Thursday 9 May 2013

Corporate teamwork on azaleas (Week 5, Thursday)

An unusual day, today: I joined in to assist a colleague who was leading the activities of a team of corporate volunteers on a teamwork day.

The azaleas are coming into flower and we forecast the Azalea Garden will major as an attraction for tourists at the weekend, so the volunteers were asked to help weed and edge the azaleas' beds.

While waiting for the 20 or so strong team to arrive on site, I had a walk round the circles of beds, each section containing one of 12 hybrid groups in chronological order of breeding, with highlights:
  • Ghent Hybrids, created by a Belgian baker in the 1820s from crosses between azaleas from eastern North America;  
  • Mollis Hybrids, from Rhododendron japonicum and other Asian species; 
  • Knap Hill Hybrids, designed to improve the Ghent Hybrids; 
  • Rustica Flore Pleno Hybrids, introduced in around 1890.
I took a few shots as well:
R. occidentale
R. 'Kosters Brilliant Red'
R. 'Hortulanus H. Witte'
R. 'Magnificum'
by the way, if you were wondering, azaleas all belong to the genus Rhododendron (they were originally considered different but have now been reclassified). The US National Arboretum defines them for the layperson as:
Taxonomically, Rhododendron is the correct genus name for all azaleas and rhododendrons. Azaleas generally have smaller flowers, bloom a bit earlier, and have much smaller leaves that may be deciduous or partly so. Rhododendrons usually have larger flowers, bloom later, and have large leaves that persist during the winter. 
When the volunteers arrived, my colleague introduced them to the task at hand and showed them how to use the tools, after which we both spent the day making sure everything went well, answering questions and helping out with the tasks and clearing.

There was some real engagement, and the beds were trim and clean in good time, so we moved on and tidied up the surrounding tree circles. The weather kept, with the exception of a shower, which rather conveniently happened around lunchtime.

At the end of the day, I asked the volunteers what they got out of the day: they enjoyed being out in the open, doing something different from their usual workday, and in such a beautiful place as Kew (some of them had never been and were keen to take their families). They do similar volunteering a couple of times a year and for us they were a welcome help. One of the ladies I chatted to mentioned she would like to do some veg gardening, but she did not feel confident enough, so we discussed easy plants to grow for a start, and I really hope she is having a go at it, because it is so rewarding!

The result of the day's work, were very visible for the team to be proud of, and for the visitors to enjoy at the weekend.

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