A tropical farewell

After a productive time at Kew and Edinburgh, our intrepid fellow heads west into the sunset, hot on the trail of some exotic beauties

My final month at the fellowship began with a placement with the Arboretum team at one of the most famous gardens in the world, the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. It's a vast organisation on the forefront of plant exploration, collection, research, and conservation, and has been for over 250 years.

I worked mainly in the Rhododendron Dell alongside students and apprentices. Each day after work I would spend time exploring a new bit of the garden. One of my favourite parts of Kew was the Marianne North Gallery, housing 833 of her paintings from her travels around the world. It is an incredible display of artistic talent, scientific knowledge, and, most of all, sheer courage and curiosity to see the world and record it. Although my time at Kew was incredibly quick, I walked away with a deeper appreciation for its scientific work and conservation efforts.

ScillyJourney to the wild west

After several weeks in London, it was time to head back west to Tresco Abbey in the Isles of Scilly off the western coast of Cornwall for my final placement. This placement was like ending a 10 month dream in an island paradise.

It really is quite an event to reach Tresco. After a six hour train ride, three hour boat ride, and another jet boat ride, I finally reached the island. The views from the top of the cliffs are awe-inspiring, with the white beaches and clear blue waters. Although the surrounding landscape is hard to compete with, the Abbey Gardens rise up to the challenge. The gardens are known fondly as “Kew without the glass”.

After spending a lot of time in both Edinburgh and Kew in the glasshouses, it was shocking to see so many of the same specimens flourishing outdoors. The Isles of Scilly have a unique microclimate, where an incredible range of tender subtropical species can grow because frost is almost unknown.

Tasks in the garden included normal duties such as watering and weeding, but I also was able to help out on some pretty unique jobs, such as using the largest ladder to climb to the top of the largest tree ferns in the garden to saw off dying fronds.

At Tresco, one the plants I was asked about the most by visitors was Araucaria heterophylla, the Norfolk Island Pine. This 60 metre tree stands out amongst the others because of its unique form. Concentric whorls of branches are stacked one on top of another with finely-textured evergreen needles covering the symmetrical stems. It was one of the first plants that caught my eye when I entered the garden the first day.

Last year, when I found out I had been awarded the RHS Interchange Fellowship, one of the first things I did was buy a celebratory plant at a local garden shop. That day there was a little tree in the houseplant section that captured my attention. I had never noticed it before and it felt like the perfect plant to mark the occasion. That little houseplant was a Norfolk Island Pine, and it kept me company all summer on this great British adventure. When I walked into Tresco and saw the giant Norfolk Island Pines, hundreds of times larger than my little houseplant and towering over the garden, I was stuck by the irony.

I feel like this past year has opened me to a world of people, places, and knowledge that I didn’t know existed. Each placement has added another concentric whorl of experiences, stacking one on top of another and growing a little house plant little by little. I do not think I can adequately express my gratitude to the Garden Club of America and the Royal Horticultural Society for allowing me the privilege of learning under some of the greatest gardeners in the UK. This fellowship will forever be a substantial foundation from which my future career will continue to build.

Thank you to each and every friend who invited me into your workplace, your home, your dinner tables, your tea times, your gardens, and your lives over these past 10 months. You each made Britain feel like home. Cheerio for now, but I’ll be back as soon as I can!

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