Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Retracing a visit to the the Fountainhead (Part one: Cacti, Carnivores and Orchids)

                                                                              Guess where?

 I don't suppose there are many who follow my blog who can't guess where this was taken... I would guess I've visited here perhaps dozen times: most times I've been to the British Isles (except when I fly directly to Scotland and thence). I have only featured this most monumental institution (and undeniably greatest and most influential botanic garden) once before in this blog. Since so many of my trips here were coupled with trips beyond (South Africa, Central Asia or with conferences) I rarely have spent the time to properly document my visits, or thoughts springing thereof. Thanks to COVID-19 I am now re-tracing my travels and picking up overlooked bits and pieces...and this is a lolapalooza!


For those of you still wondering what the subject of this Blog is, I thought I'd spell it out in plants.

This visit took place en route to the first trip that Mike Bone and I made to Kazakhstan and Mongolia. I have found that long trips around the globe often are lightened with stops in Europe for a day or two on the way to or back from distant points. This visit took place June 21, 2009--the year RBG Kew celebrated its 250th Anniversary.

The global impact and reach of Kew are no secret, and they can hardly be blamed for displaying it rather prominently near the entrance (although I rather pitied Uruguay, Paraguay, Lesotho, the Stans, Mongolia and the relatively few other countries that have not yet had their chance to participate!) I am relieved North America made the cut!

I can only imagine the conversations, endless staff meetings and jockeying that accompanied the creation of this rather grand display that gives concrete examples of some of the many projects embracing all facets of Horticulture and Botany that Kew has pursued. Something tells me this may not be there today (Sept. 2020)

I photographed all the panels, since the content was of interest to me: I doubt that more than a fraction of the visitors took time to read the rather extensive text. You'd have to spend your whole visit parsing it!

The real "meat" of Kew is in the glasshouses, arboretum collections and in many, many extraordinary thematic gardens (many of which we shall visit--although it may take a half dozen Blog postings to do it). I start with this pleasant bedding scheme, which I include to comfort my professional colleagues NOT at Kew to realize not EVERYTHING at RBG is uber sophisticated and cutting edge. With hundreds of acres at their command, lots of more pedestrian bits are to be expected and enjoyed.

Rosa moschata
 Many of my favorite features at Kew (and in fact great gardens all over Britain and Europe) is seeing plants grown individually, to great size and age and in a perfection of form. I'm afraid Europe trumps America rather badly when it comes to venerability. Alas, I regret to say America trumps far too much in other arenas, but I veer off topic.

Rosa moschata

 The bedding scheme in front of the great conservatory changes radically every visit. I enjoyed the color scheme and design on their 250th: wouldn't it be fun to see pictures of how this has evolved over the decades (centuries?)...

Someone anticipating the tsunami of interest in succulents of all kinds, an extensive succulent garden was designed next to the Princess of Wales Conservatory....

 Since I've visited Huntington Botanic Gardens far more than even Kew, I wasn't TOO impressed at the overall design here: but the plants WERE looking healthy. Considering that England--even in the far South and East--is a far cry from desert, I think we should be impressed they tried at all.

I don't recall a label on this: I forgot to photograph it if it had one.

My hunch is that this was a temporary exhibit: I suspect most of the aloes and many cacti and agaves on display wouldn't survive the rain and even the mild extreme temperatures of Kew.

Opuntia "humifusa"
 I have transcribed the label so you don't have to squint. I have me doots--since the species is almost always yellow flowered and prostrate. I'd love to grow this plant--which does seem to lack spines rather like humifusa (which may explain why it was thought to be that). Even Homer nods.

 Various random glimpses of the bed...more (likely) tender Aloes.

Aeonium arboreum ‘Zwartkop’

 Dollars to donuts, Zwartkop wouldn't survive outside even at Kew!

The indoor displays were filled with treasures superbly grown--although not displayed with the artistry that the Alpine House exemplifies (to be featured in a future post). This is true in the United States: Cactus growers can stage succulents in pots superbly, but in gardens, notsomuch (by and large: there are some glaring exceptions Vince, I know)

Delosperma cooperi

 I know it's not very gentlemanly of me, but I can't resist showing how Delosperma cooperi blooms outdoors in my garden. I suspect they'd do better with it in the ground in their rock garden...

Hereroa (Bijlia) tugwelliae
I believe the accession number indicates that this was first obtained in 1952: judging by the size, I would believe it!

As with the delosperma above, I daresay Malephora crocea would grow and bloom far more spectacularly outdoors--perhaps in the outdoor cactus garden I showed above...I've seen this in Las Cruces and even Albuquerque smothered in flowers.

Aloinopsis setifera
 To give credit, this is a super clump of this aloinopsis. I am perpetually amazed at how well so many difficult mesembs thrive in European conservatories--which somehow provide them an optimal condition for growth--I'm thinking Conophytum and Lithops in particular.

 A wonderful assortment of perfectly grown mesembs, caged of course (they're far too portable).

Echinocereus viereckii
 You'd be hard put to find a better specimen of this, even at Huntington.

Echinopsis pentlandii

Echinopsis 'Sleeping Beauty'
 Another super specimen I wouldn't mind having at home. The cages do work, however.

Parodia comarapana

Rebutia theresae

Deuterocohnia lorentziana
 Better known to many gardeners as Abromeitiella lorentziana, the correct name now may actually be Deuterocohnia abstrusa. One of a small genus of South American alpine bromeliads.

Musa acuminata 'Red Dacca'
 I believe these are young fruits of the famous "red banana" of Indonesia.

The indoor pond at the Conservatory features many warm climate aquatics.

Nymphaea 'Piyalarp'
 A fetching rose red tropical water lily caught my eye.

Euryale ferox
 Not strictly speaking tropical, this spiny water plant is nevertheless happy growing here..


If I had to pick one part of the immense Princess of Wales Conservatory as my favorite, it would be the Carnivorous room: the abundance, variety and artistic display of these rather challenging plants (especially all combined in one space) has dazzled me on every visit! I'd love to have a room like this in MY home (can you imagine the terror of insects when they fly in here?)...

Sarracenia oreophila and Drosera slackii
 Pitcher plants cheek by jowl with colorful sundews and Utricularia galore! A poor insect doesn't stand a chance!

Pitcher plants gone wild

A view from the other side of the house

Roridula gorgonias

 Surely one of the strangest carnivores: this one is in a family containing just this genus, which does have another species, however (R.dentata).

Butterworts (Pinguicula) and Sundews gone wild!

And of course there needs to be a Venus flytrap corner.

 A token Nepenthes, along with a spectacular Sarracenia flava...

 The biggest treat for me was seeing these thriving Heliamphora! Next best thing to being on a Tepui!

Another quick peek at the pond as we move on...

Who is observing whom?

Even the most hard bitten soul must have a twinge of sadness and regret seeing these plaques placed tactfully near the entrance. A much better memorial to Diana's memory than the plethora of publicity.

I have a fondness for Streptocarpus--even if it IS being carpet bedded!

Thunbergia mysorensis

We grow this in our Conservatory in Denver quite well--but I'm always pleased to see it.

And finally there were the orchids: many exhibit cases and all of them superbly designed...

I was taken with this combo...

A fine array of Vanda cvs. combining nicely with with Spanish Moss..

Whenever I see lovely lavender blue Vandas like this, I can't help but think of the glowing blue Phalaenopsis dyed blue in grocery stores across America (and likely beyond). Perhaps not the ideal way to end this escapade to the Fountainhead of Botanic Gardens, but perhaps it will lead your mind to "vanda"...(so to speak)....

 (to be continued...)


  1. I think you are the greatest of all time plant explorer.

  2. Love these travelogues! Please keep them coming, especially this winter!

  3. Our trip to Kew was cancelled due to the arrival of the covid virus. Fun to live vicariously through you.


Featured Post

A garden near lake Tekapo

The crevice garden of Michael Midgley Just a few years old, this crevice garden was designed and built by Michael Midgley, a delightful ...

Blog Archive