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Plants and Pests

Plants and Pests

A Close Up on the Nursery

“The Trumpet Shall Sound” …. Corinthians and GF Handel
It’s time to blow their trumpet for them, the super nursery tucked away as it is in the middle of Hyde Park may not have featured on our members’ radar.

Generous hosts and friends to ‘The Friends’ manager, Mike Jones and his staff have helped many members enjoy Spring and Autumn tours to gain an understanding of how things work. For the last few years (Covid year excepted) members have been pleased to buy surplus plants for their own gardens and balconies.

This state-of-the-art football pitch sized nursery was built over a year in 2017 after the old buildings became unfit for purpose. The site was originally a Georgian reservoir, and is sheltered from the worst weather.
The nursery has an automatic eco and watering system

For many years, Mike and his team have been working on more planet-friendly, climate change appreciation techniques in the production of the fabulous plants which they supply to all the Royal Parks and the Buckingham Palace flower beds.

Without attempting to write a PhD (which I couldn’t manage anyway), this blog’s aim is to give a brief description of the exciting things his team have been quietly getting on with.

Integrated Pest Management
Clever words to describe biological control (friendly bugs). Since 1992, when Mike started on this route, they have been building up an indigenous (UK) population of control bugs. The old nurseries with their nooks and crannies and rotting wood had developed a complete and sufficient number which needed very little topping up.

The new steel and glass structures are only just beginning to provide a friendly home for them to overwinter as moss grows in very small corners and tiny cracks are settled in. It’ll take another two years for this bug community to build up to full residential strength. Regular visits from entomologists to work out programmes to build this population up and monitor progress, are always in the diary.

Mike showed me a timetable for a year of managing outbreaks of thirteen different types of bugs, all intent on living on and under the plants. You’ll already know about aphids, whitefly and thrips but tarsonemid, springtail and leaf miner? Me neither.

The controls for these pests to have a safe journey are in a variety of means of transport:

Small cards with a dot, on which live pupae, Pringles sized tubes, specimen tubes (as in the sort you are occasionally asked to provide for your GP) and bran-stuffed boxes which cushion the bumps on the way all feature.
 Anti aphid card container
Card showing anti aphid pupae have hatched and busy at work dispatching pests

The cards are hung up, the specimen tubes laid down (so the bugs can walk out) and bran scattered so the inhabitants land safely. There are sometimes 1000’s to a container.
To provide a comfortable home while the bugs are out and about, dotted all over the nursery are tomato and cucumber plants with very large soft furry leaves, especially the aubergine in the centre of the top photograph. (not so different from a furry rug or duvet, I suppose) and the vegetable crop is shared between staff.

I dared to ask.
Only used as a last resort if, for example, there’s a sudden explosion of something like aphids following very hot weather. The spray MUST NOT affect the original bug team. A garden centre spray could take three months to clear resulting in a lot of dead working bugs.

Mike says:
“Whereas you might think you’re doing the best thing for your plants, you’ve got to think of your whole ecosystem and what you’re trying to achieve”.
Dead aphid as a result of friendly bugs, having been attracted by the furry leaf

Flower Pots (aka that plastic problem)

Surveying trolley loads of flower pots, your photographer and I turned on the thumb screws.

All the pots were black and black can be recycled (not mixed colours), however nursery pots are not recycled. They are reused. In fact, reused to destruction. Mike estimates a pot can last up to ten years.

He has to buy in very few each year to replace the small number which are lost (for example our plant sales) and a few which don’t return from the gardeners.

Are they washed between uses? No —- clearly I’m well behind the times.

Trays are also black. He’s not so happy that the bulk of his trays are flimsy and crush easily. He has some really good thick trays which he guards zealously and these will last up to 10 years but are expensive to buy, and the outlay was considered too much for The Royal Parks.

Compost. Is it peat free?

The obvious question which at last we are all waking up to. And we now have to be careful what our garden centres are selling us.

For twenty years Mike has been trialling alternatives and has always been keen to use as little peat as possible. He is very pleased that at last he has got a good substitute and is happy that, by the end of the year, they will be completely peat free. His mixture is made up of wood fibre, a timber industry waste product, eg old pallets, bark, also an industry waste product as is the third ingredient, coir, from coconuts.

Like Granny’s secret Christmas pudding recipe he wouldn’t divulge the exact proportions, although I didn’t exactly press him for these. However, I can say that if you bury your nose in this mixture it smells deliciously of a damp forest.

And now to the next question….boldly asked

Carbon Footprint?
It does use a lot of fuel to heat the glasshouses but as they are new, measures have been taken to reduce the heat loss, improve solar gain through increased glazing and with up to date computer software the temperatures are more effectively controlled. Although they rely on heating, new ways are always being looked at to reduce their requirements.

And now to the icing on the cake

What are you particularly proud of? Without hesitation….

Apprentice Training
All the Royal Parks apprentices are students of Capel Manor College, Enfield, which has a satellite in Regents Park. Students spend a day a week for ten weeks learning propagation, plant training and plant husbandry.

Mike and his staff teach specific tasks according to their expertise, for example sowing seeds, cuttings and potting using an extraordinary machine. Mike teaches the safety side of working in a large nursery environment as well as other management things needed from day to day. He also teaches “Future Gardeners” on behalf of a charity whose students spend two weeks with him.
All the plants are protected by ecological sound methods

I can vouch for his skills as over the years he has given masses of time to our members to see how things run, to admire the plants as they are all ready to be distributed and explaining some of the details of this impressive place. We have all enjoyed these very much and hope that some of our many new members might be interested in having a tour in the early evening of September 22nd (the Autumn equinox) and welcoming back old friends too. There will be plenty of notice as a chance to book gets closer.

HRH The Prince of Wales, patron of the Royal Parks, is a regular visitor who enjoys meeting the gardeners, apprentices and cleaning staff and takes the opportunity to thank them all. His interest and involvement are much appreciated by them all.

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