Killer Bugs and Being Followed by Fish

A number of you have told us how much you have missed visiting the Winter Gardens during lockdown. Today, Eddie Campbell, the Senior Environmental Services Technician for Sunderland City Council who looks after the Winter Gardens, takes us behind the currently closed doors. He tells us about his work, and introduces our new virtual tour of the Winter Gardens.

Every day is different, diverse and unexpected working in the Winter Gardens. Any day could include hosting visitors from the local pantomime, my giving a guided tour to a gardening group, or even a fashion shoot taking place – every day is different from the last. During the Covid 19 lockdowns the building has been closed to visitors but I’m still here, caring for the plants and the Koi Carp fish.

So what does a typical day look like in my job? At the start of each day, I first make visual checks on the Koi Carp fish in the pond and check for any large plants or branches which may have fallen during the night.

The fish are usually fed at this time, with a large shoal of them following me across the pond as I walk by. When the food pellets are scattered on the pond each morning a torrent of water rages as the fish compete with each other to consume as much food as possible! I am certain that they have noticed a difference regarding the extended silence and lack of numbers of people visiting because of the Covid pandemic.

Other tasks include checking the watering systems (including the leaky pipe system, water sculpture, fishpond and rill features), hand watering the plants, propagating new plants and managing occasional donations of plants from visitors (these plants have to be quarantined first to prevent pests and diseases).  I am also trained in applying biological controls. We use natural predators (killer bugs!) to deal with pests like aphids, whiteflies, spider mite and mealy bugs. A range of specialised parasitic wasps are also used for the control of armoured and soft scale insects.

Man standing in an indoor tropical environment, carrying a model dinosaur head

In normal times the Winter Gardens are used in a variety of ways:- photography, drama and art groups keen to enjoy the plants, the splendid koi pond arena, various water features and piped bird sounds as an unusual backdrop to practice their interests. School groups show a particular fondness for exploring the various zones around the gardens, allowing them to explore topics like Rainforests and Growing Plants and take ideas back to their classrooms for discussion.

While pruning in the gardens, I will occasionally offer a school group a twelve feet banana leaf for educational reasons. This creates much mirth, from staff and public alike, witnessing a teacher and a line of ten-year-olds carrying this giant green ‘paddle’ along Museum Street!

The gardens are also regularly used by people keen on a few moments’ solitude, to bury their head in a book or catch up with some work on their laptop. The relaxing, tranquil ambience which the Gardens offers is a big attraction to these visitors. We know that visitors, both young and old, are missing the gardens so we have developed a virtual tour so they can visit the Gardens from the comfort of their own homes and enjoy seeing the dinosaurs, plants and fish. We look forward to welcoming all our visitors back soon.

We plan to share more virtual tours over the coming months. Follow us on social media (Twitter: @SundMuseum or Facebook: @sunderlandmuseum) or check the virtual tours webpage to find out about them.

This virtual tour has been produced by Art Matters Now on behalf of Sunderland Culture.

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