Summer is coming on leaps and bounds at the University of Bristol Botanic Garden and can still be enjoyed from your own armchair. By Alice Maltby
Like the best of the ripping yarns from the “Boys Own” magazines of old, intrepid plant explorers risked life and limb to bring back exotic plants from the far corners of the globe. Their adventures included fighting pirates and bandits, escaping from crocodiles and venomous snakes, enduring heatstroke, frostbite and Malaria then watching their most precious plants being swept overboard in tropical storms, just so we could have wonderful gardens.
Many of these, now rare, plants can easily be seen at the University of Bristol Botanic Garden in Stoke Bishop. The garden has been designed to tell stories about plant evolution and is home to four core plant collections: Evolution, Mediterranean Climate Regions, Local flora and rare native plants and Useful Plants, including a Chinese Medicinal Herb Garden and a Western Herb Garden.
These collections are planted in displays that convey the drama of plants in the wild, aspects of their evolutionary biology and immerse the visitor in the display, transporting them to many different habitats. The large glasshouses provide the right climatic conditions for exotic plants including cacti, orchids, carnivorous plants and unique within Bristol the giant Amazon water lily and sacred lotus collection.
Plants from South Africa are an important feature of the garden. Visitors are surprised to learn that many of our popular bedding and hanging basket plants actually come from Africa including pelargoniums, osteospernums, arctotis and mesambryanthemums. To enhance the South African collection this year, the garden has constructed an African rondavel, or roundhouse, which are found in their millions across the African continent. These traditional buildings are home to some of Africa’s poorest people. As well as acting as a shelter from rain, this structure is a piece of theatre adding drama and interest to the garden.
Moving onto the plant kingdom in China, a great deal is happening in the Chinese Medicinal Herb Garden. Major developments have taken place in the cultural garden which has two aspects, the peony garden and a tea planting display. Although there are a number of successful tea growings operations in the UK, tea growing is new to the Botanic Garden The Georgian and Nepalese tea plants were specially sourced from the Scottish Tea Growers Association.
The Botanic Garden is also developing a new warm temperate zone within the glasshouses. Home for plants from Macaronesia (Azores, Canary Isles, Cape Verde, Madeira and Savage Islands) region. Visitors will recognize some of these plants from their forays overseas, in particular, the Canary Island Dragon Tree, famous for its red resin like sap known locally as dragon’s blood. While Echium wildpretii grows outside on Tenerife, it has to be grow indoors in Bristol because it would rot in our wet-humid environment. The Canary Isle bellflower with large orange, bell-shaped flowers, is growing amongst an extensive collection of Aeoniums, succulent-leaved, rosette forming perennial herbs.
One tropical plant we all love is the Cocoa tree, source of cocoa beans, the base ingredient of chocolate. Originating in the tropical forests of central and South America, this large evergreen tree has been domesticated for thousands of years, with evidential ceramic vessel residues dated back to 1900 BC. The cultures of central and South America grew and domesticated Cocoa for food and used the sweet pulp that surrounds the seeds to ferment to a mild alcoholic drink. Today most is grown in West Africa with Ivory Coast being a major exporter.
There is always something new to see at the Botanic Garden as collections develop.
While the garden is currently closed, visitors missing their plant ‘fix’ can now watch online videos produced by the hard working garden team who are busy caring for Bristol’s most special plants from around the world. This time of year is a particular challenge for the staff with a strong sun beating down on the glasshouses which nurture exotic botanical beauties.
Apart from showing photographs of stunning flowers in bloom on our website, team member, Andy Winfield,has produced several Instagram videos on a variety of topics including the unique Darwin’s orchid, magical properties of the Sacred Lotus, carniverous plants,and the tricks coffee plants use to entice bees to visit and pollinate them
Another new development is the introduction of live Facebook tours by the Curator, Nick Wray.
For further information visit: https://botanic-garden.bristol.ac.uk/