27 Nov 2014

First frosts arrive but it’s still a great time to visit

Ardd Fotaneg · Botanic Garden

I thought I would start this blog by giving you an insight into life as a trainee horticulturist at the National Botanic Garden of Wales.

I feel blessed to come to work here every day (and I am not being paid to say that!)

A little information about me: my name is Rebecca (aka Dave) and I am one of two horticultural trainees at the Garden this year – both called Rebecca. In work, we are now referred to as ‘Dave’ and ‘Trevor’, and we even now answer to these names. It certainly is amusing when being introduced to new volunteers but I think that is due to my mildly mischievous nature.

I am currently in my final year of a three-year traineeship, run by the Professional Gardeners’ Guild. Before arriving at the National Botanic Garden, I trained at Godinton House in Kent; Chatsworth in Derbyshire; and Windsor Great Park, Berkshire. I have been extremely fortunate to learn from knowledgeable folk in the trade, and I am passionate about extoling the virtues of horticulture as a trade and as a hobby.

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This week has seen the first haw frost around the Garden. Monday and Tuesday both began with breath-taking, frosty views across the Garden and the surrounding valleys, even though Monday started with a mist. I am not sure on visitor statistics but, I’m sure this brought us more visitors. I am always happy to see visitors enjoying the place; there is so much here that we want to share.

Throughout my horticultural career so far, I have been asked on more than one occasion: what we do for work over the winter because “surely there isn’t any work for you to do?” Well, I can guarantee that there is! For large gardens like ours and especially those open to the public, there is a multitude of jobs to do. This is the time of year when all the maintenance needs to be addressed, including drainage clearance, clearing and mulching the beds and borders, etc etc. And not forgetting the plants growing under glass.

I have been fortunate enough to have spent the past six weeks working in the Great Glasshouse. Now that the temperatures are cooling, many of the plants are beginning to bloom. On the one hand, we have been cutting back and clearing plants that have already finished flourishing for this season; but, alongside this, we are watching many of the wonderful colours of plants in the South African and Western Australian regions within the Great Glasshouse.

It is well worth a visit right now AND with the added advantage of being under cover.

Two particular favourites of mine this week, which happened to catch my eye, were the shrubs Leschenaultia biloba (Goodeniaceae family), with its stunning blue flowers appearing on delicate mid-green leaves.

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And Darwinia citriodora – Lemon Scented Myrtle (Myrtaceae family), with its scented leaves and striking, yet delicate flowers forming from the stem tips.

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Both are from Western Australia and are providing some great early-winter interest. At this point I must apologise for the appearance of my grubby gardener’s hands in the pictures.

As the week draws on, I found myself today working in the Wallace Garden. Now that the first frosts have arrived, we have begun to lift the dahlias from the Wallace Garden. It is not advisable to leave them in the ground much longer so we set about lifting the tubers for over-winter storage. Disturbing the ground also encouraged the arrival of a little robin who decided to take advantage of the unearthed worms.

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Although the day was not overly cold, we were treated to an astounding sunset just before 4 o’clock. I do find myself distracted by these sights and they make me even more grateful that I have chosen this career. I feel especially blessed to be working in such a marvellous setting too, and love to share these experiences with people. I believe the perfect winter visit to the National Botanic Garden would start with a haw frost and end with a glowing orange sunset.

A garden in winter can be so rewarding, and there are so many plants to add colour and scent all year round. Just be ready to layer up with clothing to beat off the chill.