Hi everyone! My name is Nadja, and I’m one of the new interns for the 2023 botanic gardens internship 🙂 I’m very excited to be here, and I’ll be writing about my garden adventures in this blog!

Weeks 1 and 2: On our first day, we were given a tour of the garden and got shown the glasshouses and arboretum (I’ve taken detailed note of the apple pear and arbutus tree locations for future fruit collection). Most importantly, we were introduced to one of the best cats in the world; Fluffy! He was shy at first but he now follows us around the garden asking for pets, and don’t listen to what the other interns say, I know I’m his favourite!

We got started by weeding and clearing the garden for the staff bbq at the end of the week, and me and Ailis really got cracking on the bindweed and bluebells in the flower beds.

In the west arboretum, we declared war on the sticky mats of Galium aparine smothering the plants below. You may know this plant as “stickyweed” or something similar, but it is really known for being fun to fling at peoples backs because the hairs on Galium stick like velcro. This is because the stem, leaves and seeds of Galium are all covered with backwards facing hairs that are meant to grab on to plants, allowing the weak stems of galium to grow above other plants and reach the sunlight. We pulled up so much of this plant that we rolled it up and created a Galium man (we swear, if you squint hard enough it looks like a dude!)

Mealybug (white) and black sooty mold on cycad leaf

When the weather turned rainy, we took shelter inside the glasshouses and started cleaning the plants. Since glasshouses are nice warm enclosed environments with many similar plants huddled together, they can look pretty appetizing to pests! Particularly in the cycad house where the atmosphere is dry, the mealybugs and scale insects are quite prevalent.

Sooty mold and dust build up on insect honeydew on old cycad leaf

These pest species are from the order Hemiptera and their mouthparts are specialized for piercing and drinking sap from plants, and the sticky substance honeydew they leave behind is perfect for sooty mould to grow on. However, these pests are no match for me, Heather, and Ailis, armed with soapy buckets and rags for cleaning them off.

Our first exciting week as interns ended with a lovely BBQ for the Trinity Natural Sciences staff, which we of course crashed 😉 We lucked out with the weather and had a great time eating burgers and crisps while chatting away and admiring Heather’s knitted scarves and octopuses!

A knitted menagerie, by Heather McLean!

Weeks 3 and 4:  Our third week at the garden started out with a bang as Dr. Stephen Waldren invited us to join him in surveying the populations of the rare plant Salvia verbenaca which is known to live on the established dunes of Bull Island. The weather was perfect and we set off searching for these plants amongst the dunes.

You can identify this plant, commonly known as clary by its characteristic square shaped stem (common to the Lamiaceae family which also includes mint, sage, oregano, etc) and slightly purple flowers.

Salvia verbenaca with carousels of seeds after flowering on Bull Island nature reserve
Salvia verbenaca (courtesy of Plants of the World Online, Kew Science)

This plant is self seeded (fertilises itself) and therefore its flowers aren’t very showy as it doesent rely on attracting pollinators. As these plants require medium disturbance, or small patches of dirt away from dune grass to establish, you would find this plant along paths. At every plant we found we recorded its GPS location, height, life stage, and surrounding vegetation size with a very cool beeping machine. We found >50 individuals in 2 populations which is an increase from recent years! Lots of Salvia plants and a wicked sunburn later, we were on our way back to the garden where we continued clearing tree circles in the arboretum.

At the end of the 4th week, Midori, a visiting researcher from Italy, asked if I could help her collect data for a new protocol at the gardens to make annual assessments of tree responses to climate change.

Essentially she had been collecting data on water relations and chlorophyll content of leaves from different tree species to see how they change over the years in response to heat waves and drought. I was super excited to help, and I got to clamp the leaves with the chlorophyll measuring device and take notes for her data records!

Clamped leaf to measure chlorophyll content using PhotosyncQ

To wrap up the week, I got my hands dirty by repotting Solanum jasminoides, or potato vine. This ornamental plant is part of the very important crop family Solanaceae (which includes potato, eggplant, tomato, etc). They are really easy to identify if you can see its flowers because they all look very similar to the ones in my photo:These guys needed to be untangled, pruned, and re-supported with bamboo stakes to show them off! It was especially fun to mix together the potting soil for them which consisted of topsoil, sand and garden compost. I basically combined these together like a cake mix and it was a very satisfying job to do, especially in the rain!

Job done - me (right) and Ailis after clearing away an overgrown shrub from in front of the old wall