Digital Adventures

Trip to the Herbarium by kewfly
August 12, 2009, 10:01 am
Filed under: Engaging audiences | Tags: , , , , , ,

Sometimes, you just have to be there to see something. Well perhaps the role of tweets, Facebook and the rest is partly to replicate the serendipidity of coming across something really interesting.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t know precisely what a herbarium actually did so my interest was piqued when I saw a sign offering tours. I tagged along on a Wednesday morning with two volunteer guides who had a profound knowledge of Kew and the work done in the Herbarium. As with so many things at Kew, if it didn’t actually start with the Hooker family (friends and contemporaries of Charles Darwin), it certainly came to life with them

A herbarium is much more than a place to store or catalogue plant specimens, I discovered, it actually acts as a definitive reference point so that botanists can say this plant is x and this specimen is new because it does not match anything else known. So as well as information on the plant, its location and behaviour, a reference copy of the plant itself (pressed onto acid-free paper and referenced like a library book) is kept.

Inside the Herbarium's holiest of holiesIn essence, herbariums in general and Kew’s world class one in particular, are the basic pre-requisite for the entire science of botany.

Our trip took us through the magnificent new Herbarium building and into the original chamber where we saw specimens collected by Darwin on his trips (and later catalogued by one of his descendants, who worked at Kew). We also saw a specimen collected by Dr Livingstone. As I have a real interest in Victorian explorers (a pretty rum bunch on the whole, Livingstone and Darwin excluded), I was aware that the collection of rare plants and fruits was always high on the agenda of explorers – at least since Columbus returned with spuds and tomatoes from his travels – so it was great to see some examples. I took some pics and you can see them on Facebook

Piles of folders, stuffed with plants, often sandwiched between sheets of local newspapers from far-off lands, were stacked and getting ready for processing. These incredibly precious spoils of botanical expeditions will be analysed, checked for alien life forms, digitised and lovingly arranged as specimens as they pass through the hands of the experts who work in Kew.

We also dropped in on the digitisation team with their own custom-made scanners (these ‘upside down scanners’ allow samples to be scanned without getting crushed). Apparently they have digitised the known specimens of Africa and are well on their way to completing Latin America’s. Magically (if you are a scientist at least) you can get a PDF of these specimens here for free If you get a chance to visit Kew on a Wednesday in August or September, I can highly recommend you snag yourself a place. Booking essential:

Kew a ‘Digital Britain’ partner by kewdmt

I once got a confused reaction from an American after telling him I worked at Kew Gardens, which to him is a suburb of Queens, NYC. I’ve occasionally had equally bemused reaction when telling people that I run the digital media team at Kew – what would a garden do with digital media?

nesta and kew

This is what I tell them…. as one of the leading science institutes in the UK (and the leading plant science institute in the world), Kew is a gem in UK plc’s public service landscape, and digital media is a key tool for unlocking that potential.

So it was great to see Kew highlighted in the government’s Digital Britain report last week, not only as an example of good use of digital media but also announcing we’re going to partner with a range of other public sector organisations including Arts Council and Tate on a pilot run by NESTA of new approaches to digital procurement and IPR in the public sector ( | this link opens a pdf | see pp. 217 – 219).

I hope this pilot will help streamline and focus procurement of digital projects in the public sector – creating advantages for both commissioners and suppliers.

Kew plays both these roles at different times, so is in a particularly interesting place to work on this. One of the areas that I’d like to see coming out of the pilot is the ability for commissioners and suppliers to form better partnerships – that ultimately benefit the supplier by enabling them to grow their business, and the commissioner by supporting the exploitation of their IPR. It will be a very interesting project.

If you’re interested in following Kew’s progress with this project, then do watch this space for updates.

For more day-to-day stuff from Kew’s digital media team you can also follow @gardenadventure on twitter.

-Mike Saunders-

Putting the Royal into the Royal Botanic Gardens by nmerrett
May 6, 2009, 4:30 pm
Filed under: Garden Life | Tags: , , ,

The whole of Kew was awash with excitement yesterday, as we were graced with the presence of some very special visitors: Her Majesty the Queen – or “Queenie” as us DMTers have come to affectionately call her in the office – and HRH Prince Phillip.

The Queen cuts the Palm House cake

As the big day approached, the gardeners seemed to be working round the clock to get the Gardens ship shape for Her Majesty. In fact, whilst walking back from a meeting last Thursday, it was observed that it looked like they’d run not just a lawn mower over the lawns but given them a quick hoover too – such were their perfection. In addition, the Orangery has had a lick of paint, the spiders have been removed from the Banks Building atrium (big sigh of relief from my phobic self) and even the Kew Explorer, just for the special day, was given a makeover of 250th logo colour inspired flowers.

If the gardeners were concerned with the gardens, Kew Constabulary the security and the Press Dept the photography, for us ladies there was just the one big question: what shoes to wear to a royal reception in the Orangery? Surely one doesn’t want to wear skyscraper heels when meeting the diminutive monarch? Vanity took hold and the heels won out, a decision that was doubted for the ensuing 2 hours as I stood around waiting for Her Majesty to arrive.

During this time, the obvious question on everyone’s lips was “what colour was she going to wear?” Colours were thrown around like candy drops: lemon; pale green (my guess); peach; lilac… not one person correctly guessed a salmon pink ensemble with black trim – perhaps what started the impromptu round of applause as she entered the Orangery at 3.25pm? For me, I was just in awe at how beautiful our monarch looked. I like to think we exchanged a little smile, but am sure everyone else in my group felt the same – such is her magic.

The pain from the shoes paid off before too long with the excellent view they offered in viewing the Royal Couple meeting fellow colleagues (including our very own Head of DM Mike Saunders who enlightened Phillip on our website re-launch project) before unveiling a 250th plaque, being presented with the Kew Gardens rose (no thorns so safe for Queenie) and cutting the amazing Palm House cake (for those that are curious, the base was a cake but the Palm House elaborately iced polystyrene).

After a quick signing of the guest book, the Queen and Phillip said their goodbyes. Tea and cake was enjoyed by all and I then rushed back (as fast as my heels would take me) to report to the rest of the DMT and my eagerly awaiting Twitter followers, the events of the afternoon.

There does seem to be an element of comedown in the office today – and that’s not just due to all us ladies back in our flat shoes. After all, where does one go after being in the presence of royalty? Off for tea and cake if you’re a member of Kew’s DMT…

Some Flickr highlights:

The Queen, Prince Phillip and the Palm House Cake

The Queen and The Media

Dressed up for the Visit

– Nicola Merrett –

Magnolia tree near Main Gate by kewdmt
April 2, 2009, 4:09 pm
Filed under: Gallery | Tags: ,

Magnolia tree near Main Gate, originally uploaded by Adventures at Kew.

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