Kew Gardens looks to the past for its future

Kew Gardens looks to the past for its future

Kew Gardens began as a pleasure garden during the reign of King George ll, but his grandson King George lll transformed the site into an arboretum and botanical gardens, in the 1700s and the 1800s. With contributions over the centuries, the Kew collection includes some very rare specimens.

One of my main projects at present is doing an audit of the trees within the collection. All arboreta have a focus to their collections, and often these change with time. The founders often selected trees for inclusion based on the site suitability and other personal criteria. Some focused on arrivals from the plant hunters exploring the globe during the Victoria era; others chose trees based on aesthetics.

The priorities today have changed, and now the main focus is collecting trees which are particularly rare and vulnerable to extinction, e.g. those listed in the UN Red Data list. I am presently auditing all 14,000 trees within the grounds according to their species and identifying which are especially rare. This will take me about three months (I assess about 600-700 trees per week).

Kew has a small nursery where the next generation of trees is grown. This audit will identify which of these young trees is suitable for the collection. There are duplicates for some species, and so I am working with those managing other collections to identify which ones they may wish to take.

Another aspect of the audit is identifying species which used to be suitable but are no longer able to thrive here in the south-east. Shallow-rooted trees such as Beech and Birch are no longer thriving due to the increasingly dry conditions. They are no longer on the list for adding to the collection. It is a shame to not include them, but adapting the collection will equip it for the 21st century.

Christmas at Kew is a busy time, especially for the tree team. Kew organises a large annual event in which trees and other features are illuminated during the dark evenings. This proved again to be popular in 2021, which is great. However, it takes the team of climbers about two weeks to install the lights, so pruning works are put on hold.

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