Kathryn Bray

2019/20 GCA Interchange Fellow on placement from the UK to the USA – Kathryn’s Fellowship was unfortunately cut short due to the pandemic

Autumn: Production and conservatory teams

My first placement at Longwood Gardens was with the Production team, helping with the annual Chrysanthemum Festival. In 2019, the festival was accompanied by a Sogetsu installation, never before showcased outside Japan. My second placement in the conservatory itself was even better. Interacting with guests highlighted how much the public is in awe of the Longwood displays – a morale boost for all staff who work so hard to keep standards high. Early starts of 6am lead to a complete conservatory transformation before the gardens even open, members of the public often asking if there is such a thing as the 'Longwood fairies'.

Autumn: In the conservatories

The conservatories are world-renowned not only for their bedding displays but also the waterlily pools with fantastic collections of Nymphaea and Victoria. Having arrived in September, I was able to see many species flowering. The most exciting work was in late October when the annual cut back began, and we started to remove plants for winter storage in the nurseries. This involved hours in the pools in waders, moving plants to different areas and learning which species can be saved and which are treated as annuals. The Victoria species are composted each year, the seed having been collected in summer to sow in January. These are perhaps the most difficult to manage, huge thorns on the underside of each leaf spanning up to 1m, making them very difficult to remove without injury. 

Autumn: Research team

My third placement has been with the Research team, an incredible opportunity to learn lab skills. The gardens rely on tissue culture to store their Canna and Chrysanthemum collections in a virus-free environment. Working in the sterile hood using microscopes required patience and a steady hand.

The fellowship at Longwood also incorporates fantastic opportunities to travel and learn about American culture. Trips to local gardens such as Chanticleer, Mount Cuba and Winterthur are all part of the curriculum, as well as less botanically themed institutions such as the Delaware Museum of Natural History. So far three months have flown by, and with winter around the corner and the promise of heavy snow, I’m eagerly anticipating my new placement with the Integrated Pest Management team to avoid the freezing East Coast temperatures.

Mid-term report

Kathryn’s mid-term report describes her experiences and learnings from time spent on different teams at Longwood Gardens.

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.