I enjoy making the stories of useful plants (and their users) come to life for diverse audiences. All my outreach work is underpinned by my belief that there is no need to 'dumb down' science: complex stories can be told if done in the right way. Opportunities to do this arise in various ways:
Kew's public programmes These offer great opportunities to reach wide audiences, and I have been involved every year in generating themes, content and displays, most recently for the Plantasia medicinal plant festival. In 2015 I have been asked to chair the Science in the Gardens group, with the aim of generating ideas and acting as a conduit for input from all of Kew's 250+ scientists.
Exhibitions Each year the Economic Botany Collection (EBC) lends to 5-10 exhibitions. These are an important way to reach new audiences: even relatively small temporary exhibitions can reach 30,000 new viewers.
We have a permanent display of objects at Kew, the Plants+People exhibition. Unfortunately we don't have a gallery for temporary displays, so we sometimes collaborate with galleries elsewhere on themed exhibits drawn from the EBC. In the last decade these have included Fabulous Fibres at the Haslemere Museum, The Art of Japanese Paper at Norwich University of the Arts, and Palms at the botanic gardens in Berlin and Edinburgh.
We have organised two open days enabling visitors to see a wide range of objects and talk to those involved in research and conservation: in the Jodrell Laboratory in 2009 and Museum No. 2 in 2011, and also participate in London Open House with the Herbarium and Library.
Each year we welcome about 500 people into the Collection store. These include researchers, student groups, special interest groups (e.g. basket makers), and others such as local amenity societies.
Working with artists in collection stores presents challenges: organising access to specimens stored in boxes can be time-consuming, and the outcomes can be uncertain and of limited circulation. Each year we do try to host a couple, often with thought-provoking (and sometimes beautiful) results.
Talks I give invited to talks to a wide range of audiences, both internally (e.g. Kew's 'hands-on' Science on a Spoon summer series, and to external audiences varying from horticultural societies to academic meetings.
Media Kew's PR and Publishing teams are small but incredibly effective, and this creates lots of opportunities to use the Economic Botany Collection, and my knowledge about the uses and history of plants. In 2014, for example, I was a major contributor to five episodes of BBC Radio 4 series Plants: from roots to riches and accompanying John Murray book, helped check text for Raymond Blanc's book Kew on a plate, and the Bynums’ Remarkable plants that shape our world, and filmed with Nippon TV on Japanese paper.
Volunteers and students
In addition to formal teaching, we also host 5-10 students and 3-6 volunteers each year, both to enhance research and curation of the Collection, and to enhance the knowledge and experience of participants.