Gardening interest rises during pandemic

With evidence that lockdowns around the globe are causing an increased interest in gardening, Phoebe Bowen finds out more about growing plants at home.



Phoebe Bowen: Hello everyone and welcome back to another episode of Did you know? Because I didn’t. This week’s topic-we will be learning about growing plants at home. Despite myself having parents who are biologists and plant enthusiasts, I still do not know anything about plants. So today, we will be joined by my parents – botanist Dr Gabrielle Vivian-Smith and orchid collector Dr Ashley Bowen.

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Phoebe Bowen: So, let’s get started. I interviewed my Mom, Gabrielle Vivian-Smith. Gabrielle has worked in many different positions within the world of botany for a long period of time. Specialising in agriculture, plant science and risk assessment in plant health, she is very well informed. Although she spends a lot of time working on and with plants, she also loves to spend time at home in her garden.

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Phoebe Bowen: Gabrielle tends to grow vegetables in her vegetable garden at home.

Gabrielle Vivian-Smith: Last winter I loved growing silver beat and making quiches and spanakopita with it. It was an absolute hit in my household. Every time I picked the leaves, they were just so squeaky and clean and fresh.

Phoebe Bowen: It was delicious, and I think we should grow it every winter because it was that good. So, for people interested in growing their own vegetables at home or just wanting to know how it’s done, Gabrielle has provided us with some top tips.

Gabrielle Vivian-Smith: Don’t try too hard, just give it a go, buy, try a few different things. Plants are living things and you need to think about being a plant to grow them well. What do plants need? They need water, they need light, they need nutrients. Plants that are easy to grow are good to start with. So, I would recommend plants like radishes, lettuces, other vegetables are a really good way to start.

Phoebe Bowen: To help out those wanting to grow plants at home, Gabrielle has shared with us one thing that everyone should know about a plant but might not.

Gabrielle Vivian-Smith: Well you need to think like a plant, you can kill them with kindness by over watering them. Don’t keep the moist all the time unless they are a water plant of course.

Phoebe Bowen: Lots of people grow plants at home for many different reasons. Some people do for the produce, or the education or in case the world starts ending they can be self-sufficient. Gabrielle says although she has had to grow plants at work, she loves to spend time growing plants at home too.

Gabrielle Vivian-Smith: Because it’s a bit of a hobby, in comparison to work it’s a lot less stressful, less regimented and less particular. I like to grow vegetables at home because I can eat them as well.

Phoebe Bowen: And I love to eat those vegetables too. And now to introduce my dad, Ashley Bowen, the orchid collector. Many memories of my childhood I remember going to nurseries and local orchid events. I remember a lot of cool plants but mainly the toasted sandwich’s I received for being my dad’s acquaintance on these trips. My dad has always spent time growing his collection and I’ve always spent time smelling the beautiful flowers. His work life consists of biology stuff and business stuff that I still don’t understand. So, I decided to attempt to learn how he grows his fascinating orchids.

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Phoebe Bowen: As I have recently learnt Ashley tends to grow epiphytes. To put it simply, epiphytes are plants that grow on other plants and the epiphytes he tends to grow are Tillandsias and Australian orchids. Ashley says his favourite of those orchids is a Dendrobium orchid.

Ashley Bowen: I like epiphyte which are plants that grow on plants because they have interesting shapes and often have beautiful flowers and come from very diverse parts of the world. My favourite epiphyte is an orchid called Dendrobium speciosum which is an Australian orchid which is well known as a king orchid because they can grow to be quite huge, bigger than a person, they have big cascading flowers, thousands of flowers, all on a big drooping fluorescence and they smell like honey. They are fantastic to look at and smell great.

Phoebe Bowen: For people new to orchid growing at home he recommends starting off with growing Dendrobium speciosum.

Ashley Bowen: So, I’d recommend Dendrobium speciosum for an amateur to grow. They are not demanding as long as they get a bit of sun, a bit of air, a bit of moisture, a bit of fertiliser. They survive in cold weather, warm weather, and you don’t really need to do much to them, and they will flower every year.

Phoebe Bowen: Now I must discover how do I grow my own epiphyte at home?

Ashley Bowen: So, a good way of growing an epiphyte is to attach it to a big piece of cork, you can tie it on with a bit of fishing line or pantyhose and a bit of glue it and that mimics what it would be like growing on a tree. Once you have got it on the piece of cork, you can provide nutrients in a liquid fertiliser, water it once every couple of days during summer, make sure it gets a little bit of light and air movement.

Plants in Ruskin Park, London. Photo: James Petts (CC BY-SA 2.0) 

Phoebe Bowen: Knowing what to grow and how to grow it is one thing. But keeping it alive and healthy is another. So, here are Ashley’s top tips.

Ashley Bowen: My top tips for growing orchids is to understand where the orchid naturally grows. Some grow in sunny spots; some grow in shady spots. So, you try and replicate that at home. Generally, don’t over water them, don’t over fertilise them, don’t give them too much sunshine, don’t let them get too cold.

Phoebe Bowen: Gabrielle and Ashley apparently like to have a gourd competition in the garden. Surprisingly I haven’t heard about this until now. So, I decided to ask them both their views on the competition.

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Gabrielle Vivian-Smith: I grew my gourds in a balcony planter, I had different seeds and they grew some beautiful African style gourds which could be used for cups or dishes or musical instruments when dried out. I was able to harvest the seeds use them again a second year and grow some more gourd plants. I think I won the competition hands down.

Ashley Bowen: I understand Gabrielle has provided misleading information about the gourd competition. I think this year I did brilliantly well with but unfortunately, we had to have a tree chopped down and as a part of that all my gourds died before they got very big, but I had lots of beautiful gourds. And next year I will win!

Phoebe Bowen: So, if you feel like growing plants at home, we will have all the information linked below. Also, if you do grow some Dendrobium speciosum or maybe even some radishes or anything at all, we would love it if you could send in some pics. Hopefully you have learnt something today, because I certainly have. I think I will have to contribute to family plant discussions now or even get my hands dirty in the garden. Thanks for listening and enjoy your Monday. Did you know about plants? Because now I definitely do.