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Autumn tasks

November 28, 2021
Where does time go? A second action-packed month in my traineeship has gone already. Here are some of the highlights and the tasks I've accomplished this autumn.

Repotting hepaticas

Amy, who holds a real passion for the genus, learned a lot about hepaticas from John Massey of Ashwood Nurseries who is one of the UK’s experts on the genus. Amy takes care of the collection at Harlow Carr and gave me a fantastic how-to guide on repotting these beautiful woodlanders. Here at the Gardens, they are repotted every two years but this can be done annually.

As hepaticas dislike being overpotted, plants are then placed into the correct sized terracotta pots, even if smaller than in previous years. The compost used here at Harlow Carr is a loose woodland mix (1 part John Innes, 1 part composted bark, 1 part perlite, 1 part leaf mould).

Make sure to repot hepaticas with the crowns high in the pot as they will inevitably sink down after watering which might then cause the crowns to rot. The newly potted plants are best watered three times, with short breaks in between to make sure they’ve had a thorough soak. Lastly top-dress with a generous layer of grit.

Woodland hepaticas update

Over in the new Hepatica area in the woodland, we put in lots of fresh plants to complete the project. Smaller specimens were grouped around larger ones for a natural effect and planted near to the logs for support. No blood, fish, and bone was applied to discourage squirrels from digging them up. After planting, they were all watered in and then mulched around with pine needles and shredded conifer branches. Two weeks later the plants were fed with a liquid seaweed fertiliser. The worst of the leaves were removed from the smaller plants to prevent any of them rotting away. This will definitely be an area to come and visit in the spring when they are all in flower!

Behind the scenes

In the nursery-yard a large range of potted alpines are kept in sand plunges, open to the elements. This collection is normally repotted every year. However due to COVID-19 staff shortages, last year this task wasn’t accomplished.
Over the autumn we managed to catch up and the plants already seem much happier for the attention.

Tidying of Sempervivums and Jovibarbas has been another regular task. Using trusty tweezers I removed any weeds, moss, and dead leaves from the pots. I then added a new layer of grit as top-dressing to freshen them up. Over in one of the cold frame plunge beds, rogue Roscoea seedlings had sprouted. I lifted them up and planted into module trays. They will grow on here and will be added to the collection later. This job had to be completed quickly, before the leaves died back and the seedlings became invisible over winter.

We also brought the Pleione collection into one of the sheds which has a heater to keep the room above 5℃. All the old leaves have been removed and plants are regularly monitored in case of any mould spreading amongst them.


Autumn tasks repotting Roscoea seedlings

Roscoea seedlings

Autumn tasks Pleione collection

Pleiones kept frost-free

Streamside with Aimee Beth

Over by the stream, Aimee Beth ran a great Gunnera winter protection workshop for all the students and some of the staff.  Not alpines, I know, but great fun and another opportunity to learn about different horticultural techniques. Gunnera leaves are cut off, most of the leafstalk removed and then are piled in order of size. Once all the leaves are cleared, you take the smaller ones and start building upwards over the crown with gradually bigger leaves interlocking to create a small tent effect. Not only do these help protect the new buds but they’re a real talking point for visitors and aesthetically pleasing too!

Autumn tasks at Harlow Carr

Gunnera leaves

On the streamside terraces, I’ve been helping Aimee and the team clear new areas. Here we planted exciting things such as three different cultivars of Meconopsis, a few Polystichum minutum, and several Rhododendron ‘Artic Tern’ shrubs. The following week Aimee also showed me how to lift and divide Cypripedium ‘Kentucky Pink Blush’. This was a first for me – really excited to see how they develop!

Autumn talks - divinging Cypripedium 'Kentucky Pink Blush'

Dividing Cypripedium 'Kentucky Pink Blush'

York Gate

Towards the end of October Amy, Aaron and I went for a few hours to visit York Gate Garden and drop off some plants. Senior Gardener, Jack Ogg showed us around. This is a small but characterful garden packed to the brim with plant gems. The Arts and Crafts style was evident in all the different garden rooms and vistas. I might be biased but I felt a hint of Hidcote kept creeping in.

It was interesting to hear about the different projects they’ve been working on, and how they constantly experiment with growing different plants. Everyone on the team was full of passion for horticulture which is always wonderful to see. This is a garden that I already am planning on visiting next year for their snowdrop festival.

a view of rockery at RBG Edinburgh

RBG Edinburgh

RBGE visit

Towards the end of my second month I travelled up to RBG Edinburgh. There I met the team I’ll be working with next year, in the second half of my placement. I was also given a tour round the department. During the first day I spent time nosing around the fantastic alpine collection they have behind the scenes. We also discussed my helping with the different shows that they will attend. The second day, the team talked me through the projects that have been taking place in the department, and the ones I might be able to take part in next year. It was really insightful and I’m already looking forward to working with the team in Edinburgh!

Recently, I’ve started reading My Rock Garden by Reginald Farrer. I have this on loan from the RHS library at Harlow Carr and already I’m finding it an entertaining read. The highlights so far have been his descriptions of the three different common types of rock gardens (the almond-pudding scheme, the dog’s grave, and the devil’s lapful). His distaste for certain plants was equally humorous!


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