Botanic Gardens Trip with Year Eight Museum Council

On Monday 20th March, the Year Eight Museum Council were invited to visit Oxford's beautiful Botanic Gardens to experience some amazing plants, and think about what plants might be included in the Museum of Climate Hope trail.
We arrived fresh from a rainy walk down the hill to be greeted warmly by Lauren Baker, Secondary Learning Officer, and Bill Finnegan, University of Oxford researcher. We started by hearing a bit about the history of the Botanic Gardens - how it used to be called the Physic Garden, and  how it was set up in 1621 by Henry Danvers, 1st Earl of Danby. The Danby Gate, the striking arched entrance from the main road, is named after him.
The first thing Lauren took us to see were the mandrakes, which were in the medicinal beds. Lauren explained how mandrakes (made famous by the Harry Potter 'screaming mandrakes') had been used as an early anaesthetic, but that the difference between a teaspoon and a table spoon could mean it was either effective or might stop your heart. Lauren went on to explain how the medicinal gardens had once been laid out according to which area of medicine plants were used in (e.g. dermatological, cardiology, etc), but that they were now split into different themes, including for example 'modern medicine', 'wise women' plants, and plants which were thought to be effective on the part of the body they appeared to be shaped like ('bladderwort', 'lungwort').
We explored the glasshouses, starting with the arid house, filled with cacti and succulent plants.We saw how two huge cacti had evolved to look very similar despite being entirely separate species on different continents. Bill talked to the group about 'resilience' being one of the themes of the Museum of Climate Hope. These plants demonstrate resilience to dry conditions in a variety of ways. We then looked around the palm house, and were able to see cocoa, tobacco, ginger, cotton and many other plants. Lauren explained how plants have been such a fundamental part of human history in good and bad ways, from papyri and its role in recording history, to cotton, bound up with human exploitation in the slave trade. Plants such as cocoa, coffee and tobacco have become a huge part of human consumption with their addictive chemical effects.
We then went back outside to see the Botanic Garden's oldest tree, its yew tree. Lauren explained how the yew tree provides elements of drugs used in the treatment of breast and other cancers too.
Our final visit was to a glasshouse filled with overwhelming fragrance from a range of flowering plants, including citrus fruits. Here Bill asked everyone to talk about what plant had inspired them on their visit.
It was a fascinating visit, and we are very grateful to Lauren and Bill for introducing us to such wonderful plants and ideas!