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Sprucing up the Wildlife Garden

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Our Learning team have let us know how they've been getting the Wildlife Garden ready for the new season.

Spring is in the air and summer is just around the corner so it was that time again for the Learning team to spruce up the Wildlife Garden for the upcoming term.

We run very popular minibeast safari workshops with children who visit the Wildlife Garden to hunt for bugs and find out about the sustainable ways we can help the environment.

First things first: we had to clean out our pond. It’s made from a recycled bath: using old containers like this is an easy way to make a pond in a small space and it doesn’t stop it being filled with wildlife. After removing all the weed, which can take up too much oxygen for other animals and plants, we found a family of newts hiding in the bottom!

We kept these amphibians out of the way while we worked and when we'd finished made sure they were put safely back into their home.

Our wildflower meadow was quite overgrown with goose grass, so we pulled this up and re-planted with a variety of colourful wildflower plugs specially chosen to attract bees and butterflies in the summer, including wild marjoram, oxeye daisies and yarrow.

The Minibeast hotel was already a riot of colour with Aubreia and snap-dragons, but we added more colour across the garden with primroses and pansies to provide nectar for bugs and bees. These were planted up in the minibeast mansion, old boots and buckets - the garden is now looking bright and ready for summer!

School and community groups can book to use the wildlife garden by contacting us, and keep an eye out through the summer for special event days when the Wildlife Garden is open to all to come and explore.

For further information contact the Gardens Learning and Interpretation Officer, Amy Wedderburn at awedderburn@horniman.ac.uk.

Gardens in Bloom

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Wes, our Head of Horticulture, shares an update from the Gardens as we head into Spring.

Over the last few weeks the Horniman Gardens have been bursting into colour with a dazzling display of crocus, snow drops, and daffodils.

The crocuses in particular have been stunning, and are naturalised in many areas of our lawns.

Crocuses are in the Iris family, and there are quite a lot of them: about 90 species and many more cultivated varieties. They grow throughout Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, Asia and China.

Crosuses grow from a 'corm' in the ground, which in appearance are similar to bulbs and act as an underground plant stem that store nutrients and water.

Saffron is a spice derived from the dried stigmas of the Saffron crocus Crocus sativus, it has been used as a fragrance, dye and medicine and is one of the world’s most expensive spices. Visitors can see these flowering in our Dye Garden during the autumn.

Naturalising bulbs in lawns is great way to grow certain plants and it’s a really easy way of providing an amazing spring display. If you want to do this with crocus, you need to plant them in autumn, simply buy as many as you can afford, and scatter them randomly over the grass, and wherever they land plant them in that space. Using a trowel or bulb planter, plant them to 3 times the depth of the bulb and you’re good to go.

We'd love to know if you've got any crocuses growing in your Gardens at home, or whether you've seen any in other public Gardens around London. Why not share them with us in the comments or on Twitter @HornimanMuseum.

Gourds in the Gardens

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A few months ago we blogged about some curious containers from our collections. Amy now introduces us to the link some of these objects have to the Horniman's display Gardens.

Our Display Gardens contain a wealth of plants that have thousands of uses in our everyday lives. The Materials Garden has many plants which people from all over the world have put to use in clever and suitable ways to adapt to challenges of living in and using their natural environments. Gourds are a great example of this.

Our gardeners grow gourds, which are similar to pumpkins or squash, along trellises to support the fruits as they develop. The fleshy orange fruits, once ripened, can be dried out – either by leaving them on the plant or by storing carefully in dry conditions, until they become hardened. These hardened gourd shells can be used to make tools, musical instruments, art and textiles, and containers.

The hard shell of the dried gourd is water tight and keeps the contents inside cool, providing a way to transport or store liquids and foods in hotter climates.

This Kenyan Masai milk container is made from a long gourd which has been dried and hollowed out. It is decorated with carved and painted designs of gazelle, giraffes and types of birds. It would be used to store milk, blood, honey or oatmeal.

This one is from our handling collection and can be seen in the Hands on Base.

The Sudanese vessel below was used for storing buttermilk. The woven case around it (made from plant fibre) would be used for carrying the container.

This Kenyan Kamba container is decorated with a net of multicoloured beads with small metal bells around the bottom. The hide strap which runs around the gourd is used as a handle.

Why not take a closer look next time you visit our Gardens and see if you can find where we grow our gourds?

Tree Felling in the Gardens

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As part of the gardens tree maintenance programme, our trees are surveyed every two years by a professional arboriculture consultant. He advises on how we should prioritise our tree works.

In the most recent survey, completed in January, a horse chestnut tree (Aesculus hippocastanum) located on the Avenue was flagged up as being a priority.

The tree is probably between 50-100 years old and, although it looks fine from the outside, there is decay within the base of the tree which makes it potentially dangerous.

On Tuesday last week, the tree was felled by a registered tree surgeon who has worked in our Gardens before.

Some of the wood will be used for a new wildlife garden, smaller branches will be chipped up and taken offsite, as will the main trunk.

Our next steps are to replace the tree and redevelop the bed around it.

Homes for Bats and Birds

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Jim, who works for The Conservation Volunteers, has been updating us on the latest work being done on London's oldest Nature Trail.

This January, the conservation volunteers put up the new Woodcrete Bird and Bat boxes purchased by the Gardens team.

These boxes are used by most conservation organisations as they are tough, durable and easy to clean. They are made of a mix of wood pulp and concrete, so are impervious to attacks from woodpeckers, crows, jays and magpies who will attempt to raid the nests for eggs and fledglings.

We have put up four bat boxes down around the Nature Trail meadow. This is a good area for bats (probably pipistrelle bats) as the pond is nearby, and this along with the meadow is a good source of insects - the bats main food.  The bats can roost in the boxes and come out to feed from dusk onwards.

Bats live in colonies, so the boxes are all put close together, unlike boxes for birds, which have separate territories.  

Four blue tit boxes have also been put up along the trail to join the other six great tit boxes that are already there. The difference between the two boxes is that the blue tit box has a smaller hole, thus excluding the larger great tits, who will oust the smaller blue tits given the chance.

All of these boxes will provide very useful nesting and roosting sites for birds and bats, and they will help to increase the overall biodiversity and educational value of the Nature Trail.  

Horniman Inspiration - Katherine May

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Artist Katherine May tells us how the Horniman Dye Garden inspired her latest exhibition, Water – Colour, at the London Design Festival 2013.

Water – Colour is a textile installation that aims to raise awareness of water consumption in the production and use of textiles. The installation evolved over the course of 9 days during the London Design Festival 2013 using an exhaust dyeing method to dye 100 meters of cloth.

This unconventional dye process uses the same dye bath and rinse water until the colour runs out, producing a gradation of fabric colour as the amount of dye decreases.

The Horniman dye garden revealed to me just how many plants have been historically used for dye. Alongside the more well known Indigofera varieties, were Dahlias and Hibiscus, producing a vibrant range of colours.

A natural indigo dye was chosen for the installation, partly for its transformative qualities as it turns cloth from yellow to green,a dn then to blue as it is exposed to air, and partly because it can ‘fix’ to cloth without the need for chemical pre-treatment.

Plants from the Horniman Gardens were displayed within the exhibition to display the natural origins of colours. They were an integral part of communicating the material life-cycles that played part of the installation.

Once the indigo dye vats were exhausted, the final stage of the exhibition saw the dye station replaced by a sewing workspace and the making of the cloth into quilts.

These were then hung through a five story atrium space to show the gradual change in colour, alongside the Horniman Gardens plants and natural dyes to show the full material ‘life cycle’, all the way from seed to cloth.

The finished quilts from the exhibtion are now available to purchase online.

Winter Gardening Jobs in the Materials Garden

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Head of Horticulture Wes gives us an update on the important work going on in the Gardens to protect our plants for Winter.

Many of the plants we grow in and around the display gardens are from warmer climates and will not survive a London winter, so at this time of year the gardening team are busy protecting them from cold temperatures, wind and rain.

Some plants like the Cyperus papyrus (papyrus) we dig up, containerise and leave in a heated green house until the spring.

Our banana plants are the hardy Musa basjoo. They will survive being left in the ground if protected from the elements. Bananas are often referred to as trees, but they are really giant herbaceous plants, the largest in the plant kingdom. Their true stem is underneath the ground in the form of a large rhizome. This is the part of the plant that really needs to be protected.

Gardener Damien begins this task by removing all the leaves and using them as mulch around the base of the plant. The stems are cut in half.

He then puts canes up in a wigwam like fashion around the clump and ties horticultural fleece tightly around, securing at the top and bottom.

This will keep the frost off of them, and more importantly keep them dry to avoid the rhizomes from rotting.

This appears quite a brutal way of treating these plants, but it does them no harm and in the spring, when the weather has warmed up they re-shoot from the cut stems or from the base of the clump. They will get a good soak and some fertiliser and they are good to go for another season.

After the Storm in the Horniman Gardens

If you visited last week, you will have seen that on some days parts or all of the Gardens had to be closed. This was to allow the Gardens team, to inspect each of the trees and clear away any damage caused by the gale force winds of St. Jude.

Many of the trees suffered damage to branches in the storm, and a tree surgeon needed to make sure these were brought down and removed safely.

We also lost 4 complete trees. Two fell in the high winds and 2 more had to be felled as they were left severely damaged and unsafe. Then work began to remove some of the stumps left behind.

One of the trees which had to be felled last week was a large Ash. Gardener Andrea managed to catch the event on camera.

The tree had suffered severe damage to a large branch, and upon investigating and climbing the tree to remove this it became clear it was not safe to leave the rest of the tree standing.

It is a shame to see mature trees like this Ash come to an end, particularly since many people are familiar with the older trees in the Gardens, but in the end their removal can be vital for the safety of visitors.

The Horniman's Head of Horticulture, Wes, explains that for the Gardens team it is important to look on the positive side after an event like this, to see an opportunity to think again about plans for the space, and future replanting.

This tree's stump will be left in the ground for visitors to discover. It's the perfect chance to explore nature and perhaps even discover the age of this tree by counting the rings.

What's Growing in the Gardens - September 2013

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Gardens Learning Officer Amy has been exploring the Food Garden for autumn produce with a decidedly American theme.

September is the time when children are preparing to go back to school, autumnal colours appear on the trees, and the weather begins to get a little chillier. It is traditionally a time to harvest and collect foods grown over the year in preparation for the winter months.

Here in the Horniman Gardens we have loads of delicious autumnal fruit and vegetables thriving during this time. Look out for some over the next few weeks in the Food Garden. These ones are all plants that are originally native to the Americas.

We have two pumpkin patches in the World Food garden showcasing different varieties of this American vegetable. A member of the squash family – specifically ‘winter squash’ – these large round fruits will eventually turn the familiar orange we recognise from Halloween festivities later in the year.

Pumpkin seed remains have been found in Mexico dating back to 7000 BC. Most pumpkins grow to weigh around 2.5-8 kilograms though some of the giant Pumpkin varieties have been known to reach up to 75kg!

The two varieties you can see are Defendable and Styriaca.

Another orange vegetable we often associate with America is the Sweet Potato. Just at the entrance to the World Food garden you can see the sweet potato patch.

The tubers grow underground as a root vegetable but the foliage, unlike the traditional potato most people are familiar with, is low and trails across the ground. Sweet potato is often referred to as a ‘yam’ in parts of North America although Yams are actually a different vegetable altogether. Both pumpkins and sweet potatoes are a great source of Vitamin A which is good for your eyes and skin.

September is also the season for boysenberries which are beginning to ripen to a deep purple or maroon colour similar to blackberries, but larger in size.

Boysenberries are a cross between the common raspberry, blackberry and the loganberry. They were created in the late 1920s in America by Rudolph Boysen who grew them on his farm in Northern California.

If you find yourself in the Gardens this autumn, be sure to keep an eye out for our American beauties!

What's Growing in the Gardens - August 2013

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It’s Love Parks Week: the perfect opportunity to come and visit the Horniman Gardens and the perfect opportunity to show you some of the wonderful things that we have been growing!

Our first World Food Garden harvest of 2013 produced peas, broad beans, summer berries, the first onions, some beautiful yellow courgettes and a huge marrow.

The vegetable garden is abundant with growing delicacies at the moment, which are used in special dishes in our café and in Education and Community group workshops. Over the next few weeks you can see a range of fruit and vegetables growing from peas to pomegranates.

See if you can spot some of these:

Enjoy looking, but please don’t pick or eat our crops. We want all our visitors to be able to see how they grow.

Also looking spectacular we have Agapanthus blooming in the African garden bed by the Horniman Drive entrance and along the London Road railings along the front of the museum.

Their stunning blue colour makes quite an impact as you approach the museum.

There are a whole host of activities for all ages in the gardens too this summer including Pond Dipping, Exploring Nature and art and craft activities for kids and concerts, film screenings and Late events for the grown-ups. Enjoy!

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