Going wild in the botanics

Jenny_roeDr. Jenny Roe recently made the news in Scotland, Australia and the US by demonstrating the restorative effects of parks on the brain using EEG monitors. She has now been awarded a Beltane Fellowship to explore how the positive effects of Botanic Gardens can be extended to a greater diversity of people.

Across the world, a single defining feature of all Botanic Gardens is their plant diversity. They are living libraries of rare species and home to collector’s stories from around the world, as well as scientific laboratories pioneering research and conservation in 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, botanical gardens are more akin to a 19th century museums, with plants bearing labels with unpronounceable names, characterized by prohibitions and devoid of play opportunities.

Current ecological meadow at the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens. This will be the site of future nature play facilities.
Ecological meadow at the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens.  © Sara Perzley

Understanding these barriers – and how people perceive and might use botanical gardens – is important to fulfil the restorative health 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 deprived community to explore the opportunities and challenges in increasing access to the Gardens.  My role is to help bridge the two communities and kick start a participatory design for a new nature play – using ‘Slow Design’an incremental design process.  Over a period of time the design will emerge from observation of how children – and their parents/carers – inter-relate with nature and their feedback on this process.

The project will kick off soon with a series of focus groups to understand the barriers to visiting the Botanics and to find ways of widening access.    As well as visiting the Botanics, families will visit the Secret Garden Outdoor Nursery in Fife to experience the very best in nature play opportunities.   Then – building participatory research skills – parent/carers/children of all ages will tell their stories using digital story-telling methods and set out their ideas for a nature playspace.

Dr Jenny Roe


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