Apprentice gardener Lou Singfield has spent two weeks at Tresco Abbey Garden, off the Cornish coast, learning to propagate and look after unusual plant species. The garden was established in the nineteenth-century around the ruins of a Benedictine Abbey, and is today home to some 4,000 specimens from across the southern hemisphere and subtropics. The lessons Lou has learned at Tresco will be translated directly to her work in the College's dry borders alongside Clare College, a sunny and exposed south facing border within Cambridge’s low rainfall area, propagated with plants that require little water or irrigation.
On her experience in the Isles, Lou commented:
In my time there I saw plants I never thought I would have the chance to see growing happily outside and flowering like it was in its native country, such as Proteas and Banksias alongside Cycads, Puyas and Aloes. I experienced typical island life, living in a cottage and cycling to work every day. At work I was surrounded by passionate ‘plants’ men and women. My tasks were quite varied: one day we would be clearing a bed of a rampant Fuchsia boliviana, the next I would be weeding and learning about the weeds in this tropical garden, such as Crocosmia, Trachycarpus and Semele.
I was also asked to help Emma, the Abbey Garden’s propagator, who had been a trainee herself at Cambridge Botanic Garden. She showed me how to propagate some of the more unusual plants such as the Aeoniums and how to use the mist bench, so I could set this up when I returned to King’s to enable us to propagate more plants.
My favourite thing however was identifying plants; I struggled at first but soon found my feet and was learning and recognising the plants with surprising speed. The Abbey’s Head Gardener Andy Lawson kindly allowed me to bring some seeds back to add to our own seed banks at King’s. Many of the plants are ericaceous and struggle in our Cambridge chalky soil, but expect to see them out in pots in the summer and then in our public greenhouse in the Fellows’ Garden in one or two years’ time when everything has grown on!
Head Gardener Steven Coghill added:
I am delighted that Lou has had the opportunity to work in the finest subtropical garden in the British Isles. Tresco Abbey Garden really is ‘the holy grail’ of tender and succulent plants grown outside without the need of protection.