GardenTalentAlexanderSummers

Gardening Talent: Alexander Summers: Caring for plants from around the world

As glasshouse supervisor at Cambridge University Botanic Garden, Alexander Summers plays host to a dazzling and diverse collection of planting. Portrait Andrew Montgomery

Earliest gardening memory Helping my parents to hand dig a pond in the back garden. It is now well established and adds so much life to the garden, as well as a whole array of extra niches for marginal and aquatic plant species.

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Who has inspired your career the most? My parents – they are both horticulturists. I grew up gardening with them, visiting gardens and nurseries and exploring Nottinghamshire. Favourite landscape and garden Chanticleer Garden in Pennsylvania – its Arts and Crafts feel, its botanically rich and imaginative plantings, and the ethos that underpins a horticultural team who dabble with pottery and metalwork in the down season, really put this garden on another level.

Worthwhile tips for every gardener Always question the methods and techniques you’re taught: horticulture is steeped in tradition, some of which is unfounded. Always seek out the best tools for the job and look after them.

Dream plant destination The steamy tropical forests and temperate highlands of the island of New Guinea; it’s been top of my list for as long as I can remember.

Favourite ‘weed’ you’re happy to have in your garden In the glasshouses we leave any rogue ferns that germinate – they always soften our plantings and help to improve the microclimate of pot culture.

Favourite gardening book Like many other gardeners, I’ve accumulated a vast array of books, I’ve recently finished One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rainforest by Wade Davis. It’s an ethnobotanical odyssey, and one I recommend to any budding plant explorer.

What’s the next project you’ll be tackling in the glasshouse at the botanic gardens? We‘re installing a koppie and quartz plain to display collections we made, alongside Kew and South African National Parks, in the Richtersveld, South Africa.

Do you have an aim in your gardening career that you’d really like to achieve? Have a go at growing Rafflesia, I am particularly fond of parasitic plants. The aim would be to raise it successfully from seed, although I think this may remain a pipe dream.

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Contact Email aes59@cam.ac.uk Web botanic.cam.ac.uk Twitter @CamPlantsman