Worth Their Weight in Gold - Birmingham Botanical Gardens win big at RHS Show

Birmingham Botanical Gardens win gold for their National Collection of Cyclamen, a first for the educational charity.

Nigel Hopes, Horticultural Senior Supervisor (External Areas), who heads up the management of the National Collection, alongside the rest of the gardening team including, Wayne Williams (Senior Horticulturist (internal areas)), Chris Howell, Eddie Adams and Josh Tranter worked tirelessly on the display, pulling it together in around 6 weeks, managed to come away with a gold medal nonetheless.

National Collection status is a fantastic achievement in itself; the onsite team has been working on their Cyclamen collection since 2005. At this time, the collection of Cyclamen was quite small at the gardens, with only a few potted specimens. Nigel then brought in plants from his own collection and started propagating seed donations from Ashwood Nurseries in 2010, all of which sat alongside the colonies of Cyclamen hederifolium and Cyclamen coum that have always been planted in the open garden at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

Then, in 2012, the Plant Records Officer, and the Chairman of the Horticultural Committee Vic Aspland, mentioned the idea of trying to achieve ‘National Collection’ status. Vic is also president of the Cyclamen Society – the perfect person to have heading up this initiative. Over the years, more and more plants and seeds were sourced and donated to the gardens. As of July 2016, they now own one of two National Cyclamen collections in the country.

It normally takes a team around twelve months to get ready for an RHS show, but the Birmingham Botanical Gardens team had to get everything ready in six weeks as they only found out they had received RHS funding a few weeks before the show. In this time, they had to plan the logistics of transporting the collection to the RHS Early Spring Show, as well as design the display and source the materials they would need to build the display from scratch. To actually create the design itself, the team laid tarpaulin on the floor and marked it up with props before taking photos. This helped them to not only plan out the display but also to transport everything and be able to reconstruct it in London.

When asked what the benefits are of presenting at an RHS Show, regardless of winning or not, Nigel Hopes said,

“Advertising, letting people know that we are in Birmingham and that we are an independent educational charity. It also allows the collection to be appreciated by people who attend these show.’’

Meanwhile, Chris Howell commented that,

“Networking is key. We swapped numbers with a few other gardeners as we may consider swapping plants in the future. As well as this, reputation is another important point. As we have one of two National Cyclamen collections, we have a responsibility to show it off and exhibit them as much as we can. Not many people show Cyclamen, so many people rely on us for advice.”

 In addition, the team also took along their trainee, Josh Tranter, who had this to say about his experience,

“It was great that, as an apprentice, I could help the other gardeners on this project, and get the experience of a real RHS Show. Not every trainee gets this and I’m thrilled that, on top of that, we won gold!”

The plants used for the award-winning display have now been returned to their homes in the nursery, but will appear in the Alpine house at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens for visitors to admire and peruse.

Vic Aspland, Chairman of the Horticultural Committee at Birmingham Botanical Gardens and president of the Cyclamen Society had this to add,

“This was a great tribute to the contributions of many people. The Gardens’ horticultural team rose triumphantly to the challenge of staging the exhibit. I was lucky to recruit two volunteers (Roy Skidmore and Denise Bridges) who help to maintain the plants on a weekly basis, so there were plenty of good things to choose from. Quite a few of the plants in the collection were obtained through my numerous contacts in the horticultural world. Horticulturalists are well-known for their generosity in sharing plants! Some of the Cyclamen persicum used in the display were raised from seed collected in Jordan by the Centre d’Ecologie, Montpellier and sent to me some years ago. The interest in Cyclamen is international! The National Collection at the Botanical Gardens has many supporters and friends. I am sure that it will go from strength to strength.”

This is a fantastic achievement for Birmingham Botanical Gardens and is an experience the gardeners will never forget. We have a feeling they will enjoy plenty more success with this collection in the near future.

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