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Spring blossom bursts into life at Batsford Arboretum

Apr 20, 2018

After a particularly cold start to the spring, the magnificent Cherry and Magnolia collections at Batsford Arboretum are bursting into life thanks to the much-anticipated arrival of warm weather.

Batsford holds the National Collection of Prunus (Sato-Zakura group) cherries – with around 120 trees in clusters around the 56 acre arboretum – and is home to 73 species of Magnolia. With both collections being held back by recent cold weather, the arrival of warmer weather this week means that the Cherries and Magnolias are now coming into flower at the same time, providing a stunning display of pink, white and purple throughout the Arboretum.

The first of the Japanese cherries to flower earlier this week was Prunus yedoensis (Yoshino Cherry) which famously represents the start of Hanami (a Japanese tradition of welcoming spring, also known as the ‘cherry blossom festival’).

Head Gardener, Matthew Hall says “Some of our earlier-flowering magnolias and cherries – such as Magnolia ‘Caerhays Belle’ and Prunus incisa ‘Fujimae’ Cherry – came into flower a month late this year, whilst the rest of our Magnolias and our Japanese cherries are around two weeks later than we’d usually expect. It just goes to show we’re completely at the mercy of the weather, however they’re rapidly coming into flower now and we’re anticipating a stunning display over the next few days.”

Despite things getting off to a slow start for the Cherries and Magnolias, the cold spell has been particularly beneficial to spring bulbs, which have put on one of the best displays the North Cotswolds attraction has seen for many years – including masses of daffodils, plus Grape Hyacinths and Snakes Head Fritillaries – with Bluebells, Wild Garlic and Camassia still to look forward to over the coming weeks.

Great Welsh science helps solve pollinator puzzle

Apr 20, 2018

Welsh scientists piecing together the giant jigsaw puzzle of plant pollination are a step closer to knowing how it all fits, thanks to a new paper by PhD researcher Andrew Lucas.

He has spent the past seven years studying a much under-appreciated and regularly mis-identified player in the complex world of pollinators: the hoverfly.

Vital behaviours are revealed in his study, which forms part of the ‘Saving Pollinators’ programme run by the National Botanic Garden of Wales.

Andrew’s paper has been published by the British Ecological Society’s Journal of Animal Ecology.

Dr Natasha de Vere, Head of Science at the Botanic Garden and lead researcher of ‘Saving Pollinators’ says: “This is a great example of Welsh science. It involves co-operation in research between Swansea and Aberystwyth universities, with an international element from Emory University, Atlanta, in the USA. And it has all been led from Carmarthenshire by the National Botanic Garden of Wales.”

The Botanic Garden has a worldwide reputation for its DNA barcoding techniques, which saw Dr de Vere lead the project that made Wales first among nations to DNA barcode all its native flowering plants.

Andrew Lucas takes up the story: “In order to understand their potential role in pollination, we need to know which plants hoverflies visit but it is difficult to tell exactly what a hoverfly is up to by just watching them in the field. A better way to discover what individual hoverflies are doing is by analysing the pollen carried on their bodies. We can identify which plants the pollen belongs to using DNA barcoding techniques in which the Botanic Garden’s science team have become specialists.”

The Saving Pollinators programme focuses on wild pollinators and honey bees and, Dr de Vere is keen to point out, it’s not all about the bees: “There is a vast army of insect pollinators out there and 75 per cent of all our crops are relying on them to work their magic and give us apples, chocolate and coffee to name but a few. This army includes hoverflies, beetles, butterflies, moths and wasps as well as solitary bees, bumblebees and honey bees. Our work is aimed at finding out which plants they visit in order to provide the right conditions so they can have the best chance of survival.”

Andrew studied hoverflies in the group (or ‘genus’) Eristalis – also known as ‘drone flies’. He focused on identifying which plants hoverflies were carrying pollen from in early summer (June) and late summer (August) in plant species-rich Welsh Rhôs pastures, an endangered habitat of conservation importance throughout Europe. He discovered that, while they mostly visited the same 65 different types of plant, individual hoverflies had their particular favourites – and brambles show up as a key plant.

Andrew said: “Hoverflies are harmless but sometimes look a bit like bees as a way of scaring off predators. In fact, if you see a bee in your garden (and it’s not a bumble bee), it may well be a hoverfly – the most mis-identified of insects.”

He added: “We used DNA barcoding to see which plants hoverflies visit. We looked at the pollen on their bodies and used that as a record of what they had been up to.”

The pollen is removed from the hoverfly and then the DNA is extracted from the pollen, analysed and compared to the big barcode Wales reference database.

“Quite how plants get pollinated when pollinators seem to be visiting all different kinds of plants has puzzled scientists for some time. Our research shows that Eristalis species are generalists overall and visit a range of plants but are fussy as individuals. This ensures the pollen gets to the right place.”

Andrew’s research will help to provide the advice to landowners and farmers that species-rich grasslands are important and so are brambly edges.

Andrew is a PhD student at Swansea University and lead author on the paper. Dr Natasha de Vere is senior author on the paper and lead researcher for the Botanic Garden’s ‘Saving Pollinators’ programme.

For more information about the Botanic Garden’s ‘Saving Pollinators’ programme, go to https://botanicgarden.wales/science/saving-pollinators/

Lullingstone Castle is now an RHS Partner Garden

Mar 26, 2018

We are delighted to announce for the 2018 season we are now a RHS Partner Garden, giving RHS members free access to the garden throughout the season (excluding event days). It’s such a privilege to be chosen to be part of the scheme and we look forward to welcoming members to discover the horticulture delights of The World Garden and our very own specialist nursery. To find out more on RHS Partner Gardens click here.