The Garden Blog

The long road to today; sugar, cotton and the crimes of Bristol’s past

arges Plants and our history are strongly interwoven, they can evoke personal memories or a collective love of symbolic trees, flowers, scents and sounds; each plant has journeyed side by side with us, our experiences combining to tell a story of our past. Some of these plants have a fleeting appearance, whereas others are so linked with human history that their very mention evokes a deep historical trauma reverberating across continents. This week saw Bristol protestors topple the statue of Colston in the centre of Bristol, one of many men of this city who grew rich through the production of sugar and the selling of African people into slavery. This blog will look at two plants grown in our Tropical zone whose natural adaptations stirred the worst in human greed and brutality, building this city and creating the race divisions we see today. (more…)

Lost in dependable nature

Back in the early two thousands there was a TV series called Lost, many of you may remember it. A number of people survived a plane crash and found themselves on a curious island full of mystery and unusual happenings where everything is not quite as it seems. This is how the UK feels at the moment, an episode of Lost; perpetual idyllic sunshine day after day that doesn’t seem real with the veil of ever present menace that no-one quite understands, all the while information is being discovered that raises more questions than it answers, certainty becomes skewed and things boil over.  (more…)

The Garden in lockdown.

It’s coming up to the fifth week of lockdown and this unusual reality that we’re all living through has become an almost dreamlike normality; the other-world-like quality is enhanced by the perpetual groundhog sunshine that has been virtually ever present for the entire time. Talking of virtually, we all now know what zoom is; all our team meetings and those with other University departments are now taking place on a screen. In the Garden we have just two gardeners at a time and the rest of the week staff work from home, updating plant databases, working on planting plans, researching displays, writing blogs… (more…)

Unusual Widow Iris brings a smile

By Nick Wray

The early spring blossom is in full swing with white, pink and yellow blooms appearing everywhere, so it seems a little subdued to talk about a black flower. Its name also is somewhat sombre. Widow Iris, Iris tuberosa is one of only a few flowers of the 400,000 species of plants on the planet with black flowers. Or at least that’s how they seem to the human eye. In fact, there are no truly black flowers as there are no plant pigments that are black. The black part of the flower, its sepals (known as falls in Iris) are saturated in anthocyanins and the part of the light spectrum reflected back at us gives a black colour (or at least the appearance of one). Secondly, this colour only appears on the sepals, with petals in various shades of green, olive and brown. This combination, like is common name, is powerful and makes for a charming plant, if a little difficult to spot in the garden. But persistent tubers ensure that it appears in winter with linear grass-like foliage that is quadrangular in section (the only Iris to do so), followed in March by the extraordinary flowers. Warmth and shelter are what this curiosity needs, to mimic its Mediterranean home and a summer baking. From France across the countries that make up southern Europe to Turkey, mild winters and warm springs allow this extraordinary iris to establish. The base of a sunny wall or in a sunny grassy bank with spring bulbs, full light and full sun in summer and patience for plants to bulk up and this black sheep of the Iris world will make your garden its new home. (more…)