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Jim Gardiner

Jim Gardiner Director of Horticulture RHS Garden Wisley

Jim Gardiner is the recently appointed Director of Horticulture for the Royal Horticultural Society and has previously been Curator and Chief Curator based at Wisley for over twenty years. Before that he was Curator at the Hillier Gardens and Arboretum. His primary interest is in woody plants, in particular Magnolias on which he has written two books, “Magnolias, their Care and Cultivation” and “Magnolias, A Gardener’s Guide”.

  • Date Joined: 12 Jul 2007

Plants for Bugs at Wisley: autumn update.

Posted by Jim Gardiner on 30 Sep 2009 at 09:35 AM

Through the Pinetum and into Howard's Field late summer and autumn colour is coming into its own.  Our heather beds are doing well, and there are carpets of beautiful pink and white Cyclamen hederifolium.  And right at the end is the Plants for Bugs site, being overseen by Helen Bostock on of the RHS Horticultural Advisors. Further to the initial blog posted earlier this summer, this is her latest update.


Barely four months since the first plants went into the ground, the Howard’s Field site is now bursting with lush foliage, brightly coloured flowers and, just as we had hoped, lots of insects. Up to eight dragonflies at a time have been witnessed sitting on top of the climber support canes – probably hawking for insect prey. Plants at the garden site have definitely grown much faster than those at the trials site in Wisley Village. A light dressing of sulphate of ammonium (a nitrogen feed) and kieserite (a magnesium feed) at the trials site several weeks ago made little difference. Something we’ll need to reassess in spring. 


It’s been hard keeping the plots sufficiently watered during the dry, windy months of August and September. The Plants for Bugs volunteers have been spending much of the time giving them a weekly soak, using irrigation water that is extracted from the River Wey.

We have now planet 90 percent of the plants. Some are still being bulked up in our Propagation Department. In early September all the bulbs (bluebells and Oxalis) were planted but these won’t appear until the spring. What is just coming into flower, however, are the lovely rich pink Nerine bowdenii on the exotic plots. Another plant that has caught the public eye is the South American Mirabilis jalapa, also known as four o’clock flower because of when it opens. The plant grows from a tuber and can be either white, yellow or pink flowered. We’ll soon need to decide whether to give it some winter protection as it is not fully hardy.


I’m delighted to say we now have the interpretation boards and planting plans in place for each bed. These went up in time for Science Week and attracted a lot of attention.


Visitors can now learn how the plants in each plots have been chosen for their different geographical origins - native, near-native and exotic – and start to make their own observations on insect activity.

Dr Andrew Salisbury has been experimenting with sampling techniques. There seems to have been very little slug activity (not that we are complaining!) but lots of ground beetles and flying insects, including the Painted Lady Butterfly and honey bees from nearby apiaries. His efforts were made harder by curious crows and magpies who insisted on pulling out the plastic pitfall traps. When tent pegs were used to anchor the traps, the cheeky corvids just pulled these out first!

If you are interested in wildlife gardening take a look at the recently relaunched Wild About Gardens site



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