It’s so well hidden you may never even have noticed it on a stroll round Hyde Park. But tucked away in a copse of trees is a super-sized nursery which is equipped to supply the Royal Parks with all the plants and shrubs needed each year for its world-class displays.
But have the green-fingered among you ever wondered how these gardens are created? Mike Jones, nursery manager at The Royal Parks gives the inside track.
What it takes to deliver a display fit for a Queen
My job as nursery manager is to supervise the growth and delivery of about 450,000 plants to supply all the beds across The Royal Parks. That takes a fair bit of planning! Especially because there are two displays each year in every park – one in spring and a different display in summer.
The whole process starts with the ideas generated by the park managers for the following year’s displays. Each park has one or two people responsible for designing their bedding – deciding what the bed will look like, which plants they’ll need, how many and what sizes.
One they’ve chosen the plant varieties for each bed they put together an order and then send this to our Royal Parks Nursery Client Officer, Steve Edwards. He’ll get the orders from the eight different parks twice a year.
Park managers place the spring order by 1st February for delivery of blooms to the parks in October to plant ready for the next year. The summer order is received by the 1st September for delivery the following June.
Steve coordinates the orders through what we call our ‘Blossoms’ bedding software: a list of which plants will be needed to fulfil the design for each bed.
That just leaves us to get our hands dirty and grow them!
From seeds to cuttings
We’ve got to supply to almost three hundred separate beds across the Royal Parks. These range from small ‘urns’ which contains perhaps seven plants made up of three varieties, up to large borders containing over 500 plants with more than 70 varieties.
The biggest single area we grow and deliver plants to are the beds outside Buckingham Palace. In the summer displays alone this area contains a mind-boggling 22,310 plants. The beds here are filled mainly with Red Geraniums – grown to match the tunics of The Queen's Guard - accompanied by Blue Heliotrope, Blue Salvia, Ficus Benjamina and surrounded by an edge of dazzling Cineraria Silver Dust.
Once we’re received the information from the park managers we then produce an A-Z list of the varieties and numbers required for the many thousands of plants we’ll grow for all the parks.
We give each plant a specification number which indicates its pot size, expected height and spread, if it needs to have a bamboo cane or some particular shape or form.
From this information we can formulate a production programme. Using the delivery date as an end point we can then work backwards to either the sowing date for seeds or the propagation date for cuttings. We decide how many seeds to order and if we have enough stock plants to take cuttings from or if we need to produce more.
From cuttings to beds
Often the first cuttings to be taken from the ‘mother’ stock will be used to produce more plants – and it’s from these we’ll take final production cuttings for the plants that will go out into the parks.
We also work out how much compost we need to order, if we need to order more pots (these are reused each year to the point of destruction before being recycled) and any other materials used in the growing process.
The bed designers have a palette of literally thousands of varieties of plants. At the moment we plant 208,000 plants in 300 varieties along with 320,000 bulbs in 400 varieties. The summer 2018 production underway in the nursery counts some 210,000 plants covering 900 varieties.
The varieties range from Ajuga to Viola in the winter and Abutilon to Zinnia in the summer and encompass such exotic plants as Musa (banana tree), Dicksonia (tree ferns), Alocasia (Elephants Ear), Ananas (pineapple-sadly not good enough to eat!), Strelitzia (bird of paradise), and a range of palms. All of these go out into the parks for the summer but come back to be housed in the nursery over winter ready for the following year. We also grow Old Pelargonium and other plant varieties not grown commercially so they are not lost.
When the time comes for delivery of plants to the parks, we get an email from each of the parks saying which bed they would like me to deliver to on which day. We produce a delivery note listing the ‘plant recipe’ for the desired bed which we then select from the glasshouses, load onto trolleys and deliver to the bed indicated. The gardeners who are on site awaiting the delivery have all the plants they then need, in the correct sizes and numbers to plant in the bed producing an instant display.
Supporting the next generation of gardeners
The main use of the nursery is, as it always has been, the growing of bedding, herbaceous plants, shrubs and trees for use in all the Royal Parks. But over the years it’s also supported the horticultural work of the Royal Parks - such as training sessions for Royal Parks apprentices and volunteers.
For example some heather cuttings are being grown as a part of The Royal Parks’ Mission:Invertebrate project which aims to find out more about the grassland insects, so park managers can provide them better environments to thrive. The nursery supplied a suitable compost and some space to grow the cuttings in a cool zone.
Difficult, rare, unusual plants are all part of a day’s work for the nursery. We’re working with Richmond Park to propagate rare Rhododendrons and Azaleas from the Isabella plantation.
And the nursery will continue to raise young vegetables to be used in the three park allotments.