Four months without you.

It’s been four months without you, the visitors, students, University staff and members of the Garden; four months maintaining a Garden without volunteers, just each other and wildlife for company. Without doubt we’ve all missed you. Missed when the sun shines and people are walking around, some pointing some ambling with their hands behind their backs (also my own chosen method of garden viewing), some sitting with eyes closed feeling the warmth and listening to the chatter of birds around them.  On days like this we feel a sense of Gardening for a purpose, when visitors have had an hour away from their usual existence in the company of plants, or taken away new facts and knowledge about the plant world that they’ll forget until that pub quiz, or time has run away from them and its suddenly four o’clock; these all make our work worthwhile. The Garden was built for people to view and without people here it feels a little eerie.

The twining menace, bindweed.

What have we been doing except watching weeds pop up all over the place and stopping plants from wilting away in the driest spring on record? Well we tried to get the Garden to you as best we could with a series of short videos on our social media channels, and even a live tour during a monumental thunderstorm where Curator Nick Wray and I were absolutely soaked as the drought broke over our heads. We’ve also been having zoom tea breaks with volunteers which has been great; and our Friends have been receiving weekly enews about the garden and its plant collections to see them through the gardens closure. We’ve been firefighting in the Garden, stopping the spread of weeds. There had always been a tea break discussion, “in an apocalypse, which plants would dominate the Garden?” We’re now getting a small inkling that horsetail, enchanter’s nightshade and bindweed would create their own empirical pockets, perhaps a few border skirmishes before one begins a land grab, my money would be on bindweed.  We’ve kept them in check with weeding, but they’ll never give up!

So after four months without you we’re now building up to reopening the Garden, although it’s not so simple as just flinging the gates open. The University is a large institution with many schools, laboratories and departments each with different challenges and environments; every one of these spaces must be safe for the staff and the Garden is no different. There is a certification process that each department must pass before becoming COVID secure, and for us having members of the public passing through is an additional concern.

Then there is the question of staffing.  As many of you know we rely on volunteers; we have four gardeners, two trainees, two and a half admin staff and our Curator; added to this are over fifty gardening volunteers a week, three shifts a day for Welcome Lodge volunteers seven days a week, many volunteer guides and admin volunteers. We currently have no volunteers in the Garden at all and the admin staff are working at home; many volunteers are retired and some are in the vulnerable category for COVID risk and we wouldn’t want them here in harm’s way. Opening the Garden would move gardeners away from the horticulture and Admin staff away from supporting our educational courses in order to check tickets and monitor Garden capacity. This is something we will do, but understanding our situation hopefully will help you realise the challenges we face with reopening. It’s for this reason that to begin with we won’t be opening at weekends, purely for staffing reasons. One more change will be that the Glasshouses won’t be open initially; the humidity that causes so many tiny water droplets in the air is good for the plants but also perfect for an airborne virus. This will be the case until the danger is over.

So, in short, we’ve missed you and we want you back, but it will be different this time. We’ll be open but it won’t be business as usual, but nothing has been normal this year; be patient as we look to reopen and keep an eye on our social media and website for news of the unlocking of our gates.

Curator’s live tour 1/7/20

Here is the latest live tour in the Garden which took place on 1st July; Nick discusses pollination including the evolutionary adaptations of flower colour and shape, the native grassland and the importance of knapweed and yellow rattle, and the plants of the Mediterranean Maquis.

We apologise for the low sound quality in this video, but there should be enough to enjoy the tour!

The Botanic Garden and D-Day

This week the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day was observed in Northern France by veterans, world leaders and politicians. Even though the second world war was so long ago, its echoes still reverberate. The operation needed 156,000 troops with 73,000 from the US. So, in the lead up to the invasion, thousands of American GIs were stationed across the South West and many throughout the areas of Bristol. (more…)

Magnificent May

How did it get to be May already? It seems a very short time ago that we were looking at the low sun and listening to the lone robins sing, bare earth and branches waiting for a temperature hike. Well, the Garden has plumped up with leaves and life, almost fluorescent in its vibrancy. It’s a wonderful time of year, even when it rains you can almost see the plants growing. 

While the rain is soaking into the May soil, it also threatens the flowers of one group of plants in our Chinese Herb Garden. This year we have completed our peony garden, a unique display here in the west country, and on Sunday 12th May we’re holding a day dedicated to peonies in celebration. One thing we’d like for people to see in this area is of course the flowers of peonies, and the weather was doing its best to rain on our peony parade. So we decided to pamper these plants with an umbrella each. It might seem over the top, but it’s a treatment that some of them are accustomed to. In days gone by the gansu mudan peony has led a life of privilege; ancient China knew it as the Emperor’s flower and law decreed that it was only grown in his gardens. Specialist growers were tasked with cultivating it for use in the imperial borders, but if anyone got ideas above their station and sneaked some in their own garden, well, they were executed! So some of these peony flowers have the air of ‘an umbrella is no more than I deserve’.