A farewell and a revamp

As the butterflies depart, a fresh wave of lush foliage and flowers infuses The Glasshouse with new colour

As you may well know, every year we release thousands of tropical butterflies to the Tropical Zone of The Glasshouse. This leads to many people (sometimes 7000 a day) walking through - and by the end of the event there are many trampled plants and beds.

We try to prepare for this by putting out sacrificial plants along the edges of the paths, and we take out anything precious before the event starts, but by the time the event is over the Tropical Zone is ready for a makeover.

We’ve been planning for it for some time, and have taken a number of cuttings of our groundcover plants which are now big enough to plant out. However, we also have a budget specifically for the replant, and so we get to choose plenty of bright, colourful new plants.

Butterflies caughtAs a side note: people often worry about what happens to the butterflies after the event is over. Butterflies don’t live for long, so by the end of the event there are fewer left. And for those? The truth is that we spend a few ridiculous afternoons chasing around The Glasshouse with nets trying to catch them all. We then put them in a washing basket to be picked up by the Butterfly Farm in Stratford, Warwickshire, from where we source them to start with.

Now to the big revamp itself. During the butterfly event I’ve been paying attention to what areas need changing, plants I need to remove, possible colour combinations that I can employ and so on. Still when the week of the replant comes around, I feel a bit overwhelmed by how much needs to be done, and it’s difficult to know where to start.

To keep it simple, first I remove everything that is looking battered, pest-damaged or just boring. I decompact the soil, and rake it over to get a nice even finish. Then I bring in the plants I am going to use. The three of us who work in the Tropical Zone have already divided up to decide who gets what. Choices are made partly on what will look good where and partly working out what plants will be happiest in what areas.

Next, I start arranging the plants on the beds. I change the planting fairly often, so for the most part I don’t leave large spaces in between plants because they won’t be there long enough to fill the space.

I need to consider planting from a few different angles when I’m laying out on a bed; there has to be variety in height, leaf shape, habit and colour. However, I also need to consider watering and light needs of the different plants together, there’s no point putting a dry-loving bromeliad next to a thirsty fern. I often ask my colleagues for a second opinion on what looks good; sometimes it’s helpful to have a second pair of eyes and it’s always easier to spot someone else’s mistakes than your own!

Finally, I plant, taking care not to submerge the plant or leave the roots exposed. Early spring is a good time to be planting - it’s not too hot so the plants don’t dry out, but there’s enough sun to encourage regrowth.

I’m a messy gardener, and while I’m careful to make the planting look beautiful, I tend to accumulate piles of empty pots, unused plants, tools and labels. The tidy-up always takes longer than I think it will, and I finish on Friday afternoon a few minutes before I go home. I’m happy with the result though, there’s plenty of colour and lush foliage, with interest around every corner. If you want to see more of the finished result, you’ll have to come and visit us.

See also

RHS advice: Plants for a warm greenhouse or conservatory

Discover The Glasshouse at Wisley

Greenhouse plants

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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.