Nothing Exists in Isolation

Senior gardener, Ollie Ryan-Moore, explains how mycorrhizal fungi have developed symbiotic relationships with other plants.

mycorrhizal fungi

When we look at plants around us, it is easy to dismiss them as simple organisms, rooted to the spot, taking what nature throws at them. Having evolved on earth for the last 700 million years, they are far from simple. One of their most fascinating and complex evolutionary developments is their relationships with other organisms. The obvious relationship we see occurring in our gardens all the time is that with the insect pollinator, but it is the relationship with fungi below ground that is the most intriguing.

There are thought to be 5.1 million species of fungi on earth, living in soil, water and other organisms. Some fungi are dangerous to plant life, attacking and killing them, but others are beneficial. The beneficial fungi fall into a category called mycorrhizal fungi. “Mycorrhizal” meaning fungus – root. Plants have developed symbiotic relationships with these fungi, with both parties benefiting from the deal.
Mycorrhizal fungi connect to plant roots and the two organisms become one. In this symbiosis the fungus gains a constant supply of sugars from the plant, and the plant gains an increased root surface area through the mycelium of the fungus. This greater surface area allows for increased water and nutrient uptake from the soil, strengthening the plant.

It is thought that between 80-95% of plants have micorrhizal relationships. Some plants cannot survive without them and orchids are a prime example. Orchid seed is so small and light it is like dust that blows away on the wind. Orchid seed has no endosperm (food reserve) to help it germinate. The only way the embryo in the seed can get enough food to germinate is if it is infected by a mycorrhizal fungus that becomes the seeds root system. Once this bond is formed it remains for life and the two organisms live in harmony.

The latest botanical science is looking into the relationships that trees have with beneficial fungi and how these fungi can be connected to more than one tree, forming a network between trees throughout the world’s forests. The largest living organism on Earth (by area) is thought to be a fungus covering around 2,200 acres in a forest in Oregon, USA. This fungus connects thousands of trees together!
Studies have been carried out proving that trees “communicate” with each other through mycorrhizal networks, a mind blowing silent phenomenon.

If this article has caught your attention and you would like more information about mycorrhizal fungi and how trees communicate, click below for a thought provoking video.

Play Video

The History of Gardening and Garden Design – Part 3

Ollie Ryan-Moore, Senior Gardener at Easton Walled Gardens concludes his 3-part blog on the history of gardening and garden design…

I’ve previously discussed the influence of Victorian plant hunters and horticulturalists, the popularity of cottage gardens and Gertrude Jekyll’s lasting legacy to gardening. We now move into the 20th century, which saw tumultuous and prosperous times for human civilization, with horticulture evolving all the while.

After the introduction of Gertrude Jekyll’s clever use of colour in borders, colour themed gardens became more popular and experimental. The next new garden design idea was the “Garden Room.” These are created by dividing a large space into smaller areas by hedging. Much like rooms in a house, each garden room can have a different theme.

dig for victory

The 20th Century was unforgettably blighted by 2 world wars. World War 2 brought about the dig for victory campaign, encouraging people to turn their land over to producing food to feed the nation. Beauty had to make way for practicality in ever available space, so borders became veggie patches.

The war drove a rapid development of machinery and chemicals for warfare and farming. These advancements filtered through to horticulture, leading to efficient mowers, fertilisers and pesticides. People began utilising these to pursue the “perfect lawn.” Manicured lawn now became an important central feature of any garden.

As the plant nursery trade became commercialised, plant production reached new highs. Due to the abundance of bedding plants there was a resurgence of colourful Victorian style bedding schemes in public and private spaces.

With the availability of plants, people were starting to restock their gardens in an ornamental way. However, with ever busier lives low maintenance gardens became the trend. Conifers and grasses were used in a big way during the 1970’s to create low maintenance, year round interest.

In 1968 Gardeners’ World was born. It brought garden design and horticulture to the masses and its aim was to help the public make the most out of their gardens. Over the coming decades there were a variety of gardening programmes, many taking us through “the garden makeover.”

From the 1980’s onwards, garden design incorporated hard landscaping features such as walls, pergolas, patios, fencing and water features to add an extra dimension. The focus shifted to creating outdoor living spaces.

Modern garden design is going back to nature, with Chelsea Flower Show winners creating a slice of nature in a garden. The emphasis is now on sustainable and wildlife friendly gardening. Using clever planting (e.g. drought tolerant plants) to cope with a changing climate and to provide habitats for all creatures as they get pushed out by the ever rising human population.

wildlife gardening

Through it all, the good old cottage garden, has remained a constant from its inception to modern times. I believe it will endure into the future as it can be achieved by anyone who loves a variety of plants, and in my opinion it is the best way to create a sustainable wildlife friendly garden.