The European Palm Society

EPS visit to Kew Gardens

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Posted: 25 Sep 2018

Saturday 22nd September saw 24 members head for Kew Gardens for what has become an annual chance to meet up. It was good to see old friends and meet new members for the first time. Many had travelled a long distance to be there.
Despite the rain arriving pretty much as we gathered and lasting all day it did not spoil or dare I say ‘dampen' the enthusiasm!
We headed first to meet David Cooke who is the manager of the Temperate House. The house itself has been closed for 5 years for full restoration only opening again in May this year after thousands of new plants were put into the house. It really is stunning now with crystal clear new glass letting in plenty of light.
David met us and we first headed to the staff area under the house for refreshments. This gave a chance for folk to have a good chat and catch up. David then gave a brief overview of the massive replanting exercise that had been required and took some questions. It was interesting to learn that only a few plants had been lost following replanting which is to be expected though sadly one of them was a large Xanthorrhea which did not take to be moved and having its roots disturbed.
The house has all new soil in the growing beds a standard loam based mixture with plenty of drainage but very low nutrients and no phosphate (which plants in the Protea family find toxic). Conditions in each section are then customised to meet the needs of the plants growing there, using foliar feed and soil conditioning.
Plants have taken so well to the conditions that David is already working on a programme of thinning out!  As part of the restoration the full ventilation system has been restored having been partly sealed up during the previous restoration work. Now it is possible to give the plants the free air movement they need for better growth. Additionally, a new heating system is in place which will make it easier and more economical to maintain the desired temperatures in winter.
We then headed up to the plants where David accompanied us around the main and African sections. It wasn't possible sadly to see the Asian section as part of the building snagging work, the roof vent system in that area needs some urgent remedial work.
After saying goodbye to David we headed for lunch and from there, those who wished, were able to go and see the Tropical Nursery. This is the largest complex of climate controlled glasshouses at Kew, all interlinked via a circuitous corridor. It just coincided that the weekend of our visit was ‘London Open House' where buildings all over London, usually closed to the public open for just 2 days.
Whilst only one section was open to go into in part, the tropical aroids, you could look into the many other areas and glimpse many rare plants. In the nursery they raise and keep back up plants for the display houses like the Palm and Temperate Houses and the Princess of Wales conservatory. It also houses the scientific reference and conservation collections where many rare and endangered species are cultivated.
In the corridors staff set up various mini displays of plants from their respective specialist collections and were on hand to answer questions and talk about the plants in their care. They were all really enthusiastic and knowledgeable, amongst the displays were orchids, Begonia, tropical ferns, bromeliads, carnivorous plants etc.
On the carnivorous display was a fine plant of a large sundew, Drosera regia from South Africa. A beautiful plant and a monster compared to ‘regular' sundews I was more familiar with. A rare and endangered species too.
After an enjoyable time seeing a tiny fraction of the gems in the behind the scenes glasshouses it was onto the Princess of Wales Conservatory and Palm House. One interesting thing was seeing in the POW conservatory an Amorphophallus titanium with a developing flower bud. I wonder how many days away it is from opening and attracting the crowds to see this wonder of the natural world? Sadly the massive inflorescence is only open for 1 or 2 days!
All too soon it was the end of the afternoon of what had been a great day. Always nice to see and catch up with like minded plant lovers and a bonus to get to see the tropical nursery.
A big thank you to David Cooke from Kew for giving up his time to us and to all those who came. I hope you enjoyed your day as much as me and got to see the plants and places at the garden you wanted to.
Amorphophallus titanum bud
Amorphophallus titanum bud
Tropical nursery Aroid section
Tropical nursery Aroid section