Chairman's Letter, Autumn 2017

Chairman’s Letter

Mark McGilchrist, September 2017

The last six months have proved a busy and exciting period for the Friends. We have initiated two projects that take us outside of the Garden for the first time, both of which promote public use and enjoyment of the Garden and seek to attract some of the many new visitors to Dundee’s Waterfront development. The Friends’ Anthology is designed to improve awareness of the Garden within the central Dundee area to both locals and visitors. This book will feature 50-100 personal reflections on the Garden, its past, present and possible future, in watercolour, photography, prose and poetry. Conceived last year and started earlier this year we now have 40-50 contributors from the University and local community registered with the project. Each contribution will be an imaginative, mini-project in itself and contributors are now meeting on a regular basis. We hope that the book will be available sometime in 2019. The River Line project addresses the issue of the Garden’s relatively isolated location on the western side of the city. It looks at the possibility of a direct connection for walkers between the Waterfront and the Garden. This project is in its early stages where we are consulting with the many other groups involved, but so far it has received wide-spread support. There are significant hurdles, but we remain confident of taking this further.

Within the Garden, we have also made substantial funds and assistance available to the curator to look at the viability of an upgrade to the Garden’s receptions facilities, cafĂ© and shop in light of our need to remain competitive with other attractions in the city. The Friends have funded, to the tune of £7.5k, initial architectural drawings of these changes from James Stephens Architects and also an assessment by the Moffat Centre in Glasgow as to how these updated facilities would affect visitor numbers. The design is attractive, but comes with a price tag, so much more work remains to be done by the University and the Endowment Trust to realise this opportunity.

On the inside cover of this newsletter, you will find a short article describing a project to initiate a children’s group within the Friends. Before we take this further we are consulting with you to ensure what we do satisfies the needs of busy parents. This would require continuous evening opening of the Garden and so has implications for curator and staff. However, evening opening is a desirable objective in of itself, so we are hopeful something can be worked out. Please do send in your thoughts about this to us.

Finally, over the last year I have attended a number of meetings of all the chairs of the Friends of the main botanic gardens in Scotland. We are looking at how we could collaborate to enhance our capabilities and this may end up with the formation of an association to promote the interests of botanic gardens in the UK. What was striking about the consultation so far is how different the individual Friends groups are in formation, status, membership and financial resources.

It is to the past I now turn and report on the passing of one of our earliest members, Dr Hugh Ingram, who made crucial contributions to the founding and development of the University Botanic Garden over 45 years and will be sadly missed. In this newsletter, we provide an abridged version of a pamphlet that Hugh was preparing on the early years of the Garden and its first curator Eddie Kemp, and which the Friends had agreed to publish in due course. Neil Paterson, the public engagement officer, who knew Hugh well, kindly agreed to complete the work, and it is a reminder of the knowledge that is often locked up in those who have spent a lifetime with an interest. There are a few other Friends like this. Hugh’s most recent request to the curator was for the restoration of the Latin inscription on the Garden gates, which was duly done, and you can see the result on the cover of this newsletter and on your visits to the Garden.

While we have our new projects, we have not lost sight of existing projects within the Garden, which we gladly support. The Friends’ Hugh Ingram bursary was combined with a £500 grant from Plant Heritage to employ two young and one mature students during the summer period for between 4 and 6 weeks each. A letter of thanks has been received from the mature student and is available on request. The curator and staff also completed their trips to the 6th Global Botanic Garden Congress in Geneva and seed collecting in the French Maritime Alps, which the Friends partly funded. A report on the latter can be found in this newsletter.

We again completed a busy series of events and talks during spring and summer. Our second Summer Gathering was well attended by over 200 and the weather was again very kind. The general feeling is that this should now become an annual event and this year we recovered about 2/3 of the overall expense from those attending. We believe this event can be made self-supporting. We also had two children’s events with our Easter Eggventure and our summer Mad Hatter’s Party. Over 20 children attended in each case and images for the latter event can be found on our blog.

One particularly interesting talk was that by Daryll Archibald from the Scottish Collaboration for Public Health Research and Policy. He presented his investigations regarding the health and well-being benefits of attending a Green Gym programme for older people. He subsequently made the same presentation at the World Congress of Active Ageing in Melbourne, Australia in June. It is these kinds of findings that demonstrate the practical value of gardens to local communities and we shall attempt to have this talk placed on the public space of our blog.

Finally, as those of you who attended the AGM will know, we have given the existing committee an extra two years of eligibility so that we have continuity in the management of the projects mentioned at the head of this letter. Here’s to interesting times.