I can just about hear the soft murmur of traffic in the distance as I follow the gravel paths of the Botanic Gardens, my new placement as an HLF trainee Education Officer. It’s extraordinary that such a tranquil environment, alive with nature, can be found just off the High Street; Oxford’s main road which leads traffic into the busy city centre.
As I explore my new workplace, my senses are invigorated with interesting sights and smells. I’ve arrived at the Garden at a splendid time, as autumn is my favourite season, primarily for those vibrant reds and yellows and the crisp air which sometimes has that bonfire aroma. I enjoy crunching over dry fallen leaves of all shapes and sizes, although many have been tidied up by a dedicated team of horticulturists and volunteers, who have been particularly busy following the harsh winds caused by Hurricane Gonzalo.
To my surprise, many of the Garden’s flowers are still blooming with health and there are beautiful shades of pink, purple and blue; I hope to discover and remember their names (including a few tricky Latin ones) as the traineeship progresses. As I venture further into the Garden, a small tree just off the gravel path immediately catches my eye. It bears an unusual looking fruit which I’ve never seen before. It looks a bit like a small brown apple and has a star shape at its centre. I learn from Emma, who is Primary and Families Education Officer at the Garden, that this is a medlar tree; a rare sight these days. After a doing a bit of research on the internet, I discover that medlars were at their most popular in Britain in the mid 1800s and were feasted upon when they had become rotten; the pulpy flesh was scooped out and eaten by those who enjoyed the fruit’s sweet custardy taste. Without the Botanic Garden’s tireless conservation work, interesting and peculiar trees from our past such as the medlar would disappear altogether; a sad prospect.
As I approach the end of my first day, I can appreciate already that the Botanic Garden is an invaluable educational resource for engaging visitors with conservation issues. I look forward to learning more about this area myself whilst preparing for school sessions and family activities, the first one being this Wednesday’s ‘Wild About Gardens’: http://www.botanic-garden.ox.ac.uk/events/wild-about-gardens.
Jenny Hulmes, HLF Education Officer Trainee