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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

South African botanical treasures at Wisley

Posted by Jim Gardiner on 07 Oct 2009 at 03:10 PM

We are enjoying the autumn so far at Wisley.  Fruits, flowers and veg are in evidence all over the Garden, and the leaves are starting to turn.  We're looking forward to our Taste of Autumn Festival next week, 16-19th October, with great anticipation - it's been a fantastic event over the last few years, and this year it has an exciting new format. Can't wait!!


In the Glasshouse the Solenostemon (Coleus) display is being replaced with Plectranthus and begonias for a few weeks until our famous chrysanthemums go on display in November. 

Next week we will be wishing bon voyage to David Davies from the Temperate Zone team in The Glasshouse, as he takes up a position in the Jerusalem Botanical Garden.  His knowledge and enthusiasm about South African plants will be missed: here is what Dave has to tell us about some of his favourites here at Wisley.

"Every year Wisley is the recipient of some South Africa botanical treasures, with this year being no exception. Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens always put on an awe-inspiring display at the Chelsea Flower Show, which is put together with an array of cut proteas, restios, cycad leaves and best of all succulent plants.

"Last year we were given to 60 year old (approx) Aloe dichotoma (Quiver Tree), these plants have 6 foot trunks and a multitude of heads, they really are a show piece within our arid section of the Glasshouse. This year Kirstenbosch excelled and delivered to us a stunning Aloe pillansii (giant quiver tree) and a baobab tree (Adansonia digitata).

"The Aloe pillansii only has a 3 foot trunk, yet it is likely to be around 50 years old already. Having observed these plants in their native habitat I know better than anyone at Wisley that these plants grow in some of the harshest and driest conditions on the planet, hence their slow growth rate. They rarely branch, but when they do its normally on 3 – 5 trunks, all growing completely vertical. In the wild I have seen trees 30 – 40 foot tall, which would make them between 350 -450 years old.

"The baobab, though in its infancy, already has a slightly swollen trunk. These trees are experts at storing water for the long dry spells they encounter annually in their natural environment. We hope to plant our specimen in a prominent position within The Glasshouse, giving it maximum head room and growth space, thus letting it develop into the grandest specimen in the British Isles.


"Bulbs are not something we get frequently from Kirstenbosch, though this year we were given a Boophane disticha. The specimen we have is around 40 – 50 years old and in fine condition. As they come from a winter rainfall region they flower at the end of the British summer (with wonderful scent) and then come in to leaf. The leaves are glaucus blue in colour and elongated with crinkled edges, very beautiful to look at. They resist the bush fires of their native region with the protective layers of old leaves that make the bulb so large.

"We hope that this won’t be the last bounty of botanical treasures we receive from Kirstenbosch, talks are already underway with them to make arrangements for next year. Though as the years go on we are having to be more selective in the plants we receive due to the limited display in the display house and service house, though room can always be made for one more succulent……………."



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