Sad endings, Mary Poppins and shiny things

Whether it’s dropping off the keys to my rented damp-ridden, avocado-bathroom-suite-complete-with-kitchen-cupboard-over-the-bathtub flat in Bracknell, leaving my Citroen Saxo with neon yellow and grey interior at the scrap yard because it had a tendency to be a bit of a death trap, or driving away from the boarding kennels as my cat gave me his best Puss in Boots wide-eyed pity face and I trundled off for a three-day conference in Belfast, I hate goodbyes.

So, with only a few short weeks of this KTP left, it’s probably no surprise that I have decided to break a Wisley tradition and not have a leaving do (let’s face it, we all knew it was never really up for debate). I’m going to do a Mary Poppins instead and steal away with my talking umbrella. But, besides wasting time stressing that whisperings in the corridors are preparations to ambush me with tea, cake and the horrifying words “speech, speech”, these remaining weeks have been very busy for the KTP team.

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Come Dine With Me, Sunday afternoons and project management workshops

Discussing Project Management best practice within RHS Science

Discussing Project Management best practice within RHS Science

I am a great fan of the TV show ‘Come Dine with me’. For those of you who actually have stuff to do on a Sunday afternoon, the basic premise involves a group of strangers rating one another on three course dinners cooked and hosted by each member of the group over a five-day period. The person with the highest overall score at the end of the week wins a £1000 cash prize.  I’d quite like to be on the show but am put off by the fact that:

1) being filmed involves being on the wrong side of the camera all the time

2) my cooking isn’t that great, and

3) I tend not to like strangers wandering around my home, snooping in my cupboards and trying on my clothes

All this aside, if I was to appear on the show, I’d definitely do some early planning to minimise the social ridicule that would ensue if I came last. I’d decide what to cook and write a shopping list (including substitute items in case what I wanted wasn’t in stock). I’d practise the meals well in advance to iron out any problems early on. I’d write a timeline of jobs that needed to be done and would refer to this on the day to make sure I wasn’t late getting food onto plates. In effect, I’d be managing my ‘Come Dine with me’ experience as a project.

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New year’s resolutions, coloured gloves and separating scientists

These past two weeks I have realised two things:

  1.  The gym is no more appealing in 2013 than it was in 2012
  2. The vast majority of scientists can be separated into two types: ‘outdoor’ and ‘indoor’ ones

Outdoor scientists bring the outdoors into their labs. I am, and have always been an outdoor scientist. Scientists who fall under this category don’t usually wear lab coats and don’t really understand when one is really needed (if they do own a lab coat it is likely either to be the one they haven’t used since Chemistry GCSE classes or a grimy, brown monstrosity that is used to protect their clothes from getting dirty).  Outdoor scientists have ‘dirty’ labs where the lab fridge can harbour all manner of things from pots of sleepy spiders (to cool them down and make identification easier) to soya milk (for tea, obviously).  The tiny freezer section of a dirty lab’s fridge only ever becomes filled in summer, when it’s crammed with icecream.  A group of outdoor scientists in a lab will complain about the choice of radio station.

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Networking, nibbles and a new prospectus

RHS Science hosted its second annual PhD symposium in November. An opportunity to develop our growing PhD community- and our links with new and existing collaborative research partners, the event gets everyone together for a catch-up and keeps us all abreast of the exciting research currently ongoing by our PhD students.

Given that our RHS/ Reading KTP is all about boosting the profile of scientific research, I was involved in organising the event and this year, we were lucky enough to be able to welcome students (and their supervisors) from other horticultural research institutions including East Malling Research and Reading, Sheffield and Warwick universities.

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Filling the toolkit

If I had a toolbox (and let’s face it- I wouldn’t), it wouldn’t be full of tools.

I’d probably use it to store stationary, or those odds and ends I refuse to throw away just in case I find a use for them tomorrow. Things like those infuriatingly-nondescript pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that seem to proliferate under the sofa cushions, random coins of unknown origin and/or value, crunchy old rubber bands and paperclip necklaces.

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Everything changes

In my early (and I stress early) high school years, the girls could be split into one of two camps- the ‘Take That’ fan club or the ‘Backstreet Boys’ one.  I clearly remember arriving at school on the day Take That broke up. Friends were huddled together red-faced and teary-eyed, sobbing in classroom corners and whimpering in toilet cubicles.  Those were the ones that made it in- many were simply too distraught.

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There was an old woman who swallowed a fly..

After a couple of days of blisteringly hot weekend sun, what better way to spend a Monday afternoon than by sampling insects collected from the Plants for Bugs plots!

In a past post, I mentioned that one of our five invertebrate sampling methodologies involves the use of pitfall traps to collect invertebrates active on the ground.  To record those that remain largely on the foliage, we use a Vortis suction sampler.












RHS Senior Entomologist Andy uses a Vortis suction sampler to collect insects on the foliage

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Ugly bugs, fair-weather fans and a new face

 The Plants for Bugs research project keeps us busy – especially during the summer!


Unlike universities, where the summer term generally provides academics with more time, more parking spaces, and a more favourable balance between queuing for and eating lunch, the opposite is true in the garden.

Here at Wisley, summer is our busiest period, not just because footfall through the gates increases but also because during these long, warm(ish) months, gardening as a hobby sees a seasonal resurgence.  So, with many of us being unashamed fair-weather fans of our trowels and our hedge shears, it’s not surprising that summer also heralds an increase in the number of enquires to the RHS’ Members Advisory and Diagnostic Services.  Calls, emails and letters querying anything from best practice when trimming wisteria to help identifying the good, the bad and the sometimes exceedingly ugly amongst our garden fauna are answered by our horticultural advisors and scientists.

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Back to school

As much as it may be cool to say I hated school, didn’t do my homework and never did any revision, it would be a lie. Keen as I may have been though, I wasn’t crazy, so on my last school day I appreciated the fact that I would never again have homework to do or exams to revise for.

Until last week, that is.

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Elephants, donkeys and goldfish

When I was very small (perhaps I should say young as I haven’t grown much since then), my parents and their friends would often liken me to an elephant or a donkey. I wasn’t fat nor was I in possession of a set of protuberant front teeth but instead had a good memory and was very stubborn.

There is a picture of me that my mum keeps in her purse. I’m aged 6, dressed in an awful smock that is adorned with pink and blue snowmen. In the picture, I’m pulling the face my cat does when I’ve put his comedy cat jumper on.  Even now, I recall how tightly the collar pinched my neck and the puff-ball sleeves impeded any normal functioning of my arms. I only wore the dress once and no amount of bribery from my parents would ever make me put it on again.

Over the years, despite my memory becoming less elephantine and more goldfish-like, my stubbornness has remained. This is why, when I mentioned that I was having some difficulty collecting nectar from flowers sampled from Wisley, I was not deterred.

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