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February 2010

Online on the road

Sorry, been a bit quiet here recently.

Primula 'Belarina Cream',RHS,London Flower Show,David Kerley. Image: © Do not reproduce without permission. We take it for granted that we can get online. But traveling about Britain recently it’s been, well, tricky. Fine at home, DSL line. No problem. Bought a Vodafone wireless dongle so I could get online anywhere over the mobile phone network. Seemed the obvious solution. But.

At Mum’s retirement community in suburban Surrey, on the southern edge of London, the connection is so slow that websites won’t even load and it’s impossible to know if email has gone off or not. This is an area packed full of heavy mobile phone users. Ten miles away, at the RHS Wisley Garden – nothing: no signal at all. Nothing. At the nearby railway station – we’re back to half a bar.

So, I stop at the service station on the motorway. Free wireless internet! Except that after ten minutes they bump you off the website site you’re browsing – or, in my case, the blog post I’m half way through writing – to make you log on again. Bye bye blog post. At the RHS London Flower show the other day, from where I was expecting to post about all the sparkling primroses and snowdrops and hellebores - the Vodafone Helleborus 'Briar Rose',RHS,London Flower Show, Ashwood Nurseries. Image: © Do not reproduce without permission. dongle connection is so slow that it’s completely impossible. Ah - but the Horticultural Halls have wireless internet access – it’s £5/$7.60 for one hour! Not a day, an hour. I’m not paying that. The rather resigned man on reception says he’s had lots of complaints. OK, the RHS is hard up – but why price it so that no one in their right mind would ever buy an hour of access.

Vodafone,dongle.3G,useless. Image: © Do not reproduce without permission. Vodafone is hoping for an exclusive on the iPad in Britain. My nephew in New York didn’t buy an iPhone because the AT&T service in the city is so terrible. Here’s the thing. If the government nationalized the tower network, or handed it all over to one company, and let all the phone companies use all the towers – then everyone would have access to the best possible connections. The mobile phone companies could then compete on other aspects of their service. And I could post pictures of the hellebores and primroses at the show – from the show. Instead of from back here in Pennsylvania.

Oh, yes - the plants! One of the splendid new British bred  Belarina Series of double primroses, 'Belarina Cream', developed by David Kerley who also created the Tumbelina double petunias. And the 'Briar Rose' hellebore, an unlikely cross between H. niger and H. vesicarius, was created by Kevin Belcher at Ashwood Nurseries.

Kew's Temperate House is falling down

Temperate-house (Main) News today that the largest Victorian glasshouse in the world may have to close as it will soon be falling down.

An independent review of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, reveals that The Temperate House is in need of prompt restoration without which it could pose safety risks to public, and staff, in the next two or three years. The report also points out that there’s a huge backlog of other maintenance and repair on Kew’s buildings that will cost £80million/$125million to put right.

So, basically, they have not been spending what they should on regular maintenance. Someone needs a bollocking seems to have been derelict in their duty, over the years.

Twice as large as the more famous Palm House at Kew, The Temperate House was completed in 1899 and is home to a huge collection of plants which are too tender to be grown outside but which don’t require the humid and hot tropical conditions of The Palm House.

As it happens, I remember the last time The Temperate House went through a dramatic restoration. For what seemed like years in the late 1970s, I think, most of the plants were moved out and hard hats were compulsory. Clearly, this spectacular building, with its high observation platform from which to look down on the plants, has been neglected since.

But where’s the money to come from? Not, please by upping the entrance fee. At present it costs £13/$20 to get in – that’s for just one person. With car parking on top. Enough to deter a huge number of people from visiting. And take a look at this video to see how much there is to see.

Kew Gardens HD from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.

Shows my age again, I suppose, but when I was a kid it cost just a penny to get in and collecting the money cost more than people paid. There was even a plan to close the gardens to the public altogether – Kew is a scientific institution, after all - and so make significant savings on all that has to be done to accommodate the visiting public. Instead the price went up – and up and up.

So what’s the answer? A tricky question in these hard times. The report suggests that grants have not kept pace with the increased rate of grant help to museums – good – and that Kew should raise more than the existing, very impressive, £23.4million/$36.5million from commercial activities. The trick is to balance commerce and science – even assuming Kew can compete successfully for the commercial revenue being sought by so many other venues.

Looks like grants, then. And don’t forget that increased grants not only means repairing buildings, it means hiring more people. Which with unemployment so high, is exactly what we need. Kew’s own stimulus package, if you like, both to restore the gardens and provide jobs. Sounds like a good deal to me.

Misleading magnolia

MagnoliaTelegraph Magnolia sieboldii is a lovely shrub, or even a small tree. But don’t expect it ever to look like this – unless you cut the branches off your flowering tree and stuff them into a pot. As seen here. This is not a patio plant, it can be a 30ft+/10m+ tree!

What’s more, although it’s one of the magnolias which flowers when quite young – usually when about five or six years old – it never ever flowers at the size seen in this picture from Britain’s Daily Telegraph’s online garden shop.

Neverthless… Magnolia sieboldii is one of the finest of all magnolias, and fragrant too. Just be sure to plant it in moisture retentive, acid soil. And not in a patio pot!

Hybrid hellebore looking great

HelleborusWalbertonsRosemarJust popped in to the RHS garden at Wisley in Surrey yesterday afternoon – in the rain – and the first plant to greet me inside the gate is the hybrid hellebore I’ve been bashing on about for the last eighteen months or so. A big drift of it… Looking splendid.

Helleborus Walberton’s Rosemary (‘Walhero’) – well, I’m not going to go into all the detail again. Suffice it to say that it’s the first widely available hybrid between the Christmas rose, H. niger, and the Lenten Rose, H. x hybridus. And here at Wisley today, in the rain, after the coldest British winter in decades… it’s looking marvellous.

There's an article about Helleborus Walberton’s Rosemary (‘Walhero’) in The Plantsman magazine. And more info in an earlier Transatlantic Plantsman post.

Stuck in British traffic

TurbineMiscanthus1000055 Sometimes, being stuck in the traffic provides an opportunity.

Just back in Britain for a visit, I was stuck on the infamous M25 (that’s London's vast orbital motorway). So I was able to snap these three sources of alternative energy in one picture as I waited for the traffic to move. (Click the image to to enlarge it.)

There’s the wind turbine, of course. And there’s the bank of solar panels. And there’s the field of Miscanthus being grown as a biomass crop.

Good to see someone taking it all so seriously.