Kew Gardens Part 2 - Conservation and Climate Change

"What areas do you want to see?" I asked my old school chum after we paid our entrance fee.
"Well, I'd quite like to see the Mediterranean area, as we're planning to use more of those types of plants in our garden what with climate change and so on."

I've mentioned the use of California natives in British gardens before - I did see several ceanothus shrubs in full bloom on my visit, for example - but her interest took me aback. It seemed just very unBritish. My awareness of Britain ended really in 1980, when I left. It was pretty wet and green then as I recall. But - just as we in Central California are looking to Southern California natives for garden worthy specimens in the warmer future - the Brits are looking to sunnier climes for theirs.
I can't say I was very excited to go to the Mediterranean garden. Like I haven't seen enough Mediterranean garden plants in California already. But the setting was interesting - All around King William's Temple - a garden folly from the 19th century - cistus and lavender, rosemary and fan palms were on view. My chum particularly liked the cistus varieties.

The informational panels were interesting - I'll just show you a couple. You can read them if you click the photos.

What area did I want to see? -- I wanted to see the British native plant area - but  - and let me tell you, my behind is black and blue from kicking myself - by the time we'd hopped and skipped from one interesting area to the next - I never did get to it! In fact we covered less than half of what there is to see at Kew, and could have spent longer at many spots than we did. Well, I'll just have to go back, that's all.

Millenium Seed Bank
Kew Gardens has a serious scientific mission, along with education and entertainment. Another response to global warming is the Millennium Seed Bank project, whose aim is to save seeds for the future restoration of endangered habitats.
Working with our network of partners across 50 countries, we have successfully banked 10% of the world's wild plant species. With your help, we are going to save 25% by 2020. We target plants and regions most at risk from climate change and the ever-increasing impact of human activities.
You can even adopt a seed for 25 pounds!

I am also a happy seed gatherer - since returning from my trip, I've been cleaning and organizing my own seed collection. So I was interested in reading about how the Kew folk clean their seeds. They have a high tech winnowing machine called an aspirator, for example - but the technique is still just winnowing. And they have those cool sets of sieves of different sizes that I might think about getting. But when all is said and done - they do a lot of hand work.

So I didn't feel so bad about my own leisurely and labor intensive seed prep. For example, I've been figuring out how to get the awns and fluff from seeds that are bulked up with those appendages. I've been rubbing and smooshing needle grass seeds in a basin, with thick rubber gloves on my hands to protect them from the needle-sharp seeds, to remove their awns, then winnow them away - with pretty good results.

I also recently smooshed a fluffy pile of rough leaved aster seeds in a plastic bag, such that all the fluff clumped together and the seeds fell to the bottom of the bag! I was very happy about that. Other seeds I gather by hanging whole plants or branches upside down in bags so the seeds drop out, and I'm also bagging some in little mesh bags I tie onto the plant outside - ceanothus is easy to gather this way.

At Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Project, after prepping the seeds, most of them are dried and put into cold storage, at the seed bank facility at Wakehurst in West Sussex. The cold rooms are underground, and maintained at -20 degrees Celsius. It's all very high tech.

Mine are stored in little coin envelopes, stacked in open plastic boxes on shelves in my room. If they're lucky. Of course, I'll be using mine in considerably less time. Seeds are alive, and I don't try to put these into suspended animation for long term preservation.

I find seed collecting and preparation endlessly absorbing. At least I haven't gotten to he end of it as yet - gosh, I've barely begun to get a clue. And the next thing to learn more about - is better ways to grow the plants from seed. Because nothing beats the thrill of watching plants grow!

I've got about three more posts-worth of Kew Gardens photos and thoughts to share. I hope you're not getting tired of it! But I'll likely intersperse them with what I'm getting up to in the garden.


Town Mouse said…
What, they have a sign there that says the climate is changing? And nobody sues them for spreading unproven factoids?

Aside from that, interesting about the seed separation. I've just extracted seeds from Phacelia c. and was quite surprised how much work it is. But very satisfying when it works.
Kaveh Maguire said…
Don't kick yourself too hard for not visiting everything you wanted to see. Kew is huge. I spent 3 months there and saw just a small percentage of the gardens. Of course now you just have an excuse to go back. Though I recommend a visit to Wakehurst before you go back to Kew. Not only do you get to see the Millenium Seed bank in person but the gardens there are much more ornamental and better maintained.

I'm sort of lazy about my own seed collecting and storage but I have pretty good luck with just storing seed heads in something like an old shoe box until they dry and then storing the seed in those little coin envelopes.