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HomeU.S.AExpertise: I take care of the world’s oldest pot plant

Expertise: I take care of the world’s oldest pot plant

I got here to horticulture after college. I had completed a postgrad in sustainable agriculture and was working in a restaurant whereas dwelling with my mother and father in Stirling. It was the center of the final recession and I used to be discovering it onerous to get a job. My mother and father have been attempting to promote their home and, as I had a little bit of time on my fingers, they requested me to type out the backyard.

It was a jungle. I cleared all of the weeds, and started to plant it – issues like lobelia ‘Queen Victoria’ and hollyhock. Then I started a vegetable plot – mangetout, swede, beetroot, purple potatoes – and even revived their tiny greenhouse. I turned obsessed. Horticulture mixed all kinds of issues I discovered fascinating – each ecology and science, nevertheless it additionally had a creative aspect; it’s not one thing that’s talked about in faculties.

I couldn’t afford to return to college, however fortuitously, many of the coaching alternatives for horticulture are paid. I managed to get an apprenticeship at an RHS backyard in north Devon and it began from there.

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I’ve labored at Kew for 4 and a half years. At first I labored within the Temperate Home, which has a Mediterranean local weather. However then I used to be given the chance to maneuver to the Palm Home, the place the tropical vegetation reside, and I jumped on the probability. It’s dwelling to a plant that’s, so far as we all know, the oldest pot plant on the planet. It’s a large cycad or Encephalartos altensteinii, native to the Japanese Cape province of South Africa and delivered to the UK in 1775 by the botanist Francis Masson. In 1848, the Palm Home was accomplished at Kew Gardens and this large cycad was moved there.

He’s poisonous right through: very spiky, very stoic. We see him as a mild large, actually – he simply will get on with life. While you get to know an individual very properly, you may inform immediately if they appear somewhat off color. Caring for vegetation is similar. As I stroll by means of the Palm Home, I’m looking for a way the completely different vegetation appear, their color, texture, the angles of their leaves, and I’m additionally being attentive to the standard of the air – is it too dry, or too scorching?

The enormous cycad, or Encephalartos altensteinii {Photograph}: Andrew McRobb, Kew Gardens/Kew Gardens

Some vegetation are very dramatic, and can droop considerably or begin to yellow as quickly as one thing is fallacious, however the large cycad isn’t a type of. He’s extra like a grumpy grandfather, who sits by the fireplace and doesn’t say a lot besides, “Depart me be; I’ll be advantageous.” He simply retains on rising, slowly, roughly 2.5cm a yr. As we speak, he’s about 4 metres lengthy, and held up by a sequence of steel helps so his trunk doesn’t break.

Over the winter we most likely water him as soon as per week, and in the summertime months he’ll get somewhat bit extra. We’ll water him right through his pot, give him a superb soak, which is a helpful tip for many pot vegetation – give them a superb soak by means of the pot quite than sprinkling a little bit of water on high. Aside from that, he will get sprayed with water each morning like all the opposite vegetation, and is fed each week with fertiliser. It’s typically seaweed-based however we like to vary it up so the vegetation get all their minerals. Although typically we simply go away him to do his factor.

It’s unavoidable on this line of labor to personify vegetation and start to really feel for them. I believe that’s one thing that people all the time do. You may do not forget that one plant flowered fantastically one yr, however then the following yr it doesn’t accomplish that properly, and also you assume, “Oh god, what’s fallacious?” So there may be some nervousness. However equally in horticulture there’s a requirement to be indifferent – as a result of one thing will all the time go fallacious. Vegetation will determine whether or not or not they need to develop. And there’s nothing we are able to do about it. We simply should recover from it.

The enormous cycad is so chill that he’s not normally the supply of this nervousness – the one hazard he faces is when he wants shifting or repotting. He’s been moved earlier than, however when it’s in your head, that’s actually nerve-racking. You assume, that is one thing that has been a part of folks’s lives for tons of of years. If the worst occurred and the tip of the trunk did come off, it will most likely nonetheless survive. However, clearly, you don’t need that to occur. I’m certain it’ll be advantageous.

As instructed to Felix Bazalgette

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