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Curating Molluscs

Anna Holmes, 2 March 2015

Welcome to Umberto Fiordaliso, a postgraduate student from the University of Florence who will be working at the museum for 3 months on with the Erasmus Programme, which helps students to study abroad. Umberto has previous experience working on Mediterranean molluscs and will be curating the marine molluscs collected by Monterosato, part of our extensive shell collection. He will be working closely with Anna Holmes and Harriet Wood in the Invertebrate Biodiversity section to produce a published handlist on this historical collection.

Umberto Fiordaliso

First flower dates!

Penny Tomkins, 27 February 2015

Hello Bulb Buddies,

I have exciting news to report! We have had our first flower dates recorded on the website!

Congratulations to Ysgol Deganwy, who’s first Crocus flowered an the 21st of February at 90mm tall. Ysgol Tal Y Bont and Ysgol Bancyfelin who’s first Crocus's flowered on the 23rd of February at 65mm tall. And, Ynysddu Primary School who’s first Crocus flowered on the 25th of February at 50mm tall. They expect two more to flower any day now!

I have also had reports of even earlier flowering dates. Swiss Valley CP School report that some of their Crocus plants flowered over half term.

Silverdale St. John's CE School have reported that some of the Crocuses they planted in tyres have flowered. One is 110mm tall!

And today, via Twitter I received photographic evidence that Llanharan Primary School has at least two fully grown Crocus plants! They saw one of them open today!

Remember to enter your flower date and the height of your flower on the National Museum Wales website. But, only do this once the petals are fully visible and remember to measure the height in millimetres.

I would love some photos of the flowers for the Museum’s website and my Twitter page. Please ask your teachers to send these in to me if possible.

I would also like to see just how artistic you all are! So, I have an activity for you to do once your flowers have opened! I’d like you to draw a detailed picture of your plant and label all its different parts. This is a great way to get to know your flowers better, and to see just how complicated such small things can be. It’s also very interesting to compare the Daffodil and the Crocus, can you spot the similarities and differences? In many ways all flowers are very similar, even though at first glance they look completely different to one another!

Here is a fun game to do with labelling plants that I found on the BBC Bitesize website:

I look forward to seeing your photos and pictures.

Keep up the good work Bulb buddies,

Professor Plant

Your comments:

Stanford in the Vale Primary School: We had snow on Tuesday! Bitter cold all week. Prof P: Wow Stanford in the Vale Primary, you have had cold weather! -2 on Tuesday – burrr!

Rivington Foundation Primary School: Our daffodils in pots started sprouting last week, now between 1 and 4 cms. Daffodils in pots no sign yet. Probably too cold in the ground. Professor Plant: Hi Rivington Foundation Primary, I’m glad to hear your bulbs are sprouting! It is exciting to see how fast they grow once they start to show above the soil. Usually, the plants in the ground would grow first because they are slightly warmer than your plants in pots. But this depends on a number of things, such as how much frost you have had! I’m sure they will show themselves soon, maybe they are waiting for it to get a little warmer!


Chryston Primary School: Sorry but we were off for 3 days and sadly a bulb got squished because it is near the playground and a ball landed of top of it. The good news is the bulbs are starting to grow. Next week we will start recording the height of the bulbs. Prof P: Oh I am sorry to hear that you lost one of your bulbs! I hope you are all sharing so that no one is too upset – these things do happen! I’m glad to hear that your bulbs have started growing though! It’s interesting to document how quickly they grow, and to see that each one grows at its own pace!

Saint Anthony's Primary School: We are enjoying taking the measurements and are delighted at how well our bulbs are progressing. Prof P: Hi Saint Anthony’s Primary, I’m glad to hear you are enjoying the project. I very much enjoy studying all the weather records that are sent in. And I especially like receiving lovely comments that show me others enjoy this project as much as I do! Keep up the good work Bulb Buddies.

Glyncollen Primary School: We have had good fun so far doing spring bulbs investigation! Prof P: I’m glad you are enjoying the project Bulb Buddies! There are lots more experiments and investigations you can do if you are enjoying this one, why not have a look at the MET Office website for idea! 


Saint Anthony's Primary School: We have noticed that the temperatures have recently been rising and falling. Prof P: Hi Saint Anthony’s Primary, I’m glad to hear that you are studying and comparing your weather records. You have had a bit of a jump, from -2 on Wednesday to 11 on Thursday! Differences like this can result from taking readings at different times of day, as the temperature will be consistently lower in the morning than in the afternoon! This is why it’s important to always try to take the readings at around the same time. However, this can also result from changes in the weather. I’m guessing it was a lot sunnier and less cloudy on Thursday compared to the rest of the week!

Our Lady of Peace Primary School: We hope our bulbs flower soon. We enjoyed planting them. Prof P: I’m sure it won’t be long now Our Lady of Peace Primary! One of my Crocus plants is nearly big enough, but it will be a while yet before my other plants flower! Isn’t it interesting to see that all of our plants are developing differently even though we planted them on the same day!


Keir Hardie Memorial Primary School: We have started to see that our bulbs are starting to grow. Some of our bulbs during the extremely windy weather blew over and were nearly out of the plant box and plant pot. However, we have seen some growth in a number of our plant pots and are hoping they will grow further. For the other ones that had blew over, we replanted them just in case there is any hope. This was a few weeks ago so hopefully we will see some change. Prof P: Hi Keir Hardie Memorial Primary, you did the right thing by re-planting your bulbs. I have my fingers crossed that they will still grow for you! I’m glad to hear that some of your plants have started to grow and that you are monitoring them so closely. Keep up the good work!

Glyncollen Primary School: We have had a broken thermometer on Monday and Tuesday. Professor Plant: Hi Glyncollen Primary. I’m sorry that your thermometer wasn’t working. But I’m glad to see that you fixed it or got a new one, and that you still took your rain fall readings. Good work!  

The Blessed Sacrament Catholic Primary School: Nearly all our bulbs have shoots now the weather is a bit warmer and the mystery bulbs have buds so it looks like we may have some flowers soon. E and O. Prof P: Ooo this is exciting! Once your mystery bulbs have flowered let me know what type of plant you think they might be! Keep up the god work!

Stanford in the Vale Primary School: Another strange week with the weather....high winds, cold and heavy rain, then beautiful sunshine! Our plants in the ground look as if they could be showing signs of opening.....but the one in pots seem rather behind....so we are on constant watch! Kind Regards, Gardening Club. Prof P: Hi Stanford in the Vale Primary Gardening Club! I’m glad to hear that your plants are doing well, and that you are comparing the growth of the plants in the ground to the plants in pots. It’s very interesting that these are developing differently, can you think of reasons why this might be?

Glyncollen Primary School: Some of our spring bulbs are starting to grow and our crocus! Prof P: That’s good news Glyncollen Primary, keep a close eye on them now because they’ll grow quickly!

Main parts of a flower (from the BBC Bitesize website).

Here is a fantastic and clearly labelled picture that was sent to me last year:

Northumberland’s Sea Life

Katie Mortimer-Jones, 24 February 2015

The Marine Section at National Museum Cardiff have studied the shores around Berwick-upon-Tweed for several years now, concentrating on the marine bristleworms living in the muddy sand and the rocky outcrops of this beautiful beach. This is an historic beach for these fascinating creatures as several species were first described from this locality by Dr George Johnston (1797 – 1855), a Scottish physician and naturalist who studied the fauna and flora of the area. One of the most abundant types of bristleworms found there are shovelhead worms, beautiful creatures that use their flattened heads to dig in the sand and feed using two long feeding tentacles. Staff at the museum specialize in this group and hence Berwick-upon-Tweed is an important site for their research. Hence, I “set sail” to the shores of Northumberland again to collect more samples both for our research and the museum’s natural history collections. One of our current focuses is to understand how these animals feed, breed, burrow and behave and our latest findings have recently been published in the proceedings of the 11th International Polychaete Conference.

On this trip, I was joined by fellow science curator Kath Slade from the Botany section, who specializes in seaweeds. This allows us to look more holistically at the shore’s ecology, by looking at both the flora and fauna.

We will keep you posted with updates about what we have discovered.

Berwick-upon-Tweed

Sampling for shovelhead worms (Magelona), Berwick-upon-Tweed

Worms that Dig

Katie Mortimer-Jones, 24 February 2015

Our trip to collect shovelhead worms (a type of marine bristleworm called a magelonid) at Berwick-upon-Tweed started last Thursday (19th) at 06.30, giving us plenty of time on the shore before low tide. We were extremely lucky with the weather, as although it was only 7 degrees, the sun was out and it wasn’t raining. Staff at the museum specialize in this fascinating group and this particular trip was aimed at collecting animals to further our understanding of the biology of the group but also to gain specimens for the Museum’s natural history collections. Magelonids are extremely abundant on this shore and material used in the description of the British species, Magelona johnstoni was collected here by Head of Invertebrate Biodiversity Andy Mackie, who was one of the team who described the species back in 2000. The species was given its name in honour of the work carried out by the naturalist Dr George Johnston in this region.

Although, abundant on this shore, finding and collecting animals which are less than 1 mm in width can be tricky! These animals are rather long and fragile and a great deal of care has to be taken when collecting them. Animals are gently removed from the sand using a water bottle and soft forceps and placed into a cool box to keep them cool on the journey home. Once back to our makeshift laboratory I was able to identify and observe them for our research. We have designed a specialist tank in order to observe them over longer periods of time as well. We have successfully kept animals in this tank for nearly two years. We are hoping to observe the difference between three species, which can be found on this shore, Magelona johnstoni, Magelona mirabilis and Magelona filiformis. A fourth species is known to occur in low numbers on this shore, however, we were unable to locate any specimens for study this time.

We spent four days on the shore at Berwick-upon-Tweed collecting animals and although the weather did turn and temperatures on the beach dipped significantly it is a lovely shore to collect on. The tank and the animals have now made the long trip back to Cardiff and are now in the marine laboratory at National Museum Cardiff. We will continue to observe and publish research on these fascinating and also beautiful creatures (although may be I am somewhat biased, I shall leave it up to you whether you agree or not!).

Watch this video, to see how we sample shovelhead worms.

Collecting shovelhead worms, Berwick-upon-Tweed

The worms are gently removed from the sand using a water bottle and soft forceps

Shovelhead worms are generally less than 1 mm wide and can be difficult to find on the beach

Shovelhead worms in the sand, they have to be removed very gently as they are so fragile

Identifying species back in the makeshift laboratory

Shovelhead worm under the microscope

Aquarium tank back at National Museum Cardiff, allowing us to observe shovelhead worms over long periods

A Year at St Fagans Gardens

Sally Anne Lickley, 23 February 2015

A Year at St Fagans Gardens.

A Robin sitting on top of a hard pruned Yew hedge

Robin on a Yew hedge

Ever wondered what gardener’s do at winter?

Hello and sut mae. This is my first blog entry and it’s my story about being a trainee gardener and Welsh learner at St Fagans Museum over the course of 14 months. I’d better start by telling you a bit about myself. I arrived on the Heritage Horticulture Skills Scheme (HHSS) last September and I’ll be blogging about what I get up to until I finish the course in November.

Before I became involved in the scheme I was a self-employed ‘maintenance’ gardener for several years in Cardiff. My technical knowledge was limited and I was really looking to learn new skills through practical experience. I also wanted to expand my knowledge of plants and horticulture techniques. In the past I’d tried doing this through books and YouTube videos, but I soon realised that what I really needed was some kind of gardening guru to guide me. When I heard about the HHSS scheme I got very excited and knew it would be perfect for me as it was an opportunity to learn a huge amount in a practical hands-on way, with guidance from experts in the field.

So, here we are in mid-Feb and I can’t believe I’ve been on the scheme for just over 5 months already. It’s been incredibly busy and I haven’t had much time to stop and think. The months have flown by. In this post I’ll be talking about what I and the other trainees have been doing over winter. Lots of people think that winter is a quiet time without much going on in the garden. A time to tidy up the shed, clean your tools, and think about your summer planting scheme. Don’t believe that for a second. Trust me, there’s plenty to do!

During the winter months the daylight hours are shorter and weather conditions can be harsh at times, but in a place like St Fagans the gardens are so varied there’s always a job that you can get on with. There are lots of plants that benefit from pruning at this time of year including fruit trees and bushes, late flowering shrubs, roses and some climbers. In the past few weeks we’ve tackled a few of these, and used different techniques to suit the individual needs of the plants.

Why prune at this time of year?

In winter, deciduous plants shed their leaves and that makes it much easier to see its general structure. There is also less chance of transmitting diseases from one plant to another or attracting insects to fresh pruning wounds. Sap producing plants will bleed heavily if you prune when the sap is rising. Many of these are dormant over winter and bleeding is not so much of a problem if you prune at this time of year. As you may have already gathered, this post is going to focus on winter pruning techniques.

The first thing to remember when pruning any plant is the 4 D’s. Always remove Dead, Diseased and Damaged or Displaced material, in that order!

There are 4 main types of pruning.

·         Formative pruning encourages growth and builds the basic framework in a young plant.

·         Maintenance pruning improves the look of the plant as well as increasing the amount of fruit or flowers.

·         Regenerative pruning – If you have a plant that’s been left to itself and grown out of control for a few years, there’s no need to panic. Certain plants can be restored. This type of pruning can help you manage the growth, size and the overall look. It’s often an intimidating prospect. But, if you have an idea about what you’re doing and you feel brave, it can give your old plants a new lease of life. And save you throwing them out, when all they need is a good prune.

·         Specialised pruning creates and maintains an attractive look. If you’ve always wanted a hedge in the shape of an elephant, then Topiary is a form of specialised pruning that might be right up your street.

Now that you know the basic rules, I’ll talk a little bit more in depth about what we’ve been doing recently.

Pollarding Lime (Tilia) trees

It’s best to Pollard Lime trees annually in late winter or early spring if you want to restrict height. Prune the new shoots back to a bud, 1-2cm from the pollarded head. This will also stimulate new shoot production for the following spring.

Wisteria

Wisteria can grow 10-12ft in a season, it’s a beast, and benefits from pruning twice annually in summer and winter. At this time of year we prune the lateral growth back to 2 or 3 buds on each spur shoot. These spurs will bear the following season’s majestic display of flowers.

Standard Apple Trees

Apple trees are pruned to manage fruit buds and the shoots they grow on. Not, as many people think, to control the size of the tree. Start by concentrating on one main branch at a time. Find the leader and work your way down to the main trunk. Cut the leader by a third, leaving a bud facing the direction you want the new growth to follow. Prune back any laterals to 2-3 buds. Thin out large groups of spurs because too many will produce small fruits and it’s much better to have less quantity, but bigger and better quality.

Hard Pruning Yew (Taxus baccata) Hedges

We decided to prune back hard the Yew hedges down by the ponds because they had grown too wide, and in places the height was obscuring the pretty spectacular view. Yew responds well to renovation pruning, but it’s best carried out staggered over a few years. This year we concentrated on one side and the top. We used string lines tied to bamboo canes to mark out a straight cutting guide. We cut back hard using loppers and secateurs to reduce the height and width, and to re-shape where needed. After hard pruning it’s always good idea to apply feed and mulch at the base to give the plant a bit of extra nutrition and TLC while it recovers.

Rose Pruning

A few of the other HHSS trainees from other gardens on the scheme joined us just last week for a Rose pruning workshop led by St Fagans gardener Julie. Our task was to give the Roses a light annual prune. Different Roses respond better to different styles of pruning. We were each given a specific Rose bed, a map, and a list of the Roses with their pruning preferences. I was working with ‘Gruss an Teplitz’, which are a beautiful and fragrant old Hybrid Tea which prefer to be pruned thin. The first move was to remove any dead, diseased and damaged or displaced material. The 4 D’s! Next I thinned out the centre to produce a well-balanced open shape, and removed any crossing stems to stop them from rubbing against and damaging each other. I removed some of the very old, less productive wood to encourage new growth from the base. Always remember to prune to just above an outward facing bud, and make sure the cut slopes away from this to shed water.

A Lime tree before pollarding

A Lime tree before pollarding

HHSS trainee Sally pollarding a lime tree

HHSS Trainee Sally pollarding a Lime tree

A person in silhouette in a tree with the sun in the background

Pollarding a Lime tree

Trainees Sally and Nico Hard pruning a Yew hedge

Sally and Nico hard pruning Yew  hedges

St Fagans ponds on a frosty morning

St Fagans ponds on a frosty morning

A picture of a statue of a piper over looking St Fagans ponds

The Piper at the ponds