Gardeners’ Blog – May 2017

May is a busy time of year at Birmingham Botanical Gardens, but it is also one of the most beautiful!


During May, the indoor team will be busy getting the Butterfly House prepared for its opening on Saturday 27th May. Buddleja, Lantana and Pentas are just a few nectar plants, which will be grown to provide nectar for the butterflies. Sugar water feeders, and saucers of fermenting fruit such as bananas, apple and oranges are also a delicious food source. Every week, 100 pupae will be delivered from Stratford Butterfly Farm and carefully glued the right way up onto bamboo canes in the emerging case. These pupae contain beautiful tropical butterflies from the Philippines and Central America. If you are lucky, you may see one or two emerge! As usual, the Butterfly House will be open daily until Sunday 3rd September.


Gardeners' Blog - May 2017


In the Mediterranean House, the 21 metre floral display will be changed to its colourful summer display of canna, begonia, nemesia, petunia, impatiens and torenia, where they will flower non-stop until October. Watering will be a big daily job in the glasshouses and nursery now the weather is warmer, as every plant is checked daily and watered by hand using hoses and watering cans. Not only does this include over a thousand different plants in the display glasshouses, but also over 5,000 summer bedding plants grown on in our nursery before being planted outside at the end of May.


The Herbaceous Border section that was replanted last autumn is coming to life and filling up amazingly, just as the second portion is being weed killed in readiness for replanting either in the autumn or next year depending on the weed growth. We were wondering about giving some of the groups the ‘Chelsea chop’ to delay their flowering and reduce their height.


Elsewhere in the Gardens, we have an amazing display of over 2000 tulips on the Loudon Terrace that are a mixture of four different colours.


The Alpine House is looking great. New plants are put in there almost daily as so much is coming into flower. The vents and doors are open all the time to allow fresh air to circulate and the fan helps to keep the air moving, which improves the growing conditions and recreates the natural environment. The blinds are essential, to stop the leaves scorching and help keep the temperature down.


Alpine House at Birmingham Botanical Gardens


The National Cyclamen collection is dying down and becoming dormant as the leaves die and the tubers rest below ground. The seedpods are very interesting – the flower stalk (the pedicel) curls up on itself like a spring and brings the seedpod down to the ground, where the pod ripens and eventually dehisces (splits open), releasing the seeds. The seeds are then dispersed, surprisingly, by ants, which enjoy the sugary coating as a reward for spreading the seeds.


Unbelievably, different species of Cyclamen coil their pedicels in different ways, either from the top down, bottom up or from the middle in both directions.


The covers around the tree ferns in the Fern Walk will soon be removed. We try to do this before the fronds start to unfurl. The fronds unfurl and open out like a Bishops crosier. This type of unwinding where ever part uncurls in order is known as ‘circinate vernation’ a wonderful phrase that has stayed with me for over thirty years. This tight curling protects the new growing tips of the fern frond.


Coming up in the Gardens…


Hanging baskets have been created holding Acalypha ‘Pendula Mini Red’ and Calibrachoa ‘Cabaret Hot Pink’. Plugs of Geraniums, Salvias, Argyranthemums and Artemesia, have been potted up and grown on in the Nursery ready for planting out towards the end of May, when the last chance of frosts has gone.


Our wildflower meadow has been sown, so we are looking forward to seeing how that develops by the Treetops Playground. We’re also nearly ready to refresh the Herb Garden, which has been a little empty over winter as the annual herbs die off. The Rhododendron Walk and Azalea Walk are winding up to put on an amazing show of colour and scent.


Finally, towards the end of May/beginning of June, we’ll have giant dinosaurs across the Gardens! If you’re a member of the Gardens, you don’t need a ticket to this unique event, which begins on Saturday, May 20 and ends on Sunday, June 4.