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Summer jobs – June 2023

July 11, 2023
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Six months into my AGS traineeship and time is flying by very quickly

During this time I’ve learned so much whilst meeting many wonderful people along the way.

My calendar for June has been full of great experiences. I have spent time working in the RBGE Rock Garden and Woodland Area with the team; while in the potting shed we have been propagating Dionysias. This month I also attended the AGS Young Person’s Weekend, which was held in the Lake District. I had been looking forward to this event since attending last year’s trip to North Wales. I was also fortunate to be approached by Carol Klein and asked to help her build a garden at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show. My task was to build an alpine section in her large show garden.

The rockery at RBGE

The rockery at RBGE

Propagating Dionysia by cuttings

Propagating plants for backup and replacement purposes in an important task for plant collection holders. During June, we spent time in the alpine department taking many cuttings to keep plants going in the large collection of alpines which RBGE hold.

Dionysia cuttings

We have taken cuttings from a large proportion of the Dionysia collection, to ensure there are back-up plants in case of loses. Plants were also propagated to plant in the tufa wall next year. Young plants will establish much better in the tufa. We used sterilised fine pumice in a half seed tray. The pumice was compacted to make sure no air gaps were left and it was watered well. The work area and tools were all sterilised as well, to prevent contamination. Using a sharp pair of scissors, rosettes were carefully taken from around the base of the stock plants. Each rosette was then cleaned up using tweezers to remove the build-up of dead foliage. With a chopstick, a hole was made in the pumice. We then inserted rosettes carefully and tapped around each one to make sure of contact between the stems and pumice. This is vital for a high propagation success rate.

Rock garden

We had a spell of rather nice weather in June, pretty good going in Edinburgh. I worked in the rock garden and woodland department at RBGE for a week. Spending time outdoors gave me the chance to observe what was looking good and learn which species were flowering at this time of the year.

A plant which caught my eye, growing around the verges of the pond, was Rheum alexandrae. I have carried out lots of varied tasks while working in the rock garden, re-planting areas in the lower woodland, with plants such as iris and meconopsis. June was pretty dry so irrigation has been vital, especially under tree canopies in the woodland areas where shade or moisture loving plants grow.

AGS Young Person’s Weekend

I really enjoyed attending the first young persons weekend in 2022. This year it was held in the Lake District. I have been eagerly looking forward to the event. The three-day trip consisted of a visit to Naddle Farm where AGS president David Morris and manager Lee Schofield showed us the importance of conservation work. Next we were shown around the tree nursery, where plants are grown before reintroduction in the wild. I found this very interesting. Nursery manager Jo talked about propagation techniques and gave us plenty of tips.

The tree nursery at Naddle Farm, part of RSPB Haweswater

We also visited a number of sites to see plants thriving in their natural habitat. David Morris took us to an area where, beside the road, there were wet meadows including Schwingmoors, commonly known as floating bogs. A build-up of sphagnum moss over roots, causes a sensation similar to being on a bouncy castle. Also growing in this area, dotted throughout the landscape was Primula farinosa; hundreds, if not thousands of plants. We also spotted many orchids, growing alongside black bog rush plant, a rare find in this area.

As well as botanising in the wild, we visited a number of nurseries and gardens. We visited Summerdale garden, which specialises in auriculas. At Glenn Shapiro’s we saw the limestone rock garden and her national collection of hepaticas. The event ended with a trip to Hartside Nursery, which specialises in rarely offered hardy plants. Visiting these nurseries and gardens was extremely useful, seeing their set up and how they go about growing plants for sale. We also had the chance to get dirty whilst helping to build a new crevice bed under the guidance of Ian and Carole Bainbridge.

The AGS Young Person’s Weekend is a great way to meet like-minded people. I also love botanising and looking at plants in the wild. I look forward to more future events like these.

Work at RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival in Carol Klein’s garden

This year Carol Klein was honoured as the RHS Iconic Horticultural Hero for 2023. Carol designed a 25 by 15 metre show garden at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival, consisting of six different habitats. I was approached by Carol and asked to work with Chris Howell to create a moor and mountain area within her garden. I jumped at the opportunity. It was good for me to be a part of this and gain experience creating a show garden. Seeing how show gardens are created in just a couple of weeks is a real eye opener. I will never forget my time there.

Planting the alpine bed in Carol's garden at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival

On the first day, after arriving on site I was shown the area I would be working in. There was a pile of rocks waiting for us. I was soon put to work, positioning the three largest rocks with Chris. We had help from the contractors to move the largest rocks around with their high tech machinery. Once the rocks were in place and Carol was happy with their positioning, we got to work on the smaller pieces. The aim was to make them look as natural as possible creating planting pockets and ledges for plants to grow in. I enjoy rock work so I was in my element.

We sourced a number of conifers and alpines for the moor and mountain area. Conifers added height and structure along with the larger rocks. Alpines where sourced from different nurseries. Adrian Young, Saxifraga National Collection Holder at Waterperry Gardens, kindly donated a number of silver saxifrages. We placed the conifers first then planted the smaller species such as selections of geraniums. One variety which was popular with visitors was Geranium ‘Melody’. It has bright, pinkish red flowers with a compact habit.

We also planted a number of varieties of dwarf alliums and many other alpines. While placing out plants we kept in mind that natural positioning was key. We created drifts and dotted odd ones away from the drifts to give the impression they are self-seeding around. Once all the plants were planted, we used three different grades of gravel to top dress and slowly blended it in around the plants. We were very happy with what we achieved and enjoyed seeing the public’s appreciation.

I am extremely grateful to Carol Klein for letting me work on her garden and to be a part of such a great team. We all had a great time and made many new friends along the way. I learnt a lot from the people I worked with; this was an opportunity I will never forget.

Plants of interest

Rheum alexandrae

A rhubarb species with bright creamy yellow bracts and pale green foliage. It comes from high altitude marsh meadows and stream sides in Tibet and western China. In cultivation it can grow to around 90 cm in height.

Rheum alexandrae

Rheum alexandrae at RBGE

Primula farinosa

A primula species native to the north of England and to many other parts of Europe, where it grows in open wet meadows. It was a real treat to see it growing in the wild on a day trip during the AGS Young Person’s Weekend.

Primula farinosa

Primula farinosa

Campanula raineri

This bellflower is about 5 cm tall. It is native to the South Eastern Alps where it can be found growing among limestone rocks. Here it is pictured growing on the tufa wall at RBGE.

Campanula raineri on the tufa wall at RBGE

Campanula raineri on the tufa wall at RBGE

As a charity, the AGS supports the development of knowledge and skills in the alpine field by funding the AGS Trainee Scheme. During the 18 month placement, the successful candidate has the opportunity to work at various horticultural institutions (such as RBG Edinburgh, RBG Kew, RHS Garden Harlow Carr, RSPB Haweswater Nature Reserve and the AGS Garden at Pershore). The work includes maintaining and enhancing the alpine plant collections in all the gardens as well as management of plant records. At RSPB Haweswater the trainee with help with conservation work.