Category: HortInsights

Destination Horticulture: Kew Gardens

Destination Horticulture: Kew Gardens

Kew Gardens is world-famous as the premier destination for horticulture, with a history stretching back centuries and a collection that is absolutely priceless.

Kew Gardens is, like many historic venues, under real pressure as visitor numbers dwindle in the UK under the pressure of COVID-19.

That’s why offering virtual tours can bring you to amazing places like Kew Gardens without leaving home. Our Destination: Horticultures series aims to take you to beautiful places that are otherwise off-limits for some time.

See Virtual Tour

 

 

Temperate House

Visit the incredible glasshouse that houses tropical specimens in cool climate London.
The Temperate House, opened in 1862, and is a show house for the largest plants in Kew Royal Botanic Gardens.

 

 

 

Image Credit: Daniel Case via Wikimedia Commons

 

Princess of Wales Conservatory

In the Princess of Wales Conservatory, you can walk through 10 climates – wander from the tropics to the desert.

 

 

 

 

 

Arboretum Nursery

Trees start their life here in the brand new state-of-the-art Arboretum Nursery.

Destination Horticulture: Dubai Miracle Garden

Destination Horticulture: Dubai Miracle Garden

The Dubai Miracle Garden is a stunning floral display garden planted during the cooler months from November to May and features mass plantings of flowers, shaped topiaries and structural plantings over more than 72,000 square metres. It is the world’s largest natural flower garden and the numbers behind this place are truly staggering: more than 50 million flowers, 250 million plants and uses recycled water at more than 757,000 litres a day!

 

 

The Miracle Garden holds three Guinness World Records for the largest vertical garden in the world, and that jaw-dropping Emirates A380 flower structure is the biggest in the world.

 

 

Finally, the record for the largest supported topiary structure in the world goes to the 18 metre high Mickey Mouse, which weighs more than 35 tonnes.

 

Running Hot: Synthetic Turf

Running Hot: Synthetic Turf

By Lauren Danecek, AIH Horticulture Student of the Year 2020.

This topic is getting political, and the environmental impacts are stacking up.

The integration of synthetic turf into both public and private spaces has, of late, become often political and has layers of complexity. My assumptions were that green plastic carpet was a thing of the past. An environmental nightmare that leached into the waterways, added to the ever-building horrors of microplastics, filled the surrounding air with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and contributed to the urban heat island effect.

There are research and data sets available, that highlight a variety of depressing issues: the original, recycled tyre, crumb-filled turf was not the greatest stuff; for us or the environment. There are new synthetic turf alternatives around that utilise cork or sand as in-fill, but it’s not still not ‘grass’ in the traditional sense. And so, many of the same concerns still apply, but the data from research is still being unearthed.

Considering many gardeners, horticulturists and landscapers are now taking climate change into consideration in their design and plantings to future-proof gardens, avoiding the above horrors should be at the top of the list when it comes to creating clean, cool and safe environments for our clients (and, our children’s children). But it is still being laid, it’s readily available and I’ve even seen it on residential council verges. So, is it really that menacing?

As a student of sustainability and environmental science, anthropogenic activities lead our studies. ‘Humans did A! Now we have to deal with B’. The major environmental concerns surrounding the installation of synthetic turf include:

 

A simple diagram from the Celeiro et al. (2021) study to demonstrate their review of how elements of the turf were leached into the waterways, reviewed by both sports field and comparable in-lab results.

 

Leaching of Chemicals

Synthetic turf is often filled with recycled tyre crumb, that can leach chemicals into the surrounding environment, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s, generated by the incomplete combustion of organic materials like oil and petrol), VOCs and phthalates (‘plasticers’ if you will, they keep things flexible and soft).

A Portuguese study released this year reviewed 40 chemicals in synthetic pitches and found continual leaching of PAHs into the surrounding environment (Celeiro et al. 2021).

 

 

Low use, artificial turf fraying at the edges with loose plastic blades in a local garden centre. Image/ Lauren Danecek.

 

Microplastics

These are pieces of broken-down plastic that have degraded in the environment to less than 5mm in size. Less than 1mm (down to 1μm (0.0001mm)), we generally class as a “nanoplastic”.

The synthetic blades (usually polyethylene or polypropylene) and the infill crumb break down over time loosening their hold, the blades, and tiny particles now freely available to move through the ecosystem. In a council-run field or professional playing field, they know about this and often (though, not always) have installed purpose-made ‘sieves’ in the drains to catch debris as the fields degrade over time through use and environmental factors.

However, for the neighbour who has run a roll to the gutter near the storm water drain, that catch is missing. The story then tells itself.

 

 

 

West Beach Parks Football Centre in Adelaide, showing a clear temperature difference between natural grass and synthetic turf (Government of South Australia 2021).

Adding to the Urban Heat Island Effect

The concept of the urban heat island (UHI) effect is localised warming created by anthropogenic means: our dark coloured surfaces like roads, roofs and carparks, removal of greenery, car engines and air conditioners, to name a few things. Summer days are hotter, and the infrastructure holds heat so it doesn’t cool at night. The science on heat associated concerns with synthetic turf is not good, as seen in an Australian study from Twomey et al. (2014).

Results clearly demonstrated that synthetic turf temperatures were significantly hotter (mean = 46.3°C) than irrigated natural grass (mean = 24.1°C). Would it be safe to assume that the installation of this product can contribute to the UHI, warming our suburbs and decreasing thermal comfort? Amusingly, that study calls for more data surrounding the ‘comfort’ of the athletes’ feet, but what else are we cooking at that temperature?

 

 

Which leads to a concern about the soil; our most precious commodity of all. Let us consider the solitary bees, insects and ‘microfauna’ that call the soil home. They must be being solarised under this artificial blanket, yet there is no data to back my claim. No studies that I can find detail what happens to the soil underneath, if the soil communities are functioning, and if there are reverberations beyond the artificial carpet.

Once you really get into the data, then you start to learn about other things that maybe you wouldn’t normally consider, like that synthetic fields have their own microbial communities that are different to natural turf (Valeriani et al. 2019) and MRSA has the ability to hang out in infill and on turf fibres (Keller et al. 2020). It’s this kind of new data that will help those in management and policy-making positions create synthetic turf guidelines and frameworks for installation and where it should and should not be used.

There are huge knowledge gaps across all stakeholders: professional football teams, councils, horticulturists and landscapers, right down to the home gardener. So much so that in NSW, planning minister Rob Stokes has commissioned a ‘Synthetic Turf Study’ (NSW Government 2021), to review synthetic turf options as replacements for natural grass. That review is due to be published mid-2021, and there will be a lot of people keen to read it.

No matter the side you’re on – natural or artificial – people want lush, good-looking, green turf. Our goals are the same, there just doesn’t seem to be the education about what to use when, we don’t have the knowledge about alternatives, or the data and science to back it up (more importantly, solid science for the Australian landscape). Synthetic turf looks great the first day it’s laid, and then it declines to the end of its life, where it’s rolled up and sent to landfill. Natural grass can be regenerated, and something has to be said for that. Mother Nature usually does it best, after all.

The Best Remote Working Tools for Professional Horticulturists

The Best Remote Working Tools for Professional Horticulturists

Horticulture and landscape professionals have weathered the COVID-19 storm well, with the public turning to their gardens and landscapes for solace and activity as lockdowns are enforced across the world. While working outdoors can avoid close contact with clients, we still need to find ways to have those discussions and meetings that make work happen.

In this review, we look at three of the best remote-working tools for keeping you in touch with you customers and colleagues. These are all free tools that you can start with and if you need more functionality, all are able to be upgraded to offer enough functionality for every organisation.

Zoom

Everyone is talking about Zoom right now, and it’s a great teleconference product. The free version offers an easy to use service with up to 40 minutes per session and no limit on the number of participants.

Pros:

  • It’s free for short meetings and works on computers, mobile phones and tablets.
  • It’s easy to use and automatically focuses on the speaker.
  • It has a handy chat messaging function and you can virtually ‘raise your hand’ to ask to speak.
  • You can even have breakout rooms that split up your participants, ideal for interactive workshop sessions.

Cons:

  • You have a install an app which takes a few minutes the first time.
  • Reports say it has some security issues but in having used it, this has never come up as an issue.

Slack

First created as an internal collaboration tool for an online game company in 2013, Slack has been touted as the ‘end of email’. The reality is that email is still with us, and Slack has become the real-time collaboration tool of choice for many businesses, from start-ups to associations to corporates. Slack is ideal for keeping your employees together if they are out and about, using their mobiles to stay in touch, share ideas and work in groups.

Pros:

  • Slack is free, easy to use once you get the hang of it and works on all devices
  • You can create your own groups called ‘channels’ and specifically mention individuals using the @ symbol and their user name.
  • It’s real-time so you can message back and forth more effectively than email.
  • It is great for creating an enduring archive of organisational knowledge over time.

Cons:

  • It has its lingo and style that can take a while to get used to.
  • You have to be a bit careful with privacy settings

Teamwork

Teamwork is one of a number of online project management tools designed for dispersed teams, so it can be useful to manage employees and their tasks, or share your progress with clients as you work. It has a free version and offers a range of reports, tracking systems, file uploads and other useful collaboration tools.

Pros:

  • Powerful and customisable even in the free version.
  • Offers a range of tools for managing your project, employees and providing reports for clients.
  • Provides chat and discussion tools that help you stay in touch from remote sites.

Cons:

  • It is relatively more complex than some tools available.
“I’m Lovin’ It!”: Disney World Florida Unveils Incredible Branded Greenwall Store

“I’m Lovin’ It!”: Disney World Florida Unveils Incredible Branded Greenwall Store

McDonald’s has unveiled its brand new, energy-neutral flagship within the grounds of Disney World Florida, aiming to build the world’s first net-zero fast food restaurant.

The building features incredible greenwall planting as well as outdoor gym equipment as McDonald’s continues to innovate and shift its perception in the market as a more sustainable, customer-friendly restaurant chain. Installed by Seattle-based greenwall company Sempergreen USA, the building brings the famous arches to life with classic golds and greens of the foliage, spanning over 2000 sq.ft. of living greenwall plantings.

 

Image: sempergreen.com/us

 

The designers used plants such as Ruellia and Tradescantia that are well-suited to Florida’s warm, tropical climate, providing cooling and heat absorption that helps to reduce the need for electricity-based cooling systems.

The greenwalls are monitored and supplied with the right levels of nutrients and water through a web-based interface that keeps the plantings looking fresh and healthy.

 

Image: sempergreen.com/us

 

The iconic single-pitched roof also hosts more than 1000 sq.ft. of solar panels that contribute to clean energy generation, producing 600,000 kilowatts annually.

These design features make the store a rich learning hub for applying next-generation integration of plants, hardware and software systems for low-carbon building design that enhances the experience of the store and contributes to positive perceptions of the McDonald’s brand.

“These unprecedented times have only heightened the importance of innovation that fosters long-term security and sustainability,” says Marion Gross, McDonald’s North America chief supply chain officers.

“While health and safety in our restaurants is our top priority, we must also remain focused on creating positive change for our communities and the planet. This restaurant marks an important step in McDonald’s journey to reduce our carbon footprint and identify meaningful solutions in the fight against climate change.”

Last but not least, there are games at tables, where visitors – both young and old – can learn more about renewable energy.

Find out more about this innovative store at www.aih.org.au/maccas-florida

 

Forgotten Fruits: The Medlar

Forgotten Fruits: The Medlar

By David Thompson, Engagement Manager Australian Institute of Horticulture

Food critics of the 19th Century were just as direct about their feelings toward the Medlar as they would be today, possibly because the Medlar (Mespilus germanica) is largely inedible until it has decayed and ripened properly – yet this fruit has a fascinating history.

 

“Only one degree better than a rotten apple”

 

When scientists uncovered a 2000-year old Roman toilet in what is now Switzerland, they uncovered the well-preserved seeds of an unusual fruit. Covered by the waters of the Rhine River for most of that time, scientists determined that the seeds belonged to a relative of the apple in the Rosaceae family.

Despite its reputation for sourness and the cause of stomach complaints when eaten fresh, the Medlar was a popular fruit through the Medieval period and the Middle Ages, gracing the table of kings and royals.

 

Medlar fruits, a common appearance in artworks. Tapestry from around 1500. Image/ Alamy.

 

The Medlar is mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and the two-time queen consort Anne of Brittany’s Book of Hours – a kind of illustrated religious manuscript popular in the Middle Ages. Henry VIII had the Medlar planted at Hampton Court.

 

“The Medlar is not…worth a turd until it’s ripe, and then it tastes like sh…”

 

‘Bletting’ The Fruit Makes It Edible

When freshly-picked, Medlars are tough, bitter and astringent. However, food curators in the Middle Ages found that resting them for several weeks in dry sawdust caused them to soften, where they lost their tannins and became more acidic. The resulting texture was described as being similar to baked apple, with soft, fall-apart flesh with a tangy flavour, or ‘like over-ripe dates mingled with lemons, and a slightly grainy texture’.

In 1839, a botanist coined the term ‘bletting’ to describe this process of ripening to an edible state. The fruit was used in jams, jellies and on its own until the arrival of more flavourful tropical fruits such as pineapples after World War Two, though not before becoming an important part of the Dig For Victory gardening movement.

 

‘Bletting’, the Medlar fruit ripening process. Image/ Nadiatalent via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Productive and Ornamental

Medlars are also statuesque and attractive deciduous trees, ideal landscape features that makes good shade trees in leaf and attractive in flower with white five-star petals. Some trees have lived for centuries, such as one planted in the UK ion 1820 that is still abundantly-productive.

As more people come to know about this unusual fruiting tree, they are coming back into popularity. They make a great talking point and numerous Australian fruit trees suppliers have them on offer.

 

Medlar (Mespilus germanica) Image/ Alamy.

Small Scale Ecosystem Endures In A Bottle For Over 60 Years

Small Scale Ecosystem Endures In A Bottle For Over 60 Years

By David Thompson, Engagement Manager Australian Institute of Horticulture

When he was 27 years old, UK man David Latimer decided to create a terrarium garden. He took some potting compost and part-filled the jar, then dropped in a common Tradescantia and added some water. Now 87 years old, the terrarium garden is still going strong and has not been opened for more than 40 years!

It is the living definition of a self-sustaining ecosystem, maintaining everything the plant needs to stay healthy and photosynthesise to produce its own foods. With just sunlight, the terrarium ecosystem recycles its plant matter and reuses the water that the plants transpire and condense inside the jar.

David explains that it’s low-maintenance and easy to grow but obviously not very interactive.

“It’s 6ft from a window so gets a bit of sunlight. It grows towards the light so it gets turned round every so often so it grows evenly”, David says.

“Otherwise, it’s the definition of low-maintenance. I’ve never pruned it, it just seems to have grown to the limits of the bottle.”

“It’s actually incredibly dull in that it doesn’t do anything but I’m fascinated to see how long it will last!”, he says.

He hopes to pass on the ‘experiment’ to his grown-up children after he is gone.

 

 

Nong Nooch Gardens

Nong Nooch Gardens

By Annette Irish FAIH RH0008 (Photos: Annette Irish)

Nong Nooch Tropical Botanical Garden is located an easy 163 km drive South East of Bangkok, outside the bustling older tourist destination of Pattaya Chonburi Province Thailand. It is not just a ‘garden’ but a vast themed Garden of 240 hectares opened to the public in 1980. One could say it is the Tansacha family’s ‘garden folly’, the matriarch Nongnooch having a vision to establish a botanical conservation precinct to match other world renowned gardens. 

Her son Kampon Tansacha took on that challenge in 1983 and surrounded himself with specialists to oversee the collections. He set up major research projects, a cycad gene pool and instigated conservation programs all of which are curated by Anders Lindstrom, respected Cycad researcher and author. He has developed long term ‘plant lovers’ partnerships with a number of Australian plant people including Stan Walkley of Plantation 2000 and Anton Van der Schans, Singapore ex-pat Cairns horticulturist.

Kampon has spent years collecting heritage and ancient specimens from around the world, often sending out horticultural scouts to find and purchase living collections to ensure they are kept intact for the benefit of other plant enthusiasts.

 

 

For the crazed botanically inspired horticulturist the collections, many touted ‘as the largest in the world’, include Cycadaceae, Zamiaceae, Heliconiaceae, Marantaceae, Zingiberales, Arecaceae, Cactaceae, Orchidaceae, Bromeliaceae, including a stunning Dracaena (syn. Sanseveiria spp.) collection and other rare and unusual species.

 

Left: Bromeliad Right: Cycad

 

Architecturally the gardens include features that are beautiful, quirky, interesting, sometimes replicas and many attractions to entice tourists, botanists, designers and horticulturists.

Collections of garden art, animal art, ants running up walls, pottery collections, dinosaur valley, animals wandering the grounds even a heritage car collection provides a garden destination and experience to satisfy all members of the family.

 

Amazing animal art.

 

The site houses a bustling community of specialist artisans who carefully produce most of the art and sculptures seen in the gardens.

 

Restaurant.

 

A conference centre, accommodation and fabulous restaurants provide for a wonderful horticultural destination. If planning to go ensure you allow two days to really take in all that the gardens offer.

 

 

If you don’t think Pattaya is your sort of town other accommodation can be found close by, and this enables you to visit some of the beautiful temples, gardens and interesting fishing village destinations of the Chon Buri region.

The gardens can’t disappoint as they provide so many options to meet and excite the senses and certainly is a garden no-one can forget.

 

Annette Irish FAIH RH is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Horticulture,  Chair of Fellows and former President.

Hortitecture: The Next Wave Of High-Tech Horticultural Thinking

Hortitecture: The Next Wave Of High-Tech Horticultural Thinking

By David Thompson, Engagement Manager Australian Institute of Horticulture

Australia’s horticultural research and development corporation, Hort Innovation, recently announced the formation of a new partnership to advance the state of high-tech urban farming horticulture with partners RMCG, the University of Technology and US-based Agritecture.

The growth of advanced urban food production systems is gaining speed across the world with massive interest in systems that supply high-volume greens in stacked decks with LED lighting, or vertical systems that use hydroponic growing media on walls. In Singapore, Aerofarms has partnered with Singapore Airlines to grow microgreens and salad greens adjacent to the airport for low-mileage catering supplies.

So far, though, much of the interest has centered on edible produce innovation.

Hort Innovation CEO Matt Brand said, “Bringing such technology to Australia will attract capital and new entrants to the sector with new ideas, approaches and mindsets. It gives us the opportunity to grow more from less and to keep demonstrating the good work that Australian growers do, day in day out, providing food to families both here and overseas.”

 

Image Credit: Chris Barbalis

 

For ornamental horticulture, high-tech production opens up possibilities around new thinking in landscape design and amenity horticulture.

“The opportunity we have in horticulture is to enable people of all interests and backgrounds to apply innovative thinking through horticulture based around their own interests”, says Michael Casey MAIH RH, who has worked extensively in greenwall horticulture and educational gardens.

“For students that love technology, we have the potential to install sensors that quantify plant-related data and use computing technology to visualise plant and crop performance. For students that love media and photography, there are endless ways to showcase the beauty of plants in the urban growing environment. For future chefs, that access to locally-produced, high-quality plant products including not just traditional greens but also edible parts and flowers can open up innovation and ideas for amazing food experiences in their futures. This is how we can bring new ideas and new people into horticulture”, Michael says.

The convergence of new ideas and advances from overseas into Australia makes horticulture ready for a bright future. The way we produce food, greens and plant products will continue to be influenced by horticultural technologies, apps and integration with cloud computing.

The Australian Institute of Horticulture is continually scanning for new advances and new ways to prepare our members for a new kind of future.

How Science Explains the Colours of Our Christmas Food

How Science Explains the Colours of Our Christmas Food

By David Thompson, Engagement Manager Australian Institute of Horticulture

When we think of Christmas, what colour comes to mind? For most people, that colour is probably red. Even Santa himself is red. Red is a colour reminiscent of family, good food, Santa and his gifts, and festive holidays. The Christmas table is laid-out with fresh crab, the vibrant red of holly berries and the delicate pinks and intense reds of Poinsettia.

Christmas red actually dates back to Roman times when celebrations used holly berries for decoration, picked as one of the few spots of colour in an otherwise winter-bare landscape. In modern times, we’ve adopted all things bright and red, pink, orange and yellow to showcase the colour of Christmas celebrations.

According to leading plant science researcher, Dr Chris Cazzonelli at Western Sydney University’s Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, these colours originate from the natural plant pigments called carotenoids.

Carotenoid pigments are made only in plants, bacteria, fungi and some insects like aphids and mites. Animals such as crustaceans (lobsters, crayfish and prawns) have to obtain these pigments as a food source from organic matter in the same way humans need to eat fruits and vegetables.

These pigments serve various organisms by attracting pollinating insects to plants, enticing beneficial fungi to make healthier soils, warning predators due to their toxicity, and even providing vibrant colours to a bird’s feathers to attract attraction.

For humans, these colours represent beauty, nutrition and health, which is why we are so drawn to them in times of celebration.

 

 

Dr Cazzonelli said these carotenoid pigments are essential to the healthy functioning of our bodies.

“Vitamin A is a classic beta-carotenoid-derived plant pigment that humans cannot produce themselves, so we have to ingest it from the foods we eat,” he said.

“We need beta-carotene and a yellow coloured carotenoid lutein for the health of our eyes. We can get these carotenoids from eggs (that beautiful yellow of a yolk is a carotenoid that chickens take in from their grain-based diet) and from eating carrots, oranges, leafy greens  and other brightly-coloured vegetables and fruits.

“We need another pink coloured carotenoid lycopene for our skin, which we can get lots of from watermelons and tomatoes. We also need our antioxidants such as the carotenoid astaxanthin, which you can get from lobsters and salmon.

“Finally, if you need to spice your Christmas foods add the orange carotenoid saffron, which has claimed health benefits in traditional medicine.”

This Christmas, celebrate the colour of good health – drink, eat and be naturally Merry!

Dr Chris Cazzonelli is based at Western Sydney University Hawkesbury. For this article, he drew on his own research paper called ‘Carotenoids in nature: insights from plants and beyond’, published in the journal ‘Functional Plant Biology’.

Originally published in the Hawkesbury Gazette.