacts, artworks and precious objects, as a display of their wealth and superiority (Chen, 2013). Later, simply owning these luxurious items was not enough; an individuals’ collection indicated their levels of taste.  After the beginning of the Age of Enlightenment in the early 1700s, rapid modernisation and various industrial revolutions, a shift in power and lack of order gave rise to museums as a tool for educating and controlling the general public and lower echelons of society.

Worldwide collections were curated and displayed in carefully designed buildings. In fact, it was not enough to simply invite in the public and encourage education, the atmosphere and design of these institutions helped to further shape their learning. For example, visitor circulation was considered, with predetermined paths being laid out, using subconscious habits such as invariant right: the theory that when visitors enter a space with “exhibit objects on both walls, they tend to turn right in the absence of other stronger attracting cues” (Whitlow, n.d.). In addition, the panopticon effect was often utilised on split-level viewing platforms, making visitors feel almost as deliberately surveyed as the exhibitions themselves. In theory, this social conditioning and a culture of surveillance was intended to “raise the levels of general education and culture” (Rodini, n.d.), by encouraging groups to conform to the rules and societal norms of the environment. Somewhat crassly put by the first Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Sir Henry Cole, he hoped that this atmosphere would “civilise” visitors by “furnish[ing] a powerful antidote to the gin palace.” (V&A – Building the Museum, 2019). In other words, Cole hoped to keep the working classes out of the pub, and that a prolonged exposure to this educational setting would be assimilated, perhaps through osmosis.

While recreational and botanical gardens may be missing the four walls and fluorescent lighting, their design, history and purpose, was almost identical. Noble people and royal families commissioned expeditions to faraway lands, hunting for exotic flora. Private collections were displayed by these wealthy individuals and tropical plants were kept alive in specially created glasshouses. As with museums, as time passed, these noble families either donated collections, opened up their estates to the public or – in the case of the Royal Botanical Gardens Kew (RBGK) – handed it over to the public. At the RBGK, the same emphasis on order we can see in early museums has lived on, encouraging people to move en masse throughout the park, first taking a right towards the café and Temperate House, as well as the Broad Walk. The movement of visitors is not primarily a tool for socialisation but allows curators and designers to steer the public towards a series of features, in a specific order, which ultimately creates the desired effect. As in museums, there are certain norms that are “known or quickly learned by visitors and are followed by them with a remarkably high degree of compliance” (Trondsen, 1974). For a time, these open spaces were reserved for the upper classes. However, when they were opened to the public, there had to be order.

In the second half of the eighteenth century, prosperous individuals and middle to upper class families naturally gravitated to open spaces. The layout of cities such as London is testament to this. In his book The Making of the British Landscape, Francis Pryor brought attention to this “move by the well-to-do towards open spaces, where their houses could be viewed to better advantage” (2011). This is particularly notable in areas such as Hampstead Heath and Blackheath. Pryor goes on to say that while there were important ‘public’ gardens in areas such as Vauxhall and Ranelagh Gardens, “they were never intended for the use of ordinary people, any more than country houses, whose many visitors were invariably from the upper classes” (Pryor, 2011).

Subsequently, the emergence of municipal parks and gardens changed the social trajectory of the lower and working classes. In fact, the first public park of London, Regent’s Park, was only open to ‘subscribers’ for its first 15 years (Uglow, 2005). These open spaces were intended to improve the health and social lives of the lower classes.

A report from 1843 stated:

“with a rapidly increasing population… the means of occasional exercise and recreation in the fresh air are everyday lessened… It is of the first importance to their health on [Mechanics or Manufacturers’] days of rest to enjoy the fresh air, and to be able… to walk out in decent comfort with their families; if deprived of any such resource, it is probable that their only escape from the narrow courts and alleys… will be the drinking shops, where, in short-lived excitement they may forget their toil, but where they waste the means of their families, and too often destroy their health.” (Parliamentary Select Committee on Public Works)

The parallels in language between this extract and that of Sir Henry Cole above are significant in their positioning of the institution as a socialising tool to quash undesirable and anti-social behavior. When the first local authority park Birkenhead Park was opened, granting free entry to the general public, there were rules to follow. The location boasted sports grounds and boating lakes but there was a ban on alcohol, gambling and swearing. The sentiment was simple: if you wanted to enjoy the vast benefits of these open spaces and their facilities, you would have to fit in, and the hope was that this changed behaviour would linger long beyond the park gates. While Cole’s metaphorical ‘gin palace’ has since been replaced by franchised gastro pubs and you are unlikely to be thrown out of Hyde Park for using vulgar language, the sentiment of keeping the order is evident in recreational and botanical gardens, as well as municipal parks to this day.

            While this approach may seem heavy-handed, modern day parks and gardens have adopted a more relaxed approach, welcoming local communities to enjoy their local green spaces however they wish. Public municipal parks commonly feature children’s’ playgrounds, sports grounds, skate parks, eateries, cycle paths and seasonal events. I believe this to be a more effective catalyst for social cohesion than the at times condescending and demonising view of lower classes centuries ago.

            The social benefits of green spaces, particularly in urban areas, are significant. A recent report found that almost three-quarters of people felt spending time outdoors in nature in 2020 helped them to relax and unwind (Covid drives huge increase in use of urban greenspace, 2020). The World Health Organisation goes further in their Review of Urban Green Spaces and Health,  stating that these open spaces can “reduce morbidity and mortality in urban residents by providing psychological relaxation and stress alleviation” (World Health Organisation, 2016). Beyond the grand, extensive urban parks, green spaces of all sizes have been proven to be beneficial. From solitary street trees to roof allotments, green spaces are contagious, with more and more architecture firms building garden plans into their proposals. In addition, social benefits extend beyond the visitors, as was exemplified in the FitzPark project, whereby there was an increase of the number of users that spent up to 30 minutes per visit, which led to more customers for adjacent businesses (Woodason, n.d.). Summed up by the Improving Wellbeing Through Urban Nature report of 2018, about 70% of interviewees volunteered that an outdoor location was their favourite place (Jorgensen, 2018). It is patently clear that people have had an intrinsic connection to nature and value time spent outdoors; now it is important that these outdoors spaces are inclusive and vibrant enough to bring even more people outdoors.  

In a recent seminar presented by Nigel Dunnett for the Kew Mutual Improvement Society, the garden designer and ecologist encouraged horticulturalists to meet the public on their level, avoiding highly technical language and alienating themes when trying to encourage a passion for the outdoors and plants in general (Dunnett, 2020). Indeed, upon noticing a patch of flattened perennials at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park he co-designed, he did not cordon off the area or scold the culprits; instead, he paved over this spot, creating a space where people could immerse themselves in the plants. In this same way, local people should shape their experiences of nature and be encouraged to have those important interactions with plants, free of judgement and in an environment where they feel welcomed. This will undoubtedly lead to the integrally related health, social and environmental benefits.

Fortunately for some of the population this past year, urban parks, pocket city gardens and botanical gardens have been only a short walk – and the flash of a members’ card – away. However, for marginalised communities, these recreational, educational and wellness spaces can exist behind an invisible cordon. Converse to their historical purpose of inviting in the non-bourgeois working class and lifting them up through education and social conditioning, contemporary recreational gardens can fall short through lack of representation and traces of colonial violence, domination and theft, particularly in the exhibitions presented at botanical gardens. Fortunately, unlike museums filled with immovable artefacts, gardens change season to season and are alive with new possibilities. By pioneering inclusivity, incorporating multi-use spaces, improving accessibility and listening to communities, the countless societal benefits of green spaces will prevail – for everyone.


Chen, K., 2013. The Disciplinary Power of Museums. International Journal of Social Science and Humanity, pp.407-410.

Dunnett, N., 2020. Future Nature, Transformational Green.

Jorgensen, P., 2018. Improving Well-Being Through Urban Nature (IWUN): What We Know So Far.

NatureScot. 2020. Covid Drives Huge Increase In Use Of Urban Greenspace. [online] Available at: <; [Accessed 22 January 2021].

Parliamentary Select Committee on Public Works, 1843. Report On The Select Committee On Public Works. p.3.

Pryor, F., 2011. The Making Of The British Landscape. London: Penguin Books.

Rodini, D., n.d. The Changing Social Functions Of Art Museums. [online] Khan Academy. Available at: <; [Accessed 22 January 2021].

Trondsen, N., 1976. Social Control in the Art Museum. Urban Life, 5(1), pp.105-119.

Uglow, J., 2005. A Little History Of British Gardening. London: Pimlico.

Victoria and Albert Museum. 2019. V&A · Building The Museum. [online] Available at: <; [Accessed 22 January 2021].

Whitlow, A., n.d. Right Place, Right Time. [online] Quinine. Available at: <; [Accessed 22 January 2021].

Woodason, E., n.d. Fitzpark: How Small Sites Can Have A Big Impact On Wellbeing.

World Health Organisation, 2016. Urban Green Space Interventions And Health: A Review Of Impacts And Effectiveness. [online] Available at: <,and%20reducing%

Algae is incredible

This week at college, we have been looking at aquatic plants and ponds in gardens. Aside from our aquatic plant ident, featuring some of the most challenging botanical names I’ve come across (Lysichiton camtschatcensis, I’m looking at you), we were also asked to research algae. Before I starting this research, I thought algae was just that scummy green stuff that grew on stagnant water. How wrong I was. Sure, it can be the scummy stuff collecting on top of a forgotten bucket of water like a horrible froth on an equally concerning flat white, but it’s also the kelp forests that bring an invaluable food source and habitat to marine organisms. Algae is incredibly diverse and so much more significant to the economy and ecology than I could have imagined. So if you’re ready, let’s dive into the algae, in all its forms.

So what is algae?

The term Alga (or the plural Algae) refers to a simple, non-flowering and often aquatic plant belonging to a large group that includes seaweeds and other single-cell forms. Algae is an informal term for a large polyphyletic group (meaning that they are grouped together not because they have a confirmed common ancestor, but because they display similar characteristics). Algae can range from unicellular microalgae to a large brown alga known as giant kelp, which can grow up to 50 metres long. It is believes that the term Alga (the Latin word for ‘seaweed’) derives from the Latin alliga, which means binding or entwining. However, there is no confirmed etymological source.

Alga differs from plants because they lack many of the distinct cell and tissues types found in tracheophytes, including the following:

  • Stomata
  • Xylem
  • Phloem
  • Phyllids
  • Roots

Additionally, some algae types use complex sexual reproduction that is not commonly found in the land plants with vascular systems.

There are three main types of algae:

  • Phaeophyceae (brown algae): these are multicellular algae, including many seaweeds found in colder waters. Phaeophyceae live in marine environments and are ecologically important as a food source and a habitat for marine wildlife. There are between 1,500 and 2,000 brown algae species around the world. There are two visible features that set this type of algae apart from other forms: their characteristic olive green to brown colour and their multicellular status. There are no organisms in the Phaeophyceae group that exist in single cell or colonies of cells.
  • Chlorophyta (green algae): This informal group consists of several photosynthetic alga species, including unicellular types, colonial types, macroscopic types and multicellular seaweeds. Overall, there are about 22,000 species of green algae, with many species existing as single cells. Chlorophyta are distinctive due to their vibrant green colour, as a result of their chloroplasts that contain chlorophyll. Microscopically, all green algae can be identified through their mitochondria and flat cristae. While brown algae are exclusively found in marine environments and red algae are found mostly in marine environments, green algae mainly live in freshwater. Finally, oth red and brown algae are sessile (meaning that they do not move), whereas green algae are motile (meaning that they can move).
  • Rhodophyta (red algae): This is one of the oldest groups of eukaryotic and it contains over 7,000 recognised species. Of these, 6,793 are multicellular marine algae, making red algae abundant in marine habitats, although a small percentage of species do exist in freshwater habitats. As with brown algae, one of the significant characteristics that sets red algae aside is its colour. Its name Rhodo is Latin for ‘rose’, making it an distinctive feature that likely led to the classification of red algae.

While colour, cellular and habitat differences are visible differentiators, scientifically, the photosynthetic pigments of each algae group is what characterises them:

PigmentsBrown algaeGreen algaeRed algae
Chlorophyll axxx
Chlorophyll b x 
Chlorophyll cx  
Chlorophyll d  x
Phycobilins  x
Algae’s life cycle

While some algae reproduce through sporic meiosis, all algae can grow and repair itself through cell division, or mitosis. Mitosis is a process of cell duplication, where one cell divides into two genetically identical daughter cells.  The chromosomes of the cell are copied and distributed equally between the two nuclei of the daughter cells.

Here is an overview of how cell division works, using the cell divison of chloroplasts as an example:

  1. Proteins assemble into bundles of filaments, creating a ring inside the chloroplast
  2. A second ring is formed on the outside of the chloroplast membrane
  3. This outer ring begins to apply pressure to the chloroplast
  4. A fourth ring is created on the outside, which them moves under the outer plastid ring, applying even more pressure
  5. The chloroplast completes division, separating into two daughter chloroplasts

This process is significant in algae, as this helps some species grow very quickly, as well as repair damaged tissue fast. For example, the giant kelp can grow as much as 30cm in one day.

The economic and ecological importance of algae

Algae in general have several uses, and are economically significant. Here are a few ways in which algae are used commercially:

  • Food

Algae is a source of fats, proteins, vitamins A, B, C and E, carbohydrates, iron, potassium, magnesium, calcium, manganese and zinc. This makes it an amazing food source and could potentially be used to help fight hunger.

  • Fertiliser

Due to the vitamins and minerals listed above, algae are often used as liquid fertilisers.

  • Binding agent

All brown algae contain alginic acid in their cell walls, which is commercially extracted and used to thicken foods, among other things, including lithium-ion batteries.

  • Biological indicator

Due to their sensitivity to changes in environments, changes in their pigments are often used as an indicator in water pollution testing.

  • Pisciculture

Alginic acid can also be used in aquaculture, as it can help to strengthen the immune system of some fish, and this can increase yield and survival rate of fish.

  • Fodder

Algae can be used to feed livestock such as cattle and chickens. In certain regions, it is used as a grain for this same purpose.

Furthermore, algae is ecologically important, as it supports wildlife and helps to fight climate change:

  • Brown and red algae have adapted to a series of marine environments, including the tidal splash zone, rock pools and relatively deep shoreline waters. They provide habitats for a wide range of animals, as well as being edible. In freshwater environments, green algae and some red algae can serve these purposes too.
  • Importantly, algae fix a significant portion of carbon dioxide in the world through photosynthesis, with some scientists claiming that algae are the source of more than half of the world’s oxygen through photosynthesis.

While this may sound beneficial on the economic and ecological front, there are some serious issues associated with algae:

Toxic algal blooms: Some algae species produce toxic blooms which poison filter feeding shellfish, which go on to poison their predators – mussels and clams. These shellfish in turn become poisonous to any animals, including humans, that consume them. This leads to fatal outbreaks of shellfish toxicity that kill people, marine mammals, birds, fish and invertebrates. These toxic blooms are made by mostly red algae, which is where the name ‘red tides’ comes from, to describe these deadly blooms.

Dead zones: An excess of nutrients can enter the ocean through agricultural chemicals and human or animal waste. This then leads to an excess of algae in marine habitats. As they die and decompose, the ocean is depleted of oxygen, making it unlivable. Wired Science states that there are 400 major dead zones in oceans around the world, with one covering over 18,000 squared kilometers.

In aquaculture: Algae can pose issues and threats to wildlife, as they can deplete the water of oxygen, while also immobilizing corals, for example.

By reducing the damaging chemicals that enter the ocean, managing algae populations and improving detection of ‘red tides’, we can benefit from the immense economic and ecological advantages of algae, safely.

There’s no doubt – I have only just scratched the surface when it comes to the beauty and importance of algae. However, I hope this brief synopsis has made you think a little differently about this interesting little corner of the plant kingdom. I know the second I’m back in Muizenberg in Cape Town, I’ll be jumping right in the ocean to get a closer look at the beautiful kelp forests. For now, I’ll work on getting over my fear of sharks. Wish me luck!


Anwar, S., 2020. What is the Economic Importance of Algae?. [online] Available at: <,provide%20oxygen%20to%20the%20water&gt; [Accessed 27 January 2021].

Keim, B., 2020. Ocean Dead Zones May Be Worse Than Thought. [online] Wired. Available at: <; [Accessed 27 January 2021].

Mackay, J., 1836. “Flora hibernica”, comprising the flowering plants, ferns, characeae, musci, hepaticae, lichenes and algae of Ireland, arranged, according to the natural system, with a synopsis of the genera according to the Linnaean system, by James Townsend Mackay ... Dublin: W. Curry Jun.

Pediaa.Com. 2019. What is the Difference Between Red Brown and Green Algae – Pediaa.Com. [online] Available at: <; [Accessed 27 January 2021].

Tidal Film, 2018. On that note… if you haven’t gone for a dive in False Bay yet, we can DEFINITELY recommend it! 🐟 [image] Available at: <> [Accessed 27 January 2021].

Willson, J., 2017. Harmful Effects of Algae. [online] Sciencing. Available at: <; [Accessed 27 January 2021].

Gardening Journal – Entry 18

Monday 18 January 2021

After a weekend of not doing much and staying at home, as per government guidelines, I had a really hard time getting to sleep. After tossing and turning half the night, I woke up at 4:30am. Feeling terrible and absolutely shattered. Still, I’m a stickler for routine, so I got my weights out and did a bit of exercise to wake up my brain, before breakfast. 

This week I’m working without Laurence, as he’s on annual leave, writing new music. Working alone can be nice, especially on days like this, when you’re operating on about four hours of sleep and aren’t capable of cohesive speech! Still, I miss having someone to bounce ideas off, chat with and help me lift heavy things as well!

Today I worked on a site that is split onto two levels. On the lower level, there is a lawn, an ornamental pear tree, a coppice-style planting of Hypericum patulum, Pyracantha coccinea, Berberis julianae and Ilex aquifolium. On the higher level, there is a beautiful magnolia tree, two symmetrical L-shaped beds used for bedding, as well as two herbaceous borders. 

I like this garden as it feels quite concealed and private and has a lot of variety in terms of planting types, with the bedding, topiary, lawn, trees, coppice and herbaceous borders. There is even a mini topiary maze, although the lockdown hasn’t been kind to it and it is looking more like a thicket than the manicured Buxus it should be. 

Today, I spent a lot of time in the coppice area, clearing out leaves, weeding and giving a nice cultivate. I had to dodge a few poos, courtesy of the police dogs around the corner, but on the whole, it was a quick job. I must admit that there was a moment where my springbok rake was so caught up in the shrubs that I felt like screaming, but seeing the job done makes you totally forget the pain of it. 

Tomorrow, I won’t be working on my Tod, as I’ll be joined by another member of the team. I’m looking forward to having a chat and getting to know them a little better. Hopefully I can get a bit more sleep tonight so I don’t scare them with my eye bags.