New Field Research Facility opens at RHS Garden Wisley

The John MacLeod Field Research Facility, Wisley. Photograph courtesy of Rachael Tanner, RHS.

I know what you’re thinking, but remember what your mum always said- don’t judge a book by its cover. Or in this case -don’t judge the shiny new Field Research Facility (FRF) by its slightly unattractive exterior.  Granted, it isn’t the prettiest building I’ve ever seen (although the splashes of colour provided by the bearded irises do help) but it wasn’t built to be admired from the outside.

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Croeso i Gymru

The title is Welsh – not, as some of you may have wondered, a case of too many biscuit crumbs in the keyboard, and it reads ‘Welcome to Wales’.

A handful of the Science Department drove past this welcome message on the M4 as we headed to Cardiff (in the pouring rain) to help out on the first of seven RHS Flower Shows.


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A bug’s life

Practising nectar sampling using flowers from the garden


During the recent spell of gloriously warm weather, my winter wardrobe was hurriedly stashed away in a corner of my cupboard, the summer sandals were dusted off and dinner was only ever a decision between veggie burgers or veggie sausages on the barbeque.

Alas, the warm weather didn’t last and I’ve embarrassingly had to retrieve some woolly, winter essentials a good seven months earlier than planned.

The unseasonably warm weather did, however, mean that there was a flush of new growth and early flowering in the Garden.  Well timed too, as I was due to sample nectar on the Plants for Bugs plots.

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Shiny new buildings and spring cleans

Construction of our Field Research Facility. Photograph courtesy of Rachael Tanner (RHS)


Over the last five months, we’ve all been eagerly watching as our Science  Field Research Facility (FRF) takes shape.  This environmentally-friendly facility, kitted out with a swimming-pool sized underground tank for heat recycling and solar panels to generate electricity, will help expand our research capacity so that we can continue to provide the best possible advice to gardeners. It is a building that really will increase awareness and understanding of the importance of science to gardening. Good reason then for our excitement as we approach its grand opening on the 2nd May.

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Wedding veil, microcapillary tubes and dry ice

Over the past two years of Plants for Bugs recording, we’ve been sampling all sorts of invertebrates (34, 000 and counting) on our plots – from bees and beetles to spiders and springtails. When the project ends and the results are analysed, we’ll be able to say whether the ‘bugs’ recorded have shown a consistent preference for native or non-native plant assemblages, or whether in fact they’re not too bothered either way…

In order to explain the reasons for any observed preference, we’ve also been recording lots of variables on the plots including numbers of flowers, seed set, vegetation density and canopy cover. But, with a project this big, there’s always more we want to record.

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Preparing for LMC6

Discussing Science at Wisley in 1967


Many months before a KTP project begins and long before an Associate has been recruited, a core project team get together and, in a room I picture as being windowless and smoke-filled but that I expect in reality is bright, airy and houses multiple smoke detectors, they devise a plan outlining how the project could develop during the allotted timescale.  The result of their efforts is one of the first things I received on my first day as a KTP Associate – the grant proposal document.  Read and revisited for much of that day – and for many weeks afterwards, this document was rarely far from my desk.

Almost two years on, and with the project well on track, I still flick through my grant proposal document but do so much less frequently- perhaps only twice in a three-month period. This week, I revisited it when preparing for LMC6.

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P is for Publishing


In an earlier post, I mentioned the KTP Training and Development budget which encourages Associates to develop their skills and knowledge to help them now as well as post-KTP. With June 2012 marking two years of our three-year KTP project, I decided to direct more attention to my training and development and, last Sunday, in search of new skills, I headed North.

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Using razors for simplicity

It’s weird the things you remember from school.

I remember Occam’s razor: when competing explanations are otherwise equal, the simplest one is often the most likely, until evidence proves it otherwise. I also know that this wise philosophy is often misinterpreted to mean that the simplest solution is often the best.  Also committed to memory are the orders of the first ten elements in the periodic table and of the planets in the Solar system based on their distance from the Sun.  I know that the size of a turning effect or moment is dependent on the size of the force applied and on the perpendicular distance from the pivot, and that it is impossible to fold a piece of paper in half more than 7 times, irrespective of its size or thickness.

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The joys of pitfalls

It’s early morning and it’s cool enough for me to be wearing a good five layers of clothing but not so cold that my car windscreen needs scraping.  So it’s a little odd that I’m lugging a litre bottle of antifreeze around with me.  Stranger still that I’m nowhere near a car- any cars in fact, as I’m walking in a pretty determined fashion through Wisley garden and towards the Plants for Bugs plots.

No need to worry though. I am here for a very good reason.  Today, we’re setting pitfall traps – one of four methods used to regularly sample invertebrates on Plants for Bugs; the RHS research project designed to test whether invertebrate wildlife is at all bothered about the geographic origin of our garden plants.
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Tick Tock

You’ve looked at your watch about five times in the past hour.  It’s hot and stuffy and the windows have that horrible warm-room condensation they get which leaves you boiling indoors but needing at least 15 layers of clothing to be warm outside. You’ve noticed that the overhead light bulb flickers 16 times a minute. You’re too scared to open a window in case someone thinks you’re asking a question and the person next to you is munching a tuna sandwich and spending an absolute eternity eating crisps ‘quietly’.

We’ve all been there.  Lunchtime seminars. Sometimes you end up feeling that they’ve stolen an hour of your life you’ll never get back.

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