Kew Gardens this Autumn

Kew Gardens is without doubt one of the most well known and highly regarded botanical institutions in the World. A long and rich history, coupled with the passion, knowledge and expertise make this a truly wonderful place to visit.

This autumn, there are of course a multitude of fascinating attractions at Kew, but one of my personal favourites is the newly restored and recently re-opened Temperate House.

Front Entrance of the Temperate House

The main atrium of the house is split into location specific beds, with three additional smaller wing houses for Africa, Western Australia and Asia.

Map showing bed layout.

The temperate house makes for an impressive display, with everything from palms, to cycads and tree ferns. It is truly an exotic plant lovers delight. As the glass house has only recently re-opened, it is effectively a new glass house. Having undergone a five year restoration, it is a testament to all the people who have worked so hard to get it open again.

View of the main atrium

Here is an impressive view of some of the tree ferns in the Australian bed in the main atrium.

Tree ferns (Dicksonia Antartica)

There are as previously mentioned a vast amount of attractions to visit at Kew Gardens, this is a truly a gem. With all the glasshouses, exceptional borders, woodlands and rock garden. Not forgetting of course the Pagoda, Treetop Walkway, Sackler Crossing etc. This makes a magical day out for everybody, not just plant enthusiasts.

Cultural Round Up 2017-18!

2017 has come to an end so in this blog post I’m going to sum up everything that I have done this past year!

At the start of the year I began to teach myself to play some instruments: piano, ukulele and guitar. Starting in February until May I entered a competition for young songwriters with two of my friends and we came in the top ten so we had the opportunity to perform in london and had our single released on iTunes, Spotify etc. In April I took part in a Maths challenge and was awarded a Bronze award! Then in May I also got to go on a trip to France where we braided wheat, learnt to make goats cheese and experienced a French market. In July I was in a dance show, a summer concert, with many music pieces from movies, and a drama show based on Alice in Wonderland.

During my school summer holidays I took part in a Disney summer school with Glee and dance pieces from Aladdin, Mary Poppins and Beauty and the Beast. During the five day course I had the opportunity to see Aladdin on the west end where I really enjoyed all the music and bright coloured costumes and set design.

A week later I went to Huddersfield in the north of England to visit my Aunt and Uncle, there I was able to visit the Yorkshire moors and experience the unique wildlife of northern England. I also got to experience city life in Leeds. I even got to visit the little shops in The Shambles in York and the largest railway museum in Britain, The National Railway Museum! I also delved into British history at The Castle Museum in York.

Later in the summer holidays I went to London. I went to the Science Museum. It was brilliant to discover the history of science and how it is developing at an increasing rate everyday! I also enjoyed visiting the natural history museum and seeing how we and other creatures have evolved over the years!

When I returned back at school it was full of rehearsals as I had a Shakespeare showcase in late October and seven performances of Cinderella coming up in late November! And I also had a carol concert in December!

I have recently started learning German in school and I cannot wait to go to Germany for a music tour in July 2018! My friends and I are also making plans for the Young Songwriters competition again this year! I have a day trip to go to Pineapple Studios in London to do singing, dancing and acting! I am also carrying on with my singing lessons I began in September. I am going to enter a poetry competition in January. I am also going to do The Junior Maths Challenge 2018. So I cannot wait to see what happens in 2018!

Ed – It seems that you have a really fun filled 2018 coming up Grace!

My Writing Year

For one of our last posts of the year, we thought it would be good to have a retrospective look on what we have been up to this year as a whole and in my case, 2017 has definitely been a year of writing creatively. Although I’d mostly been writing non-fiction posts for this blog, it had been a while since I had seriously been able to devote time to creative writing. I used to love creative writing at school and at university but had not done much since. In early March this year, I attended a short story writing workshop that was part of the always excellent Huddersfield Literature Festival. This was a Mslexia writing workshop with Michele Roberts (Professor of Creative Writing at UEA) so I knew that it would be good and I was not disappointed. At the workshop I met two new friends (Yvonne and Virginia) who I now see regularly as we are all members of  the same local writing group.

This group is called The Yorkshire Writers’ Lunch and grew out of a local adult education class that used to be held in Huddersfield. We meet every week for lunch and take it in turns to produce a blog post of creative writing. The blog is really creative and diverse. When I first joined, the group were in a middle of a collaborative spy thriller set in 1958 Algiers, I decided to be mischievous and throw in a new character, the post I wrote for this can be found here. On the blog we also produce short fiction, poetry, and non-fiction pieces. Room 27 is an example of a strange short story that I wrote! Currently we are also in two teams where we are writing screen and radio plays, this has been really enjoyable and I look forward to continuing this next year.

From joining the writing group, I found out about a writing tutor who lives quite near to me, I have since attended many of her classes and feel that my writing has come on leaps and bounds since (thank you Clair for recommending her!). I’ve also found that I particularly enjoy writing in cafes as I seem to concentrate rather well in them!

So really looking back it seems that this year I have been able to devote time to writing creatively more often and looking ahead, there is a lot more that I want to do. I would like to really get cracking with at least one novel, finish an online writing course that I’ve begun a while back and continue to meet fellow writers. I’ve learnt that writing is a journey that it is always important to further develop and improve your writing as there are always improvements to be made. Overall though, this year has been a huge learning curve for me and has taught me the tremendous value of saying ‘yes’ to new creative opportunities and experiences wherever possible. I hope 2017 has been as rewarding creatively for you as it has for me and I look forward to what 2018 brings!

Horticultural Gems of North America

North America, with a diverse range of environments and climate zones it makes a wonderful place to see and discover all manner of different plants. One plant family in particular, the Cactaceae (Cacti) family is endemic to the Americas.

For many years exotic gardening enthusiasts in temperate climates have long searched for hardy cacti and succulents. One highly recommended cacti for temperate gardens is the Opuntia Polyacantha, known commonly as the plains prickly pear, it is found naturally on the great plains and prairies of the US and Canada. Given the harsh continental climate with ragingly hot summers and bitterly cold winters it fares well in a temperate climate winter.

Opuntia Polyacantha

Another gem from North America is the Echinacea Purpurea, with its bold flowerheads it has become a firm favourite in the cottage garden. It is fairly easy to grow and prefers a freely draining site. It has been given recognition from the RHS as being perfect for pollinating insects

Echinacea Purpurea

Californian Lilac (Ceanothus) is a much loved and commonly used garden shrub in the UK. It has lovely clusters of electric blue, honey scented flowers in the spring time. It is an evergreen and has small dark green leaves and stems the year round. It attracts lots of bees and is generally a fast growing but relatively short lived shrub.

Ceanothus in Bloom

Obviously this is merely a minute selection of all the wonderful plants that originate from North America but they are certainly gems and highly recommended for temperate gardens.

Horticultural Gems of France

France has a rich and well known history of gardens and gardening, from the large palace gardens to the wonderful potager gardens. However there are some very well known and some lesser known elements of the French horticultural scene and we will explore some of these today.

Santiago de Chili

Marble Fountain By Guilhem Vellut from Paris, France (Fountain @ Paris) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

The Square Santiago de Chili is a wonderful green retreat in the 7th arrondissement of Paris. A kind of oasis in the city with magnificent Oriental Plane Trees and a bust of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the French writer, poet and pioneering aviator. Not forgetting the gorgeous marble fountain, the garden makes for a welcome change to the busy urban environment.

Lavender Stoechas (French Lavender)

French Lavender, By User:Xemenendura (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.1 es (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.1/es/deed.en)]

French Lavender is one of the most recognisable lavenders as it has distinctive petals at the top of each flower, somewhat reminiscent of butterfly wings, and typically they will flower earlier than common lavender, with flowers appearing as early as May. One important thing to note however is that they are far less hardy than the common lavender, so if winter is very cold it can be the death knell for them.

Jardin botanique d’Èze

Exotic Cacti and Succulents, By Berthold Werner (Own work) [Public domain]

The Botanical Garden of Èze, in Èze not far from Nice has the most wonderful array of exotic succulents and cacti. It is situated in a steep area that falls over 400 meters towards the sea and has magnificent panoramic views of the coast. Amongst the plants you will find an impressive variety of Agaves, Yuccas, Aloes and various species of Cacti.

Garlic (Allium Sativum)

Garlic, By Pivari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Garlic, often associated with France and French agriculture has been cultivated for thousands of years over the Mediterranean region and is a firm favourite with growers and chefs alike. It is a close relative of onions, chives, leeks, shallots and ornamental alliums.

Overall there are many elements that give France a long and exciting horticultural history and today we have touched on just a few.