On 25 November we joined the Professional Horticulture Group South West for a pre-Christmas lunch at Wiltshire College, Lackham where the guest speaker was writer, lecturer and broadcaster Peter Thoday. He gave an informative and inevitably entertaining presentation on his involvement with the Compton Acres garden at Poole, Dorset. A report can be found below.
December is a quiet month for the Group so all that remains is to wish everyone a Happy Christmas and prosperous New Year.
In the elegant surroundings of Lackham House we enjoy a traditional Christmas lunch preceded by a talk by a guest speaker. This year we welcomed lecturer, writer and broadcaster Peter Thoday (pictured right) well-known as a landscape lecturer at Bath University, for his 1987 TV series on the ‘Victorian Kitchen Garden’ and for his involvement in a typically hair-brained idea to build a horticultural visitor attraction in a disused Cornish china-clay pit.
In recent years Peter has been advising on the renovation of what is left of the gardens at Compton Acres, regarded as one of the best privately owned gardens open to the public. Started in 1920 by margarine magnate Thomas William Simpson aided by head gardener, Mr Middleton, the gardens originally extended to some 50 acres. As a result of changing ownership and as opportunist land deals it has shrunk to the 10 acres it now occupies although by 2000 it was in a sorry state. At this stage it was purchased by Bernard Merna who decided he wanted to resurrect the gardens although at the same time, being an astute business man, he wanted the gardens to pay their way.
Peter’s talk thus described how they have set about re-creating a garden on what was originally sandy heath with a covering of Scots pine and at the same time making it pay its way. He started by recounting the route the visitor has to follow to reach the garden entrance beset as it is with hazards designed to relieve the visitor of their cash. A café of course, a shop and a plant centre all accessible without paying for entry to the garden. As a result they attract a footfall well in excess of the garden itself contributing considerably to the overall income.
Those visitors who survive this obstacle course are then relieved of a small contribution to enter the garden. Once inside they embark on a circular tour starting with the ‘Italian Garden’. (Upper Picture) This area with its long pond and formal colourful bedding sits in front of an Italianate villa. This is a sought after wedding venue and a major money spinner for the gardens but one that presents its challenges. It must be kept colourful at all times so Peter has spent much time selecting not just the species but the right variety (preferably ones that spread well) and the correct spacing to achieve maximum effect. Begonia semperflorens and Bellis are the mainstays in this area (Centre picture). Unfortunately wedding guests, in their desperation to get in the wedding pictures are not averse to trampling on the bedding so over-ordering and replanting become essential to maintain the displays so that each bride feels they have been set out especially for her.
Peter then led us on pictorially through the sub-tropical garden, an area planted with familiar sub-tropicals which can all be left in the ground thanks to the gardens beneficial location is on the edge of Poole Harbour. Given the light sandy soil the garden relies heavily for weed control, water retention and organic matter on a regular woodchip mulch partly from the garden itself and partly donated by a local landscape gardener. The visitor can then wander through the rock garden, taking a detour to a bog garden if desired, eventually reaching a terrace overlooking the Pool Harbour itself. Just the spot to stop and relax and, thanks to a strategically located cafe, contribute further to the garden upkeep. This is another area that must be kept well clothed with planting at all times, though perhaps less prone to the difficulties of the Italian Garden.
Refreshed the visitor is then led through the heather garden, mainly planted with winter flowering Erica as the imported soil improvers proved to have a pH significantly higher than that claimed. Then to the Japanese Garden (Lower picture), part of Simpson’s original design at a time when Japanese design was much in favour and itinerant Japanese builders wandered the country constructing ‘authentic’ Japanese tea houses for the wealthy landowners.
This ends the visitor experience and although Peter admitted it was possible to escape immediately to the car park the ‘natural’ route led one once more past the shop, cafe and plant centre just in case you could be relieved of yet further donations to the garden maintenance.
Viscum album, mistletoe, Santalaceae (Viscaceae)
Mistletoe must surely top the list of those plants most associated with Christmas – certainly of those we do not eat! It is a plant with a rich history of folklore and tradition but which has become a vital part of many patients battle with cancer.
Even if it wasn’t for the long standing associations with Christmas it would certainly be at this time of year that mistletoe comes to our attention. Now that most of the leaves have fallen from the deciduous trees the photosynthesising green balls of hemi-parasitic mistletoe are revealed (picture top left by OrangeDog). The most likely host trees for this white berried mistletoe are lime, poplar, apple and hawthorn with oak a much rarer host.
Viscum is a genus with approximately 65 species with a centre of diversity in the Old World tropics from where it spread both north and south. There are just two species found in Europe, Viscum album being by far the most common. This species itself has three recognised subspecies in Europe. One is restricted to broadleaf trees, and the other two have conifer hosts (Pinus and Larix for one subspecies, Abies for the other).
Mistletoe is a small branching shrub which is dioecious – with male and female flowers on separate plants. The flowers are small and inconspicuous but insect pollinated. The white single seeded fruits appear by late autumn. The fruits (picture upper middle by H Zell) are single seeded berries which are eaten by birds. The birds can often be seen wiping their beaks onto the branches of the host trees to get rid of the seed and its sticky coating from where the seed has a chance to germinate in favourable conditions (picture lower middle by Stefan.lefnaer).
Pliny (AD23 to AD79) wrote of the mistletoe and believed that it was special and must contain the life force of the tree as it remained in leaf through the winter when the rest of the tree appeared lifeless. Mistletoe appears in Norse myths and legends and became integrated into Christian traditions once Christianity became widespread in Europe from the 3rd century AD. Possibly the most well-known tradition associated with this plant today is that of kissing under the mistletoe. The exact origins of this are hazy but the earliest documented case dates to 16th Century England (picture lower right).
Although a host plant would not be killed outright by mistletoe growing on it, in very dry seasons it can be significantly weakened by the presence of the mistletoe. Whilst the mistletoe contains functional photosynthetic machinery it does depend on its host plant for the majority of its water – taking this up from the xylem of the host. In extreme dry, when the host plant could shed leaves to conserve water, the mistletoe remains as a site of water loss.
But what of the medicinal properties of mistletoe? Extract of mistletoe has become the most commonly used oncology drug in Germany. The first recorded use of an injectable mistletoe extract was in 1917 by a Dutch Doctor. Products such as Iscador and Helixor which are injectable extracts are now routinely used as adjunct therapies together with other perhaps more conventional clinical treatments. Mistletoe extract has been the subject of over 100 clinical trials, 26 of which have been carried out on Helixor products. These products can now claim to reduce nausea and fatigue associated with the other therapies. They have been shown to activate the immune system and the production of defense cells and to stimulate apoptosis (programmed cell death) particularly in cancer cells which have lost the ability. One of the known components of these extracts are the mistletoe lectins (I, II & III). These are the substances primarily responsible for the effects on the immune system and the possible tumour suppressing effect. Lectins are typically very toxic substances – with the best known being the poison ricin.
Commercial Horticultural Association
Following a successful first time presence in 2014, CHA will again be organising UK pavilions and a high-profile British participation at the biennial GreenTech Amsterdam, at RAI Amsterdam in June 2016 (14-16 June). GreenTech is the international horticultural exhibition with a clear focus on technology and innovation, specifically concentrating on new developments in cultivation and the ‘beginning of the chain’. Taking place every two years at RAI Amsterdam, and filling the void left by the demise of HortiFair in 2012, GreenTech has been created in close co-operation with the industry, sector organisations and market leaders to deliver a highly relevant event for the international horticultural industry. The visitor target group is clearly identified as international growers and breeders, with the event providing access to everything they need to grow and optimise their production. Additionally an extensive seminar programme will introduce latest innovations and horticulture technology and knowledge. The event offers an exciting opportunity for both new and experienced British exporters to present the latest product developments, services and innovations to key international growers and investors derived from vegetable, floriculture, glass and open field horticulture. Anyone interested in exhibiting should contact CHA.
Royal Society of Biology
The Royal Society of Biology with the Association for Science Education, the Institute of Physics, the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Royal Society responded to the Education Select Committee inquiry on whether teacher supply in the sciences is at crisis point. Read here.
The Learned Societies' Group of which the Royal Society of Biology is a member also responded to the Scottish Government's draft National Improvement Framework for Scottish education. Read here
Urban trees are worth it
In 1984, a researcher named Roger Ulrich noticed a curious pattern among patients who were recovering from gallbladder surgery at a suburban hospital in Pennsylvania. Those who had been given rooms overlooking a small stand of deciduous trees were being discharged almost a day sooner, on average, than those in otherwise identical rooms whose windows faced a wall. That is the riddle that underlies a new study by a team of researchers. The study compares two large data sets from the city of Toronto; the first measures the distribution of green space and the second measures health, as assessed by a detailed survey of ninety-four thousand respondents. After controlling for income, education, and age, they showed that an additional ten trees on a given block corresponded to a one-per-cent increase in how healthy nearby residents felt. To get an equivalent increase with money, you’d have to give each household in that neighborhood ten thousand Canadian dollars (£5,000)—or make people seven years younger! More
Ash trees under another threat
A tiny beetle could wipe out Britain’s ash trees much faster than the established ash dieback disease which is expected to eventually kill millions of the trees. The emerald ash borer, Agrilus planipennis, is moving uncontrolled through Russia. It flies long distances, moves quickly and can reproduce in the UK. The beetle has not has yet arrived in the UK, but there is a high risk of it being introduced and establishing itself. The ash borer is now top of the UK’s plant risk register. While ash dieback disease has been given a score of 100 out of 125 as a relative risk, ash borer disease registers the maximum 125. More
Neonicotinoid pesticides impair bumblebees.
Until now research on pesticide effects has been limited to their impact on bees, rather than the pollination services they provide. A new study discovered that bumblebees exposed to a realistic level of neonicotinoid pesticides found in agricultural environments collected pollen from apple trees less often and visited flowers less frequently. In addition, the researchers discovered that trees pollinated by bumblebees exposed to pesticides produced apples with 36% fewer seeds – a factor closely associated with fruit quality in most apple varieties.
New research centre for crop and food waste
A new research centre dedicated to reducing crop and food waste and improving resource use efficiency in the horticultural and fresh produce supply chains has been opened in the Cambridgeshire Fens. The Eastern AgriGate Research Hub, based at Hasse Fen near Soham and managed by NIAB, is a well-equipped field station, carrying out commercial scale research to increase productivity and reduce crop wastage before produce reaches the processor and retailer. The new facility has been built with £600,000 of growth initiative funding from the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Enterprise Partnership, through the Eastern Agri-Tech Growth Initiative.
Too many plants wrongly named
In an embarrassing finding for a profession which is allegedly based on fact, more than half the world’s natural history specimens may be wrongly named, according to British scientists. The sheer number of samples being collected is outpacing the number of experts who can accurately record them. Examining 4,500 specimens of the African ginger genus Aframomum, from 40 collections in 21 countries, using a monographic study completed last year as a reference, the team were surprised to find that prior to this monograph at least 58% of specimens were either misidentified, given an outdated or redundant name, or only identified to the genus or family. Researchers also discovered that two specimens from the same plant are often recorded differently. An analysis of 21,075 samples of Dipterocarpaceae, a family of rainforest trees from Asia, found that a third (29 per cent) had different names in different collections. Mistakes were also found within records kept online. An examination of 560 names associated with 49,500 specimens of Ipomoea – a genus which includes the sweet potato – revealed four out of ten were recorded as outdated synonyms rather than the current name. And around one in seven of the names were unrecognisable or wrong. More
Tomato clocks run slower
A new study has shown that the circadian clock of cultivated tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) has slowed during domestication. Allelic variation of the tomato homologue of the Arabidopsis gene EID1 is responsible for a phase delay. They found that the EID1 allele in cultivated tomatoes enhances plant performance specifically under long day photoperiods, suggesting that humans selected slower circadian rhythms to adapt the cultivated species to the long summer days it encountered as it was moved away from the equator.
Extinction can be catching
The extinction of one carnivore species can trigger the demise of fellow predators, conservation biologists have confirmed. A new study has backed up theories and previous laboratory research demonstrating the phenomenon of horizontal extinction cascades, where extinctions of carnivore species can have a ripple effect across species triggering further unexpected extinctions of other carnivores. The researchers believe their findings provide an important message for those working in conservation. Rather than focus on the conservation of a single species, researchers suggest adopting a whole system approach that also includes fellow predators. Using insects, the research team set up experimental communities with complex food webs in 40 four-square metre outdoor field-cages which they observed over a spring and summer season. These communities consisted of several species of aphids and their natural enemies, parasitoid wasps. The study found that once one wasp species was removed its aphid-prey grew in numbers, crowding out the other aphids and making it difficult for the other wasp species to locate their particular food resource, eventually leading to their extinction. More
Bumblebees deployed to spray pesticides
Bumblebees buzz from plant to plant collecting food, and plans are afoot to give them another task while they do it – carrying pesticides to where they are needed. A Canadian company has opened a commercial production plant in the hope that the tactic will lure farmers away from indiscriminate crop spraying. The idea involves placing a tray of organic pesticide powder inside a commercially bred hive. The powder contains a substance to help it stick to bees’ legs and a strain of Clonostachys rosea fungus that is harmless to these insects but attacks crop diseases and pests. This is a perfectly natural fungus found very commonly throughout the world. The bumblebees walk through the powder as they leave the hive. When they land on flowers to gather nectar and pollen, they leave a dusting of pesticide to protect the plant and future fruit.
Many crops can be protected this way, including blueberries and bell peppers. More
Quality Management of Organic Horticultural Produce
7 - 9 Dec 2015
Ubon Ratchthani, Thailand
The Plant Hunters with Stephen Harmer
9 Dec 2015, East Malling Research
East Malling, UK
Advances in Nematology
15 Dec 2015, Association of Applied Biologists
Mathematics in the Plant Sciences
5 - 8 Jan 2016, The Centre for Plant Integrative Biology
International Advances in Pesticide Application
13 - 15 Jan 2016, Association of Applied Biologists
14 - 17 Jan 2016, Parque Katalapi
Parque Katalapi, Chile
Succulents and other Ornamentals
24 - 28 Jan 2016, International Society for Horticultural Science
The role of science in food and agriculture
27 Jan 2016, Westminster Forum Projects
Genome Engineering and Synthetic Biology: Tools and Technologies
28 - 29 Jan 2016
31 Jan 2016 - 5 Feb 2016, Gordon Research Conferences
Plant Genetics and Breeding Technologies
1 - 2 Feb 2016, VISCEA
UK Grower Awards
3 Feb 2016, Horticulture Week
Plant Model Species: Fundamentals and Applicatiions
4 - 5 Feb 2016, VISCEA
Plants In Vitro: Theory and Practice
8 - 9 Feb 2016, VISCEA
Plant Genes and "Omics": Technology Development
11 - 12 Feb 2016, VISCEA
Tree and Plant Health Early Warning Systems in Europe
23 - 24 Feb 2016, Observatree
Environmental Management & Crop Protection
23 - 24 Feb 2016, Association for Crop Protection in Northern Britain
Contested Agronomy: whose agronomy counts?
23 - 25 Feb 2016, Institute of Development Studies
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