This week just gone I took a very special trip to Kew: with Richard (who works there) and Brian (who knows a lot of botanish stuff). I've written about them before. It was proper nifty to peruse all the plants and be told all sorts of special things . . . and to get to sneak backstage.Nice hat Mr Richard. I bloody love Kew, it's pretty close to perfect. This peacock refused to face the camera, his backside is also quite fetching though. Brian was a much more cooperative model. The baby coots reminded me of boat times, their little heads look like bare brains: quite ugly really. I learned the other day that pigeon milk isn't milk at all, it's that funny kind of vomit that pigeons hack into the mouths of their young. So I guess this coot is feeding it's babe a little bit of coot milk. Yummers.The waterlily house was one of my favourite bits, it was built especially for the giant waterlily (named after Queen Victoria). The lily itself is grown from new each year so it doesn't get too big for it's pond. The leaves have really pronounced veins underneath that trap air, making it float real good - enough to support a baby.And Richard took us for a peep around the greenhouses, where things are being nurtured and propagated to go out into the gardens.
There's a whole section for plants that are sleeping. That have been taken out because they're not showing their best (though I thought these hooded ones were lovely). I was amazed to learn how much plants get moved around at Kew - like giant cacti being trundled around in wheelbarrows and wrestled into position for summer, a job I really don't envy.This tree got in the way of a nice view so they moved it.
Everything's done on such an enormous scale, pallets and pallets of pots for planting up.
They also use a lot of terracotta pots which I found encouraging. They lose moisture quicker than plastic pots which makes them ideal for succulents and alpines. (I don't know whether I told you but I've bought about four thousand Victorian terracotta plant pots - not a bad purchase eh?)
Richard showed us plants that he'd bought back from the Falklands.
I have grilled the two of them about their Falklands visit - so that's a whole other post for another day.
Whilst snooping the greenhouses I also learnt of the devastating effect of BADGER DAMAGE. Can you imagine how rubbish BADGER DAMAGE could be? You've travelled half way around the world, carefully collected tiny seeds - probably using tweezers whilst hanging over a cliff - packaged them meticulously and sent them to a team of gardeners who grow a tiny plant, carefully mimicking the conditions of it's native environment. Then a badger comes and has a roll around on it.
Then to the Herbarium. As you go in there's an impressive collection of wax flowers that were commissioned as teaching aids.
The Herbarium is an incredible building, crammed full of specimens - some dating back centuries - collected from all over the world, some collected by Darwin, some collected by Richard. It's obviously very well organised but also quite chaotic looking, once you get in the cupboards it's all stacks of crinkly paper with notes sticking out of them.
The specimens are stored according to country. When you take one off the shelf you have to carefully slide a piece of cardboard under it to minimise the risk of dropping it. The plants inside are beautiful.
The way they are laid out means you can see the shape of the leaves and the buds, wall-worthy.Small plants are stored in folded envelopes.
I was surprised to learn that specimens get sandwiched in newspaper - because it does the job very well and is readily available all over the world.
We went to Richard's office, where they're not allowed to have plants on their desks, because of the insects they might attract.
So all the foliage in the room is of the flat and crispy variety. It was a splendid day, I'm so lucky: I almost overdosed on interesting information and beautiful things and went home feeling awfully jammy thanks to those lovely chaps.