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Volunteers' Blog - October & November 2019

Those of you who have been following the story of the Monarda ‘Bee Balm’ plants will recall that earlier this year, at the time bee friendly plug plants were planted by the Volunteers around the hive, some Monarda seeds were sown. Over the following months the seeds successfully germinated, were potted on and grew into healthy plants. The mature plants were eventually planted out, like their plug plant cousins, close to the hive. In early October we revisited the area around the hive to see how the plants were faring. In the picture to the left you can see what we found, with Lynne our chairman, looking admiringly over the fence. It was gratifying to see that the Monarda plants had not only survived but were now in full flower offering up their nectar to the bees.

Mike Hughes, Head Gardener, has been very busy this autumn showing a large number of school groups around the Garden. As a consequence, those of us cleaning seeds have had a rather peripatetic few weeks. This is no criticism of Mike, it’s lovely to see the young people moving excitedly around the garden and learning about their environment. However, after a week in the less than warm polytunnel we took refuge in the gardeners messroom next to Mike’s office. Although much smaller than either the greenhouse or the polytunnel this made for a much warmer and cosier environment in which to work. Could this have been a cunning ploy on Wendy’s part to ensure that we did not slope off for coffee earlier than normal?

On a chilly November morning we were joined by Katherine, a consultant working on behalf of the National Trust. She was looking for ideas to enhance the ‘visitor experience’ when visiting the Walled Garden at Gibside, the National Trust property at Rowlands Gill. Friends of the Garden who attended the talk on the redevelopment of Gibside last year will remember that Diarmuid Gavin, the Irish garden designer and television personality, had been commissioned to redesign this area of Gibside. Whilst cleaning seeds from the candelabra cowslip Primula candelabra and Tibetan cowslip Primula florindae, and later over coffee, we gave Katherine our thoughts on what would enhance the garden. Ideas included: herb and sensory areas; plants that would have been found in the garden at the time of Gibside’s original development; seating; information about the plants and the opportunity to purchase the plants seen. In return for our thoughts Katherine showed us some early visuals of Diarmuid’s design, a series of concentric circles formed from mounds of differing heights with interlinking paths winding between them. We all agreed it will be interesting to see how this garden develops over the next few years.

The Volunteers have undertaken many different jobs in the Garden over the past year. However, Mike’s request that we wash the trunks of the Himalayan Birch trees, so that their bark would shine more brightly, was a new one to us. Undaunted by this bizarre request and armed with buckets of warm water and J Cloths a hardy band of Volunteers descended into the Himalayan Del to perform this task. We trust that those of you who visited the Botanic Gardens during Lumiere will have been dazzled by the luminosity of these fine trees, at least their trunks and lower branches, whilst listening to the endless round of ‘Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree’.

As the month drew to a close, we were again able to work in the greenhouse. The school children presumably now preparing for their nativity plays. The last of the seed heads were divested of their seeds and we could begin the task of packing the many different seeds collected ready for sale in the Visitor Centre.

The Botanic Garden is closed at the start of December as the electricity supply is upgraded. As a consequence, the Volunteers have taken an early Christmas break and will resume their work on the 8th January. If you would like to join us you will be made very welcome.

Alex Taylor.