Grant Hughes

2021/22 RHS Interchange Fellow on placement from the USA to the UK

Autumn: Wondrous Wisley

I started my first placement at RHS Garden Wisley with the Woodland team, which is responsible for care of the Jubilee Arboretum and Battleston Hill. As autumn arrived, the Arboretum was ablaze with colour in the Liquidambar, Malus, and Tilia collections.

Autumn: Chelsea excitement

At the first autumn RHS Chelsea Flower Show, I volunteered at the RHS Plant of the Year display where new and exciting plants are featured. This year Cercis canadensis was awarded the accolade Plant of the Year. Being the first flower show held in September, I was amazed by what designers can create; there was inspiration to be found around every corner and the air was buzzing with excitement.

Autumn: Field trip

After a whirlwind of volunteering at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and at RHS Garden Wisley, I hopped in a car with the RHS Diploma students to join them on a bursary-funded trip. We visited 16 different institutions and gardens with a common theme of being ecologically sustainable and managing plant collections for future climates. We all came back with cars filled to the brim with plants and notebooks full of sketches.

Mid-term report

Grant is halfway through his fellowship. Find out what he learned from the teams at RHS Garden Wisley and his time spent at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and the Eden Project. (Full-term report available further down the page).

Winter: A showcase of alpines

I joined the RHS Garden Wisley Alpine team in the crisp month of November. The most notable areas the team manages are the Rock Garden, Alpine Meadow, fern glade, and two Alpine Houses. One Alpine House mimics the natural habitats where alpine plants are grown and the other is a display house with sandbeds.

Some of my morning duties included looking after the display houses and these turned out to be some of my favourite times at Wisley. My day would start by walking around the alpine growing houses, searching for plants that caught my eye. Some of these collections include true alpine cushion plants, bulbs, and South African bulbs. These plants would replace the tired and spent plants in the two sandbeds within the display house.

Winter: Educational Eden

In December, I headed to the Eden Project. One of my favourite outdoor exhibits was the planting of the American Prairie, which took me straight back to my home state, a diverse planting of Andropogon gerardiiSilphium integrifolium, and Rhus typhina. These exhibits are constantly changing to help spread awareness of ethnobotany, sustainability, and biodiversity.

While at Eden, I also had the opportunity to join the team renovating one of the South African beds. Here I was able to utilise my skills at laying down drip irrigation, helping to layout where the plants should go and watering the beds. I learned about many new plants that are endemic to South Africa; the one I fell in love with was Polygala myrtifolia (pictured), a woody shrub that produces clusters of beautiful purple flowers, reminiscent of a bird in flight.

Winter: A glimpse into Heligan

During my time in Cornwall, I joined one of the Eden Project students on a trip to The Lost Gardens of Heligan, which was discovered under ruins and restored in honour of the gardeners that had left and lost their lives in the First World War. This garden gives a glimpse into the past, with its Victorian fruit houses and vegetable gardens grown with heritage crops. One of the most exciting discoveries was the pineapple pit, heated by the warmth of compost piles, which allowed gardeners to grow this tropical fruit in the British climate.

Winter: New year, new bed

In January, I found myself joining the RHS Garden Wisley Glasshouse team. They look after three different climatic zones – dry temperate, moist temperate, and tropical. Around the Glasshouse is a large sweeping landscape designed by Tom Stuart-Smith.

Inside the Glasshouse, we had a busy week ahead as there was a bed in critical need of replanting as the original had become overgrown. It was exciting to have a fresh start, and the lead horticulturist and I took charge of selecting plants to be laid out in the new beds. We established a colour palette, and selected interesting plant combinations, looking not only at the colour of the plants, but also the forms. This helped create a bed that highlighted plant textures and carried existing themes from planting areas into the new bed. We were able to get the bed installed and completed within a week.

Once complete, we discussed how the bed would look in a year, given that the plants would mature and fill in the gaps – I am looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

Full-term report

Grant has completed his fellowship. In his full-term report he discusses his placements, experiences and future plans.

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