Sunday, 12 December 2010

Nothing punny about Kew


It’s about time I blogged on my imminent move to Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.

Given the confusion caused by the Sydney Morning Herald headline ‘The Life Botanic Leads to the Head of the Kew’ I’ll avoid puns. (The ‘the’ is critical here in that I may well have moved to the head of a kew/queue but not exactly to the head of kew/Kew. Get it?)

Still, the job I’m heading off to is big and exciting, to me at least. It’s called Director of Conservation, Living Collections and Estates.

I’m part of Steve Hopper’s Executive Board. Steve is a fellow Australian, from Perth, and CEO of Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.

My responsibilities include the botanic garden at Kew (its plants, landscapes and structures), the botanic garden at Wakehurst Place (ditto), the Millenium Seed Bank (at Wakehurst Place), infrastructure generally and conservation programs. I look after about 400 of the 800 people who work at Kew – the rest are in the Herbarium, Library, Scientific laboratories at Kew (the Jodrell Laboratory), Visitor and Corporate Services.

At least that’s a rough cut, from what I understand. I’ll tell you more after I start there on 27 April 2011 (that’s two days before the Royal Wedding…). I finish at Sydney’s Botanic Gardens Trust on 25 March 2011 (that’s the day before the New South Wales State election – it just happened to be an easy day to remember!).

So why move? Firstly, there is plenty to do at the Botanic Gardens Trust in Sydney and it remains one of the great botanic gardens in the world. Leading up to 2016, its bicentenary, there will be plenty to keep the new Executive Director busy. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the job, and particular the chance to spruik plants, science and gardens (I hope to apply these spruiking skills to my new realm).

But, the pull of Kew is strong. With its fascinating history, powerful scientific team and incredibly rich collections (I think 6 million or so plants and fungi in the herbarium and something like 30,000 species growing in the ‘living collections’) it is very much a world-focussed botanic garden. And then there is the Millenium Seed Bank, the international conservation programs, the steady stream of botanists who pass through, the access to Europe (its gardens, nature and culture).

The weather? Well I’ll finally find out what it is like to have seasons :). The economic climate? Yes tough times ahead but I’m looking forward to making sure Kew Gardens comes out of this in good, or even better, shape. There is a lot of maintenance to do, but also lots of exciting plans.

It will be fun living in London for a while, with ready access to London music scene, English countryside and…Paris. Living in Kew Gardens is enticing, despite the flight path and perhaps being just a little too close to work occasionally. All in all, though, an thrilling adventure for Lynda and me (the kids – Jerome and Emily – plan to visit, on their way to various holiday destinations).

Enough for now. I’m here in Sydney, and blogging, until March. The big decision now is whether to convert ‘TalkingPlants’ to a Kew-centric blog or to leave something Australian focussed back here in Sydney. Rest assured, I’ll be blogging from Kew in some form or other. I might even find other ways to provide A View from Kew… Stay tuned!

Image: I won't have Grey-headed Flying-foxes at Kew, but there are Canada Geese.

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