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Members of The Royal Parks Guild offer their time and expertise to The Royal Parks, associated organisations and apprentices.

The Royal Parks Guild plays a positive role in the apprenticeship scheme by arranging master classes, giving awards to mark individual achievement and providing mentoring when requested.

“Why Plants Matter – The World of Botanical Gardens” masterclass

“Why Plants Matter – The World of Botanical Gardens” masterclass

On 3 May 2017 more than 80 apprentices gathered in the School of Horticulture at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, to take part in the seventh in this series of masterclasses. They were welcomed by Tim Hughes, Head of the School, who explained the range of one-year specialist, two-year apprenticeship and three-year diploma courses currently available. Practical and academic training in horticulture has been provided at Kew since 1859.

Mike Fitt, chairman of the Royal Parks Guild, added his welcome and described how he had started his working life as a Royal Parks apprentice and later became Deputy Chief Executive of The Royal Parks. The masterclasses, instigated by the Guild, started with events just for Royal Parks apprentices, then widened to include other apprentices in London and, in this case, several trainee gardeners had travelled from further afield in the country.

The final introduction came from Richard Barley, Director of Horticulture, Learning and Operations at Kew. He also added a welcome to horticulture, explaining how he started work at the Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, Australia, for six weeks and eventually spent 15 years there as Director. When Princess Augusta started the gardens at Kew in 1759, she wanted to grow every plant in the world. This has resulted in a collection of 7,000,000 preserved plants as well as the 30,000 living species which can all be studied by the 300 scientists working at Kew. The Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) at Wakehurst Place, Kew’s sister garden, holds material from 25% of the world’s plants. Kew Gardens also contains historic buildings such as the Orangery, the Pagoda and the Temperate House.

The apprentices were divided into four groups to go on behind the scenes tours of four areas at Kew, described by Martin Staniforth, Practical Training Manager. In the Tropical Nursery we were shown plants from the succulent and cacti collection by Paul Rees, Nursery Supervisor, and Tomas Stehlik, 2nd year apprentice. With the use of specific examples, they explained how they are trying to conserve rare and endangered plants by pollinating and repotting them, while controlling potential pests. Many of the plants come from Madagascar and one, thought to be extinct, had been rediscovered and sent to the MSB for preservation.

On the second tour, also in the Tropical Nursery, the conservation of rare plants was described by Rebecca Hilgenhof, Nursery Supervisor, and Bradley Gangadene, 3rd year apprentice. In the wild, particularly on islands, many plants are losing their natural habitats and being threatened by invasive species. We were shown examples of pitcher plants from the Americas and Asia that are suffering habitat reduction because they grow in peat which takes a long time to replace. Kew employs botanists in Madagascar where 85% of the plants are endemic species. Some of these have important medicinal properties, such as the Madagascar periwinkle which is used in the treatment of childhood leukemia.

Then it was time for lunch at the School of Horticulture and a chance for the apprentices to network with their fellow trainees and Kew staff. A brisk walk through the gardens took us back to the nursery area for two more tours.
The Temperate House, the largest Victorian conservatory in the world, was first opened in 1862, but had to be closed five years ago because the building was becoming unsafe. Corin Golding, Botanical Horticulturist, and Jess Snowball, 2nd year apprentice, explained how all the plants had to be dug out and cared for until the restoration of the structure is finished later this year when they will be replanted. A special propagation house was built to contain the plants and the opportunity has been taken to refresh the collection. About 1,200 species were removed, and the staff are planning to put back around 1,700 rare, endangered, aesthetically-pleasing and colourful plants. The combination of a supervisor with an apprentice to lead each of the first three tours was an effective way of both demonstrating the subject, and conveying the knowledge and enthusiasm of the staff.

The final tour, to the Plant Quarantine area, was led by Sara Redstone, Plant Health and Quarantine Officer, and her assistant, Simon Honey. They showed us around the building, with only one point of entry and exit, where they hold plant material gathered on collection trips and from other botanic gardens until they are sure it is safe from pests and diseases. They also provide advice on plant health and legislation regarding biosecurity. The building has a separate drainage system, a fumigation facility, filtered air and a specimen store with insect-proof mesh. In one laboratory we met a botanical portrait painter depicting the details of a nicotiana plant using pencil and water colour before the plant is destroyed. There was an autoclave for wet waste removal and an incinerator for the destruction of dry material. Plants seized at ports and airports are often held until their future is decided.

The final part of the day was a panel discussion led by Toni Assirati, Head of Education and Community Engagement at The Royal Parks, giving apprentices the opportunity to ask questions. The Kew staff, Richard, Tim and Martin, were joined on the panel by Andrew Scattergood, Chief Executive at The Royal Parks; Paul Rochford, Master of the Worshipful Company of Gardeners; Andrew Fisher-Tomlin from the London College of Garden Design; and Jane Pelly, Head of Landscape at The Royal Parks.

The Royal Parks Guild are dedicated to helping parks’ apprentice schemes and those that join them. If you would like to help us then click here to see if you could become a member of the Guild.

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chairman@trpg.org.uk
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Postal address:
The Secretary
The Royal Parks Guild
14 Nelson Place
Ryde
Isle of Wight
PO33 2ET

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