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Mike's Blog - Day 200

A cold dark and rainy Saturday morning, October 3rd 2020.

200 days.

I wondered how best to mark this unimaginable milestone, a special plant? A look back at the highlights?

I can’t really pick the best bits, it’s all there on the Friends webpages now thanks to Robin.

One day all this will be behind us, so I thought perhaps it’s worth reflecting on what this year has meant for the garden.

This year was going to be a special year, 50 years since the Botany Department decided to re-locate its plant collection from the science site and create a botanic garden. I’m not sure if I ever shared a photo of that original garden, so it's attached today.

You can see the New Inn, now Whitechurch, and also a monkey puzzle tree which is still there today, outside the Bill Bryson Library. It was the building of the library that meant a new location for the plant collection was needed. You can see the ordered beds laid out. Also a lot of allotments and “stooks” of corn in the fields, all long gone now.

I had pushed the boat out a bit last October and ordered more bulbs and bedding than ever, and chose some really nice, more expensive varieties, a treat for the spring of our 50th year.

Those bulbs where planted by the Friends a year or so ago now. Words like social distancing, bubble and face masks will not have conjured up the same images they do now.

Day 1, Tuesday 17th March. The coffee shop folks told us they had been told to close, and the 100 or so school kids due to come later in that week were all calling to see what was happening. They never came.

We continued potting all the bedding plugs, not really thinking much would happen and that the coffee shop would be open again in a few weeks, certainly in time for the Friends Easter Chick hunt and the spring display.

Day 7, Monday 23rd March. “Lockdown” is announced. It still probably felt like a fairly short term measure, but the good news is one of us was allowed to come to the garden and water each day then go home. We had literally finished potting up the last of the bedding that day.

April and Easter came with fantastic weather, the ground became and cracked and dusty. Roads were quiet, skies clear blue and no aeroplane trails.

The bedding was growing well in the bright lengthening days. I potted it, “we’ll need it for the summer”.

The daffs came out then the tulips. The garden was a tranquil paradise but in isolation.

May begins, Peter the last person to be put onto furlough, so I’m on my own.

I wheel the tubs of daffs and tulips round to the greenhouse and empty them and start filling them with the bedding which desperately needs space. Much easier to water too, watering was taking two hours every day.

Day 67 Friday 22nd May. Strong winds decimate the garden. What little moisture there was is gone, conifers blow down and debris is everywhere. The grass is getting long now, for the first time the garden is looking neglected and abandoned.

Day 76, Monday 1st June. Craig and Claire start back, just in time. The sheep are desperate to be sheared, the grass is long, the garden is a mess, we are overwhelmed with where to begin.

Day 81, Friday  5th June. I notice the monkey puzzle looks quite brown and it has a hollow sound to part of its trunk. Is this the end of our iconic tree?

Day 100, Thursday 25th June. All but nine sheep sheared and the garden is looking good, people are starting to ask when will we open.

Day 129, Friday 24th July. Signs have been put up all around the garden about social distancing, no entry points to create one way systems on steps. We are still closed but this is a good sign we might open soon.

Day 168, Tue 1st September. Peter is back, we have a full team once again. The garden is mostly looking good. Himalayan balsam has a grip.

Day 173, Sunday 6th September. It would have been the orchid show, but we have had no events this year, we had planned a special open evening to celebrate the garden's 50th, but no Easter chick hunt, Friends plant sale, storytelling or woodbodger. It feels very much like summer is over but there is still time to enjoy the garden. We still have posters on the notice board but all the events never happened.

Day 181, Monday 14th September. The Friends of the Garden are given permission to visit the garden, Monday to Friday only, between 10am and 3pm. Greenhouse, Visitor Centre, Bird hide and bee shed all closed.

Monday September 21st. Our first school! With my mobile phone I link up with a local school by “teams” (a bit like “zoom” or “facetime”) and take a class round the greenhouse, looking at how the different plants we have are adapted to different conditions. They are very excited and really want to see the venus fly trap. It was great to do but I look forward to “proper” trips as it’s one of the best things about the job.

Day 200, today, Saturday 3rd October. We are still closed to all, staff and students included, but the friends have been visiting which has been a huge moral boost for us. Things are naturally going over in the garden now, but autumn is certainly here. It’s turned a lot cooler, but we have had some excellent weather lately. We hope to finish hedge cutting in the next few weeks. Funds have been available to order bulbs for next spring, they are here now, and we will order bedding plugs soon too. We are almost full circle in that sense.

The monkey puzzle is dead.

Hopefully we will open to staff and students as term starts to get underway in the coming weeks.

It’s been a year I think when many people have maybe become more aware of nature and how much a walk outdoors or a sit in the garden means.

The natural world is beautiful, complex, “clever” and we still have a great deal to learn and understand about it. I certainly feel as soon as I find out one thing, it only opens the door to other questions.

I’m looking forward to watching David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet which I believe is broadcast on NETFLIX tomorrow.

If nothing else this pandemic should draw the world together like never before.

So, to end today's blog, we have a special map and guide to the garden done by a local artist, Juliet Perceval. Click on the images below to see larger versions...

The Friends commissioned Juliet to produce this map to celebrate the best of the garden. I’m sure you’ll now recognise many of the plants on it, and some you will find out about in the blogs to come in the coming weeks.

[Quality printed copies will be available at some point from the Friends]