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].

The vascular systems of a stem

It was another day of college today and my laptop decided to fail me, just in time for online learning! Learning is never easy outside of the classroom and not being able to access the documents we’re working on makes it even harder. Still, we covered a lot and I only got slightly left behind!

Here are some of the topics we focused on today:

  • Health and Safety Legislation
  • Vascular system of a plant’s stem

I’m going to focus on the second topic, for obvious reasons (i.e. posting about legislation an interesting blog does not make). I would argue that the stem of a plant is one of the least appreciated parts of a plant. When looking at a plant’s distinguishing features, you often think of things like the foliage shape and texture, the showy flowers or the berries and fruit. However, the stem is the literal backbone of the plant. It acts as support in adverse weather (with the help of the roots), it transports nutrients around the plant and the stem is one way you can clone your plant to produce a genetically identical replica, for free!

We dived into botany today, looking at plant cells up close and discovering the different processes that happen beneath the surface and just how important they are. To kick off the learning, let’s talk about monocotyledons and dicotyledons:

  • Monocotyledon (or monocots): this refers to flowering plants that have scattered vascular bundles in their stems and are characterised by their lack of cambium (see below) between the xylem (also see below) and phloem (just see below for all, please). There is also no distinction between the cortex and pith and no annual rings (tree rings) are formed.
  • Dicotyledons (or dicots): unlike monocots, these have a limited number of vascular bundles arranged in a ring. Cambium does exist in dicots and and the cortex and pith are distinguishable. Secondary thickening can occur (I’ll get into this later) and annual rings form as a result of this.

Distinguishing between dicotyledons and monocotyledons is important, as it tells us a lot about what the internal structures are going to look like. The best way to differentiate between a monocot and a dicot is seeing what its first leaves look like. If a pair of kidney bean-shaped leaves appear, that’s a dicot, whereas if one grass-like leaf grows out of the soil, that’s a monocot.

Let’s look at the structure of a stem. Most dicots have a similar structure to this and may only show slight variation or modified bits and pieces. Here’s a diagram I put together at the beginning of the year:

Terminal (or apical) bud: this is the topmost bud and the one responsible for terminal growth. Due to the auxin hormone, most of the energy goes into growth from this terminal bud and growth is inhibited in the lateral buds. This is why gardeners ‘pinch out’ plants that they want to grow bushier or to put on more lateral growth – the energy stops being solely directed to the terminal bud and lateral buds get a chance to grow.

Lateral (or axillary) bud: These are the aforementioned buds that are further down the stems. They are produced in the leaf axils and are responsible for the lateral shoots from the main stem.

Flower bud: These develop into flowers and are often larger in size than the buds that produce vegetative growth.

Leaf scar: This is the scar from from the place where a leaf was joined onto the stem. It is also called the abscission scar.

Node: This is the point on the stem where a leaf used to be. The angle between the petiole (leaf stalk) and the stem is known as the leaf axil.

Internode: This is the length along the stem between two nodes.

(Not mentioned in the diagram:)
Lenticel: These are pores in the stem through which gasses may be exchanged. The relative size and shape of the lenticels can be a distinguishable feature when identifying plants.

Growth rings: This is sometimes called the girdle scar and indicates where the growth stopped after the end of the growth period the year prior. Therefore the length of the stem between two girdle scars or the terminal bud and the previous girdle scar will advise how much the plant grew the previous growing season.

And now, let’s look even closer – with a microscope! Inside any plant’s stem, there are three main players: the xylem, the phloem and the cambium. These form the vascular system of the plants, transporting food, water and minerals around the plant and offers support.

Vascular cambium (F): this is known as a meristem, meaning it is made up of undifferentiated cells and is capable of cell division. These cells have the ability to develop into any of the other tissues and organs in the plant. It is located between the xylem and the phloem inside the bark of the stem. Its cell division and growth make it responsible for increasing the girth of a stem.

Xylem (D): this conducts water and dissolves minerals and nutrients upwards from the roots to all the other parts of the plant. The xylem vessels’ walls are thickened with secondary deposits of cellulose and this causes secondary thickening. In older plants, the xylem stops helping with transporting water and nutrients and serves to give support to the growing trunk. As such, wood is xylem and when counting the annual rings of the tree, you are counting the rings of xylem.

Phloem (located under the bundle cap – E): this is produced towards the outside of stem on the other side of the cambium. Phloem transports the glucose produced through photosynthesis in the leaves and around the rest of the plant.

Helianthus stem 2 L

Jon Houseman / CC BY-SA (

Secondary thickening can happen in all dicots, however, it is more noticeable in perennials and woody dicots. Secondary thickening refers to the thickening of the stem as a result of the primary xylem and primary phloem being moved further and further apart. Annual rings will develop as a result of this and appear as alternating rings of spring and autumn wood.

There’s a lot more we can get into around this topic, however, I think modified stems a little more attention grabbing. While typical stems occur above ground and feature all the different parts listed above, modified stems can exist above and below ground and serve many more purposes than you might think.

Chlorophytum comosum variegatum (Spider Plant) produces plantlets, which are young plants that arise from modified flowering stems. These can also be called stolons.

Sempervivum tectorum (Common Houseleek) dsplay offsets, which are young plants produced from the base of the rosette forming new plants.

A crown is an area of compressed stem tissue. This is where new shoots are produced, generally found near the surface of the soil. Taraxacum officinale (dandelion) are compressed stems which produce leaves and flowers on short internodes. Runners are a kind of stolon, produced from the crown, from which new plants will grow.

Stolons are horizontal stems that are fleshy or semi-woody and lie along the ground. Stolons are specialised stems that run across the soil surface and create a new plant at one of more of its nodes. Strawberries are good examples of this!

Stolons are often confused with rhizomes, which are a different kind of specialised stem which grows horizontally just below the soil surface. They act as a storage organ and a means of propagation for some species. Some rhizomes, such as in irises, are compressed and fleshy.

Spurs are compressed fruiting branches, common on fruit trees such as Pyrus spp. (Pear trees), where they bear fruit.

Tubers are enlarged portions of an underground stem, such as potato tubers. Like any other stem, a tuber has nodes that produce buds. These are the eyes of a potato and contain clusters of buds. It is important to note that root tubers also exist.

Corms are solid, swollen stems. They are different to bulbs in that they do not contain fleshy scales. Instead, they have been reduced to a dry, leaf-like covering. New corms are formed on top of older, exhausted ones, meaning that adventitious roots develop to sink it to the correct depth.

Unlike corms, bulbs have fleshy scales and produce shortened, compressed, underground stems. The scales envelop a central bud located at the tip of the stem.

So there’s a mammoth amount of information about stems! Stems are one of the most important parts of the plant and I always see it as the HQ of the plant, sending nutrients where they’re needed and offering support. I can’t wait to do some stem cuttings at college next week so I can put all this theory into practice!

What I learnt today: preparing a bed for lawn seed and broadcasting

Today – for the first time in about seven months – I sat in a classroom with the other apprentices on my course. It was amazing. I had missed talking as a group, finding out what we had all been up to and working together. These kinds of college days remain a rarity, as we will be studying from home every week except for practical days. Today we worked on the following:

  • Soil cultivation, preparing for a lawn
  • Seed broadcasting
  • Calibrating a broadcast spreader
  • Hand scarifying with a rake
  • Hand aerating with a fork
  • Top dressing
  • Ident walk

We kicked off the day with some soil cultivation, preparing a bed for lawn seen broadcasting. Preparing a bed for any use is time consuming and – in some cases – back breaking. For example, if the practical test pare required a 20m² bed to be prepared for planting vegetables, good luck! This likely means you will be double digging the area or at least digging to a depth of about 30cm. Then, you will rake this over, tread it in and rake level.

Fortunately, lawn establishment only requires the top layer of the soil for the roots. As such, we worked on simple digging, which involves inserting the bottom third to two thirds of a fork into the soil and tousling it. This allows for gaseous exchange in the soil and alleviates compaction without digging too deep. After that, we roughly raked over the soil with a soil rake, combing through it and flicking away any large rocks, while also giving larger clods a good bash to break them down. Then comes the penguin walking, or treading in, which involves putting all of your weight into your heels and methodically taking very small steps across the soil. This presses the soil in and firms it up as when you cultivate, it adds more air into the mix and raises the level.

Once we made our way zig zagging back and forth over the bed once, we used an industrial rake to rake it over again. Unlike soil rakes, which have wider teeth and are primarily used to move material, industrial rakes have very fine teeth and are about 1m wide. They are used to break down clods and gently create a level without moving the soil around too much. Importantly, they also have a long flat bar when you turn it upside down, allowing you to smooth the surface of the soil and create a presentable, flat level.

Buddleja ‘Buzz Velvet’, Hand scarifying and aerating, Preparing bed for lawn planting, seed broadcasting and pretty patterns by Jordan.

Once we had finished leveling off, we began working on broadcasting grass seed. As grass seeds are so fine and accurate broadcasting is important to grow a strong, consistent sward, measurement is key. As per the box instructions, the grass seed had to be cast at the rate of 30g/m². Our prepared beds were 4m², which made it easy to make out these 1m² boxes, as all we had to go was place a stake in the middle of the original square.

To provide even distribution, the broadcasting is done in two passes (i.e.: from North to South, then from East to West). This means that the volume of seed recommended per m² needs to be halved. In our case, this means that 15g of seed will be broadcast per metre squared. When sowing seed, it is important to factor in a certain loss of seed to animal feeding. As such, it is common practice to add an extra 10% on top ‘for the birds’. This made our total seed volume 33g/m² and 16.5g per pass.

Broadcasting seed is best done with broad passes, using your hand or a cup/ container. Try to keep each pass as even as possible and fill in any gaps when making the final pass. When all the grass seed had been broadcast, gently rake over the soil to lightly cover the seeds. The last step is watering, very lightly, to avoid puddling, seeds pooling in one are and the soil level being disturbed. Use a rose adapter on your hose or watering can to diffuse the water and pass over it a few times with a spray, as opposed to a drench.

I had a wonderful day working with my classmates again and having a laugh while we learned some new skills. I can’t wait for our next practical day next month!

The brassica ‘triangle of U’

Today was our first day back at college since we broke up for summer. And by ‘back’ I mean back behind a computer studying from home. I have been missing the learning aspect of college, as well as the day of respite it offers from the working week. Nonetheless, I do miss our classes in person, when we could chat during breaks, wander around the college grounds and learn about plants the best way I know: through touch, smell, sight, sound and, occasionally, taste. Next week, we will get to do this, as we go for a safely distanced day of practicals. I can’t wait.

Today, we covered tonnes of content, from legislation and health and safety to plant nomenclature and how much it costs to plant a hedge (a lot, if you were wondering). One thing that jumped out at me – and by that I mean: confused me – was the concept of the ‘triangle of U’ when talking about brassicas. I’m going to do my best at explaining what exactly that is and hopefully help myself figure it out along the way. Just to warn you, as much as the ‘triangle of U’ sounds like the name of an angsty indie song, it’s actually very scientific and delves into the evolution of plants. So strap in!

The Triangle of U is a theory first published in 1935 and named after the botanist Woo Jang-choon’s Japanised name “Nagaharu U”. This is a theory about the evolution of plants in the brassica family (Brassicaceae). The basis of this theory is that three ancestral brassicas, which were diploids, combined to create three common brassicas, which were tetraploids. Before we jump into the ins and outs of the theory, let’s get some terminology out of the way:

  • Genome: this is the genetic material in a living organism
  • Diploid: ‘Ploidy’ refers to the number of complete sets of chromosomes found in the nucleus of a cell. In somatic cells, the chromosomes exist in pairs. This is known as diploidy, and the cells are referred to as diploid (2n). Except for human sex cells, which are haploids (containing a single set of chromosomes), the rest of our cells are diploid, containing chromosomes from each of our parents.
  • Tetraploid: While diploid cells have chromosomes in pairs, polyploidy (when a normal diploid cell acquires one or more additional sets of chromosomes), means that some cells can reach up to twelve sets of chromosomes. Tetraploid cells have four sets of chromosomes.

The relationship between these brassicas is best shown through the diagram below:

Triangle of U Simple1
Adenosine at English Wikipedia based on work by Nashville Monkey at English Wikipedia / CC BY-SA (

While this may look intimidating, once you break it down, it becomes a lot easier to understand. The AA, BB, CC, AABB, etc. differentiate between the three diploid species (AA, BB, CC) and the remaining tetraploid species (AABB, BBCC, AACC).

After that, it is important to note the ‘n=’. This is simply referring to the number of pairs of chromosomes present. In Brassica rapa (or AA), for example, there is a total of ten pairs of chromosomes. In the tetrapolid cells of Brassica juncea (or AABB), there is a total of 18 chromosomes present, as the number of chromosomes in AA and BB have combined.

What we observe is that the diploid species, or the Brassica nigra, Brassica rapa and Brassica oleracea, are the ancestral genomes, with only set of two chromosomes. When combined, these produce Brassica napus, Brassica carinata and Brassica juncea, species with tetraploid cells.

Since this discovery, an ‘allohexaploid’ has been created, which would sit in the middle of this triangle. It combines the three different sets of chromosomes to create AABBCC.

If your brain hasn’t melted by now, here’s the horticultre element: these derived species make up the bulk of the brassicas you know and love today. Brassica oleracea has many cultivars which produce these favourites: brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi and more!

I can’t say I have a comfortable understanding of this just yet, but hopefully I can review this in a few months and make a little more sense of it then!