The Garden Blog

Staying connected

By Andy Winfield

The main pool in the Garden in February with the long arc of a rainbow above, and reflected in the water.I’m currently reading Braiding Sweetgrass for the second time, this time as an audiobook. For those that haven’t read it,  it’s a series of essays and memories from Robin Wall Kimmerer; an academic and botanist of Native American heritage. She says of the book, “I wanted readers to understand that Indigenous knowledge and Western science are both powerful ways of knowing, and that by using them together we can imagine a more just and joyful relationship with the Earth”. Reading this book makes me feel very happy; it taps into something that is lost but was so important to humans for thousands of years all over the world, a connection to the seasonal changes, the life around us, and a respectful coexistence. (more…)

Making time stand still for a moment

The face of a clock. By Andy Winfield

So, we’re at 2024, which seems a bit weird. 2020 seemed like it would never end, and now time is swishing by. Marking duration with dates and times is now baked into our way of existing; getting somewhere by a certain hour and organising an event for a particular date is how our lives work. St Augustine wrote in 400AD “No time is wholly present, all time is forced on by the future”.  That was said a long time ago, and that idea has only accelerated. Humans today, myself included, are constantly looking ahead to the next thing, squeezing ever onwards. But what about now? What about the present? In the natural world, and the Botanic Garden, there are moments that aren’t defined by our perceptions of time; these moments give us opportunities to disembark the time train for a moment, and observe what’s happening right now, in the present. (more…)

And we owe it all to leaves.

A silhouette of acer leaves against a pale sky.

By Andy Winfield

In summer a breeze will work its way through the boughs of a tree and the resulting sound is one of the constants in our lives, a white noise of leaves dancing on their stems. Right now, in autumn the leaves are at our feet, or swirling around corners, collecting at the foot of a tree, or at the base of a wall. Leaves stimulate all of our senses; we calm down merely by touching a leaf due to our innate evolutionary programming, and the sight of them emerging in Spring is enough to quicken our heartbeat. When we give leaves a bit of thought, it’s a wonder every tree and shrub doesn’t have a group of people staring up at them in awe. (more…)

Plants are our personal time machines

Fynbos flora on the cliffs overlooking Cape Town
Fynbos flora of South Africa.

By Andy Winfield

There have been three occasions when our team have seen people reduced to tears due to plants. The first was in our New Zealand display. Now, don’t get me wrong, this is a very interesting display botanically, but many people wouldn’t note it as their favourite or the most beautiful in the Garden. In fact, most people walk straight through it on their way to the toilet or the glasshouses. There they were though, two people, a couple who were from New Zealand but had been in the UK a while, laughing and crying at the same time. It reminded them of the landscape of home. The second, a large South African man with a big beard in the glasshouses; he said he didn’t realise he was homesick until he saw and smelt the Fynbos plants and seeing them made him both happy and sad. Thirdly, a Brazilian woman who hadn’t been in Brazil for twenty years; the giant waterlily in the glasshouses reminded her of her childhood and made her feel reflective. These are the people we’ve seen, there may have been more.