Kew's Temperate House prepares to reopen

Four members of the restoration team working on The Temperate House at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew choose a plant that sums up what the project means to Kew – and the wider botanical world. 

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As the restoration project for the Temperate House at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew draws to a five-year conclusion, the horticultural team are preparing to rehouse their botanical treasures in readiness for the reopening of this impressive Victorian glasshouse in May. We asked four members of the team to choose the plant that sums up what the restoration means to Kew – and the wider botanical world.

 

ENCEPHALARTOS WOODII
Chosen by: David Cooke
Glasshouse Manager

"This cycad is key to our collection here at the Temperate House. Named after Victorian plant hunter John Medley Wood, Encephalartos woodii first came to Kew as a small offset in 1899 and this is now the only remaining specimen in Europe. No plants remain in the wild (its native home is the oNgoye Forest of KwaZulu Natal in South Africa) and of those growing in collections, all are males - no female E. woodii has ever been found. This makes it one of the rarest plants in the world. It took four people, a gantry crane and a fork lift truck to dig it up when the glasshouse restoration project began in 2013. We replanted it in its new home back in October 2017 and it's hanging on in there - it's one of the plants we look after on a daily basis. For me it represents the essential work we do at Kew ensuring the conservation of some of the rarest and most threatened plants in the world - they may not all be pretty plants you'd want to grow in your garden, but we're keeping plant biodiversity alive for the future.''

 

BANKSIA SERRATA
Chosen by: Richard Barley
Director of Horticulture

"Banksia serrata takes us right back to Kew's origins and the connections with Joseph Banks, the celebrated 18th century botanist who journeyed with Captain Cook on his first voyage around the world, collecting thousands of botanical specimens. On his return to England he became something of an unofficial director at Kew, advising King George III on what to include in his collection. Banksia serrata was first recorded by Banks in 1770, having been found at Botany Bay, on Australia's east coast, where HMS Endeavour's crew first made landfall. Live specimens of the plant were brought back to Kew in 1780 and since then there has always been a Banksia serrata here. The plant I'm holding here will be planted within the Australasia zone and be just one of the 1,500 species to be replanted within the cathedral like space of the Temperate House. Every one of these plants has a fascinating story to tell and it is the Banksia that marks Joseph Banks's pivotal role in Britain's long horticultural history.''

 

 

BRUNFELSIA PAUCIFLORA
Chosen by: Hannah Button
Project Horticulturist

"The common name for the tropical Brunfelsia pauciflora is the yesterday today and tomorrow plant because it flowers profusely in a three day process with blooms changing colour from dark purple, mauve to white. It's quite easy to grow in a pot in a conservatory and always gets comments from visitors. For me, it perfectly represents this project because it's Kew's role to carry on in the footsteps of the great Victorian gardeners of yesterday who built the Temperate House; there's the extensive restoration coming to a conclusion now; and then there's the continuation of the botanical work we will be ensuring for tomorrow's generations. We've taken 500 plants out of the Temperate House and for the past five years have been transplanting, propagating and cloning the collection ready to go back in. Part of my role has been to care for the plants. We have a 90 per cent success criteria, with every plant having a back up. We'll be replanting some 10,000 plants and will include lots of interpretation boards so that visitors understand the importance of every plant.''

 

 

JUBAEA CHILENSIS
Chosen by: Scott Taylor
Horticultural Supervisor

"The original Chilean wine palm in the Temperate House was grown from seed in 1846. It was an emotional decision to make to chop it down when we came to remove the plants, but it was beginning to senesce and this replacement is one of its progeny we've been growing in the background for 16 years. In fact we've successfully grown so many new palms from seed produced by that original palm that there are dozens of its progeny distributed in other collections. Darwin labelled Jubaea chilensis a `very ugly tree' but in another 100 years or so, this palm will be big, reaching towards the roof of this 19m tall glasshouse -- and so its story will continue. We've inherited people's past visions and countless generations will inherit what we're doing now. We replanted this palm just yesterday. Prior to its arrival we moved in 1,300 cubic metres of new soil; it hadn't been changed since the 19th century. We're today's custodians -- we won't be around to see it mature, but we're making sure that others will.''

 

The Temperate House will reopen in early May 2018. Find details at kew.org

 

Words Sorrel Everton

Photographs Andrew Montgomery

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