1st July 2024 – Dr Laura Alston – Our Botanical Gardens – a year spent interpreting its many variations

Sheffield Botanical Gardens have more than 18 different areas of planting and a number of listed buildings for you to explore. Find our unique bear pit next to the Himalayan Garden, take inspiration from the Marnock Garden, stroll through the Victorian carpet bedding and find bananas in the Pavilions. Relax in the shade of our beautiful trees and sniff out our scented plants in winter. There is always something to enjoy.

Dr Laura Alston is Sheffield born and bred and has enjoyed Sheffield Botanical Gardens all her life. She now works full time at the Gardens with responsibility for education and events. Before this she worked for Sheffield Cemetery on engagement with the public. Her work includes many varied topics and issues; her talk is focused on the many aspects of the creation of the Mediterranean Climate Garden.

As an example of what Laura tries to cover when enlightening the public about the Garden is not only what the space tells us but also what it does not tell us. There may be buried archaeological remains of previous pavilions buried underground and the mature trees may be part of a belt of ancient woodland extending to Endcliffe Park. How is this information best presented to a public of differing ages and physical abilities?

There are different layers to the space. When creating a garden, there are the different soils, life cycles and the seasons to consider. The appearance, how it smells, how it feels and how it sounds throughout the year must be considered. In the Mediterranean Climate Garden plants from 30 different countries are used. These come not just from the usual Mediterranean countries but from all over the world, such as Chile and Mexico. All imported plants must of course be disease and bug free. They must not be invasive and be a problem for the surrounding habitat.

Another part of the story is the shared history including its colonial associations of the Botanical Gardens. There is much information to pass on to the casual visitor as well as to those with specialist interests. Accessibility is important ; this includes the colour, the reading height, the feel of information boards and other sensory guides. The gardens also provide audio trails. There are trail maps and walking radio guides.

The talk provided an insight as to why Sheffield Botanical Gardens are so highly rated in this country and around the world.