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A challenging spring and summer

Everyone involved with managing a garden with important botanical collections across the country can vouch that this last winter was a tricky one. I’ve heard of major plant loss in several historic gardens because of the unpredictable late winter and intensity of cold that penetrated the stems of woody plants that were just about to break into spring growth.

Frozen pond with Tree ferns in February 2018

Our southern hemisphere plants such as Leptospermums, Pseudopanax, Acacias and Eucalyptus were particularly damaged by the double whammy of freezing and thawing as the water and sap flow froze behind the bark breaking the xylem and phloem vessels that transport water and nutrients around the plant. Late spring casualties began to show with plants dropping their leaves and dying right up to late May. The Tree ferns coped with the cold but the leaves were flattened by the weight of the snow.

So whilst I’m on a rant – what happened next, we got a drought with the hottest summer in years. We gardeners are never happy without a moan about the weather, just like farmers. So we have spent a good six weeks dragging hoses around and fighting for water pressure that is shared with the Plant centre, the Restaurant, and the nursery to keep all this year’s new plants alive. Well done to all the garden team who did a fantastic job under some very hot conditions. There are some positive sides to the glorious summer as many of the colourful herbaceous flowers that originate from places like South Africa, Mexico and Australia have thrived in the heat. The ‘Dry bed’ that we are slowly developing to the north of the garden catches the sun all day and is very dry from the Holm Oak roots. Here we are using xerophytic plants (Drought tolerant) that can cope with the dry conditions and need little summer care. There are succulents and spikey Yuccas, Nolina and Agaves from Mexico and from the southern states of USA like California, Nevada and Utah, where plants have adapted to dry cold in the winter and full summer drought.

The parched landscape around Abbotsbury

This brings us to the future challenge with global warming proving to be a reality all over the world. Flash floods, summer drought and fires with an all or nothing pattern to the weather. Should we be storing more winter run off water, should we be growing new adaptable crops and plants, who knows? However, in the long term events planning for the gardens we are making the most of our new marquee ‘Pavilion’ by using it for other events beside Weddings, and looking ahead to April 2019 we could be hosting a conference on “Global warming and the future of gardens in the northern hemisphere” to be organised by Plant network, a working group that connects all botanical issues with plant collections around the country.
Other events of interest this year kick started with the first Dorset food and drink fair “Eat Dorset” held during the Easter bank holiday. It was an overwhelming experience with large unexpected visitor numbers, but something to work on for the future. We held the “Plant Heritage” conference meeting in April with over 130 delegates where we split up into four groups lead by the gardeners on a tour of the gardens. Followed by our annual musical event with “Show of Hands “and guests. In July we held a “Rare plant fair sales day” in connection with plant heritage which was well attended.

Hydrangea Day at Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens - 8th August 2018
RHS ‘Hydrangea Trial’ bed at Abbotsbury

Next to take place in August was the RHS “Hydrangea Day” where we held a day’s workshop looking at all aspects of this plant genus, with talks and lectures and practical demonstrations of their care and upkeep, followed by a guided tour of our Hydrangea trials.

I have been the Horticultural manager/Curator for Abbotsbury SubTropical Gardens since taking over after massive storm damage back in 1990. The gardens trustees wanted a fresh new 10 year development plan to revive this historic yet overgrown and neglected garden, to improve the plant content, infrastructure, interpretation and tourism aspects - Prior to Abbotsbury I have been designing and restoring landscapes and gardens in diverse places such as Saudi Arabia, South of France, Sark C.I, Cotswolds and the New Forest.
I also lead garden tours world wide, write articles and the odd book.
Professional bodies - I am a member of the RHS woody plant committee, M.I Hort, International Camellia Society.

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