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Recent Developments at the Garden
by Timothy Walker – Director of the Botanic Garden
The Hardy Collection
The winter maintenance of the hardy collection has involved a mixture of regular items and one-offs. In the former category is leaf collection, pruning wall shrubs, top-fruit trees and soft-fruit bushes and the mulching and manuring of the Family Beds. The Garden is very grateful to Walter Sawyer at the University Parks for the donation of mulch. Some of the Family Beds have been lifted and divided where the plants were becoming too congested. Where appropriate these have been potted-up for the biennial Friends’ Plant Sale in May. Tender perennials such as dahlias, cannas and members of the Zingiberaceae have been lifted and stored in frost-free conditions. The Bog Garden has been cleared out and the pond cleared of over-enthusiastic aquatics.
The two one-off projects this year were firstly the clearing, digging and replanting of the big herbaceous border and secondly the planting of trees in Palmer’s Leys at the Arboretum. Planting 13,000 trees is a huge undertaking especially when the young trees are as well rooted as these trees from Murray McLean at Frilford. Mr McLean was chosen as the supplier because of not only the quality of the plants but also the fact that he is growing plants of known local provenance. The planting process was lengthened further by the fact that each tree had to be protected with a rabbit guard and cane. Almost every member of the Garden’s Horticultural Staff has contributed to this landmark project and some days the Botanic Garden resembled the Marie Celeste with just a skeleton staff of waterers and educators.
The Glasshouse Collection
The annual winter maintenance of the Glasshouses has been carried out. The corridor walls have been painted and the Estates Directorate has replaced the doors into the Glasshouses. This was to give easier access to visitors in wheel chairs. Plants in the Palm House have been root pruned to encourage their roots to grow down rather than sideways. Among the new accessions under glass are a number of new species of Nepenthes from the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. All of these carnivorous plants are in the IUCN Red Data Book. Other new taxa are coming in thick and fast through the Index Semina scheme for both the Hardy and the Glasshouse collections.
Neil Hellyer, from Fargro (the supplier of biological control predators), has made his annual visit to assess the Glasshouse pest levels. No new pests were found and the overall level of pests has fallen again. New air circulation fans have been fitted in the Nursery Houses and the reduction in humidity has dramatically reduced the level of moulds in these houses. Elsewhere in the Nursery Houses a new cuttings propagation bed has been constructed.
Problems persist with the cold frames. Too much water is entering the area where the alpine bulbs are cultivated. Cambridge Glasshouses have been asked to provide a quotation to improve the situation. Elsewhere in the Alpine Collection a new freer-draining mix is being trialled. The Glasshouse Collection Curator has been giving practical instruction in bromeliad cultivation to a first year D.Phil. student who is studying the evolution of photosynthetic strategies in this family.
The Harcourt Arboretum
Prior to the commencement of the tree planting on Palmer’s Leys the Arboretum staff carried out the normal round of winter work including ditch clearance, tree work to maintain the trees in a safe condition and coppicing of the birch and chestnut.
Before the tree planting could begin a number of preliminaries had to be carried out. Firstly, the drainage had to be repaired and the Garden is very grateful to the Oxford Preservation Trust for their financial support of this work. White Horse Contractors were chosen for this work because it has to be to the highest standard and they have a proven record of high quality work in this area. Furthermore, as a locally-based business, they were bringing their heavy equipment far fewer miles than any other contractor. Secondly, the planting areas had to be marked out following the design in the Arboretum Development Plan as drawn up by Kim Wilkie in association with the Curator and the Arboretum Curator.
In addition to the planting carried out by Garden Staff assisted by volunteers, trees were planted by pupils from Marsh Baldon C. of E. School and Valley Road School Henley. The Marsh Baldon visit was featured by BBC Radio Oxford and BBC Television’s South Today programme.
At the end of January Karl Gunderman, trainee conservation arborist at the Arboretum left to take up a position with a firm of environmental consultants at Wallingford. During his two years at Nuneham Courtenay he has not only been a valuable member of the team but has carried out a number of vertebrate surveys. At the end of December Anne Hickey left the Staff. Dr Hickey was on a one year, placement from the Women’s Farm and Gardening Association. She was a hard working and valuable member of the Staff.
Philip Wilson has joined the staff as a volunteer at the Garden and Arboretum and Mr Jin Kobayashi from Japan joined the Arboretum staff on a three-week work placement.
The only “construction” work this quarter has been the refitting of the Hampshire woodsman’s caravan at the Arboretum prior to it being used as the base for the ticket office staff.
During the second half of the Michaelmas Term the Director gave tutorials to second year undergraduates in the biology of the World’s Mediterranean-type regions following his lectures on the subject in the first half of the term. In the Hilary Term he gave more second year tutorials but on Plant Conservation (to accompany his lectures) and first year tutorials in whole plant biology (again to accompany his lectures). He has been asked to provide additional lectures in 2008/9 to cover for sabbatical leave in the Department of Plant Sciences.
Two undergraduate projects carried out at the Arboretum have reached their end. The first of these looked at changes in the plant diversity in Pylon Meadow during the five years since the last survey was carried out. This revealed a surprising turnover of species during that time but an overall maintenance of the species diversity. This project supports the reintroduction of grazing on Pylon Meadow.