Saturday, 23 April 2011
I stopped to smell the marigolds
What do I chose as my first talkative plant? My first post that isn’t just about arriving in Kew or the fact I live by the River Thames. My first British specimen!
There are, I’m told, 30,000 different kinds of plant growing in Kew Gardens and Wakehurst Place. If I did one a week I’d be just over 626 years old when I finish. Even at one a day, I’ll be the wrong side of 130 years old.
And all this assumes I continue to have time to smell the marigolds and other blooms. That will all come to a screaming stop next week when I begin my new career as Director of Conservation, Living Collections and Estates – or ‘the guy in charge of horticulture and houses at Kew’.
It seems that 29,999 of the species are in flower at the moment. The place is a riot of colour.
I thought a local plant would be good. The bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) are drifting all over the place at the moment but are dubiously native to the site. The dastardly Spanish Bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica) is definitely not native, and interbreeds with its English cousin to the frustration of local plant enthusiasts.
I also considered the cheery yellow Perfoliate Alexanders. They are all over the place at Kew (surrounding Lynda on a bench here), but apparently spreading from the conservation area where they are already a weed. The common name is obscure enough but their scientific name is just as odd: Smyrnium perfoliatum.
I finally settled on the Marsh-marigold, Caltha palustris. It’s definitely a native and it likes wet places, like me. It would have grown beside the Thames River and in 1906 it was reported from the ha-ha (a ditch that defines the Thames border of Kew Gardens) among other places. My pictures (at the top and below) are from the alpine rockery where it was almost certainly planted.
The Marsh-marigold looks a bit like other marigolds – well, it’s gold in colour – but it’s not a daisy like the others. This one is a relative of Ranunculus, and sits in the family Ranunculaceae rather than Asteraceae (the daisy family). Anyway, I took the opportunity to stop and smell its flowers. As it happens, it doesn't have a perfume, at least not one I could detect. Still, the bees like it.
If you want to find out more about the native plants of Kew, Tom Cope’s The Wild Flora of Kew Gardens was published in 2009. It includes just under 2,000 different plants recorded from Kew Gardens since its inception in 1759, a mere 250 years ago.
And these are ducks, in Marsh-marigold habitat.