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A masterclass in soil from the experts at Kew | James Wong

Inside the newly restored Temperate House, James Wong is mesmerised by the potting mix

This month I was lucky enough to sneak in on a behind-the-scenes visit to the newly restored Temperate House at Kew Gardens, a building that blew my mind as a kid with its sheer size, its wonderful plants and its fascinating history. But stepping into this cathedral of glass this time, still smelling of wet paint, I couldn’t help but be entranced by, well, the soil. Yes, weird. I know. But here’s why…

Anyone who has grown in containers will quickly learn that potting compost has a tendency to collapse after a season or two, as the plant-based fibres it is made up of start to break down. This means the costly, and frankly back-breaking, exercise of replacing it can be almost an annual chore. Yet no matter how massive the expanses of glass at Kew, the plants grown in these great greenhouses are essentially still container plants. With the beds as little as 40cm deep, even for towering trees, the horticulturists at the Temperate House face similar issues to most container gardeners, just on an enormous scale.

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