6 Feb 2017

The Great Glasshouse in Winter

Bruce Langridge

Prompted by a Daily Telegraph journalist’s inquiry about our winter displays, I’ve just had a look around the Great Glasshouse to see what was in flower

As usual, when I have a really good look around the Garden, I discover there is far more to see than I realised.

With around 1,000 taxa from South Africa, Australia, Chile, California and the Mediterranean Basin, more than 100 are already in bloom by mid-January, a figure that is set to explode as we head into spring, the most floriferous season in this Great Glasshouse.

I also got chatting to James Kettle,  our Great Glasshouse horticulturist who is instantly recognisable for being very tall and for always wearing shorts, even in the bitterest cold. James is a mine of information and has noticed a rather curious phenomenon over the past few years:

“Maybe it’s the mild winters we’ve been having but I’ve noticed that many of our Great Glasshouse plants are flowering a week or two earlier than they used to.The echiums from the Canary Islands, the Med Basin Lithodora rosmarinifolia and our South African ericas and aloes are all flowering early this year as well as the tortoise berry Nylandtria spinosa. The King protea Protea cynaroides is also producing more buds than usual.”

Is this a sign of international climate change seen in the plants of South Africa over in Wales in winter? Who knows? One thing that we are more sure of is that our Great Glasshouse plants are looking healthier and fresher than they have for a few years. James and his senior horticulturist colleague Marilla Burgess have been working hard to refresh the soil over the past couple of years. James explains:

“In the wild, these plants rarely live for more than 10-20 years as their native habitats naturally catch fire as part of their ecological cycle. Most Mediterranean climate plants have special adaptations to help them cope either with hot, dry summers or regenerate after scorching bush fires, like those we’ve just seen on the news in central Chile. We don’t really have the option of setting fire to our displays and, as we’ve been open since May 2000, we have had to dig out old plants and re-introduce new ones.”

The new plantings and the winter renewal has helped give the Great Glasshouse a fresh new look for 2017.

In a few weeks, the real herald of spring here will be with us: the scent of the leguminous tree Canary whin Teline stenopetala, seeps into every region of the Great Glasshouse through February into March.