Arriving in a new city or town for the first time, I always map and locate its Botanic Gardens – knowing I will find a sanctuary of solace and peace – and an insight into the unique plant culture of a particular place. I’ve visited some extraordinary botanical collections – from Barcelona’s stunning cacti garden on Montjuïc to the tiny aromatic garden of Mali Losinj with its rich mix of lavander, aloe vera and citrus scents.
Across the world, a single defining feature of all Botanic Gardens is their plant diversity. They are living libraries of rare species from around the world, scientific laboratories pioneering research and conservation, and home to a bank of stories from pioneering botanists and explorers who travelled the world to source and protect rare and endangered plants.
But these gardens are not always socially diverse. Research has shown that the people who visit botanical gardens are mostly middle-class, white people, and not demographically representative of the local population.
To some people, these places are more akin to a 19th century museums, with plants bearing labels with unpronounceable names, characterized by prohibitions and devoid of play.
Understanding these barriers – and how people perceive and might use botanical gardens – is important to fulfill the restorative potential of these beautiful places. This is the aim of a Beltane Fellowship I’ve recently been awarded. The project brings together the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh and a neighbouring community to explore the opportunities and challenges in increasing access to the Gardens.
The project will kick off soon with a series of focus groups – so look out for most postings shortly.