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Behind the scenes and brilliant bees

Behind the scenes and brilliant bees! One of our Engage volunteers, Shelagh, tells us her top five favourite things about being a Horniman volunteer. 

'I've been an Engage volunteer since April 2012, and besides working in the Nature Base and on the Object Handling Trolley, I have helped out at the Mud Kitchen with the Stroke Group, the craft workshops, and making bug hotels and bird treats with children.

I missed being a volunteer for nearly a year from Autumn 2013 due to cancer treatment and coming back has been an important part of my recovery.

The top five things I’ve learned from volunteering with Engage are:

1. Wonderful BEES!
The live bees are a unique catalyst for conversation and learning with visitors and amongst the volunteers. You can see the queen laying eggs, pollen-laden workers coming in and unloading their 'pancakes' of pollen and stacking them into cells, 'waggle-dancing', workers taking a disc of wax from between their own segments and moulding it on to the comb. When people are gazing in on this miniature world and all its goings-on, they (and we) are in a really opened-up and curious state, and the conversations can go in so many directions: the life of bees and our relationship to them, food, hierarchies, the environment etc. I often wonder what other catalysts for this kind of opened-up conversation we could create.

2. The Horniman is a fantastic community resource.
This needs a whole blog to itself! Not only are the museum and gardens a brilliant green space in SE London, but the Horniman proactively reaches out to the local community in learning and entertainment and attracts a wide diversity of visitors. Over the years my family and I have been frequent visitors to the Horniman for drumming and dance classes, 'Late' events, live music, watercolour and writing workshops and just to hang out in the cafe.

3. The Horniman is good to its volunteers.
When I was looking for voluntary work in spring 2012, I tried several organisations and the Horniman stood out a mile for being organised, friendly, communicative and offering good training before and after starting the work. As volunteers, we are also encouraged to contribute our ideas to enhance visitors' experiences of new exhibitions. The backstage and social events also help to create camaraderie amongst the volunteers.

4. Behind the scenes at the museum.
I was amazed to learn that only a tiny amount of the museum's objects are on display at any one time, and was fascinated by the visit to the collection at the Central Store early on in my time as a volunteer. The Engage Backstage events are a great way to learn more about the collections, their care and origins. Visitors often ask us questions about where the objects come from - in many cases, no one knows where, when or who collected the object. We have also had the chance to see new exhibitions being installed e.g. Plantastic.

5. Back to the bees.
Following my own curiosity about the bees has led me to find out more about them - who knew that they not only communicate information about food sources to each other through the 'waggle dance' but also by vibrating the combs, or that the temperature the larvae are reared at can influence what sex they turn out to be, or that the colony is not organised as a hierarchy with queen or "top bee" in charge? Biologists now believe that the colony can be seen as a "super-organism" i.e. the whole colony is equivalent to a single animal.'

Find out more about becoming an Engage Volunteer.

Sowing the seeds for future gardeners

Our Head of Horticulture Wesley tells us all about work being done by a group of student horticulturalists.

If you visit the Gardens here at the Horniman on a Monday, you may well have come across an enthusiastic group of students from Capel Manor College working here.

Capel Manor College run a wide range of land-based courses at their centres all over London that cater for all ages and levels. 

These students study on the Level 1 Horticultural Diploma course at the college based in Crystal Palace Park. Led by their tutor Susan Urpeth, this fantastic group of gardeners use our Gardens to practise some of the practical tasks that are part of their studies.

It is a great opportunity for the Horniman to help the next generation of gardeners. And we get lots of extra help with jobs that we usually don't find time for. 

Over the last couple of months, they have rejuvenated shrub borders, planted 1,000s of bulbs, sown wildflower seeds, carried out lawn maintenance and prepared hundreds of pot plants for the Edible High Road Festival which will be happening in Forest Hill from May 7 onwards.

We would like to say a big thank you to Susan and her students for all their work so far this year, and wish them luck in their studies. 

The trees in our gardens

We are getting in the festive spirit on twitter looking at Christmas decorations and trees in our collection, which got us thinking about the trees we have growing in our gardens.

A Horniman Christmas tree currently in Gallery Square

We are very proud of our tree collection here at the Horniman, we have a few specimens that date back to before the site became a Museum, including a number of oaks  that are estimated to be over 300 years old. Oaks are our most important native tree, they are often called ‘keystone’ species because it has a disproportionately large effect on its environment relative to its abundance.

It is thought that one oak tree is home to 500+ species compared to the weedy sycamore that supports just 15 or so!

We have some beautiful cedars in our Gardens. They are native to the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and Algeria and are now common to many  UK gardens and  parks as they are stunning evergreen trees that provide a regal feel.

Near to the London Road main entrance, we have a magnificent copper beech tree (my favourite incidentally) which looks equally magnificent in the summer or when it loses it leaves in the autumn/winter. Along with the oak the beech is one of our native trees in the UK.

One of the best features of the Horniman Gardens are the horse chestnut trees that line the Avenue and main entrance to the Museum.

In recent years horse chestnuts have received some bad press as they get ravaged by the horse chestnut leaf miner every year which results in leaves going brown and dropping from trees during the summer.

I hope visitors this year will have noticed that our beautiful avenue of tree has stayed completely free of this pest and leaves have fallen naturally when they were supposed to during the autumn. This is due to some rather nifty cutting edge technology for treating tree pest problems that involves injecting pesticide directly into the vascular system of the tree that acts as a systemic pesticide killing the pests when they feed on the leaves.

Over the last couple of years, we have lost a number of our mature specimens due to pest and disease problems and health and safety concerns.  However, we are very keen to see this as an opportunity to plant new species that will add to the legacy of trees in the Gardens - trees planted this year include the Tulip tree, Chinese Pistachio tree, and the very rare and unusual Paulownia kawakamii.

We are recycling felled trees by splitting the wood into fire wood and selling it every Saturday morning at the Horniman Farmers’ Market. A bargain at £5 for as much as you can carry.

We are offering people the opportunity to sponsor a new tree  to help support the work of the Museum and Gardens, for more information visit our website.

So next time you visit the Gardens, please take some time to appreciate our wonderful trees.

Horniman soil at the Tate

I was contacted in the summer by the Project Manager of this year’s Turbine Hall installation at Tate Modern - who lives in Forest Hill.  He explained the basic premise of obtaining soil samples across London and seeing what grows from them.  It all sounded very interesting and the Horniman Gardens team were really keen on helping out.

 

We have over 16 acres of gardens, perfect for soil harvesting

Empty Lot features a grid of 240 wooden planters filled with compost and over 23 tonnes of soil collected from parks and gardens all across London from Peckham Rye to Regent’s Park, and of course the Horniman Gardens. 

By the end of the summer we had supplied over two tonnes of the Horniman’s finest soil.  Spread across the site it was easy to supply that quantity without leaving gaping holes in our shrub borders. In September the artist Abraham Cruzvillegas visited the Horniman Gardens to see first-hand where the soil came from.  It was great to meet him and get more of an idea of what he was planning.

 

Our celebrity soil being used by seedlings in our nursery

Last night (12.10.15.) members of the Horniman Gardens team were invited to the opening at the Tate and were blown away by the installation, which fills almost all of the Hall.  The first seedlings could already be seen germinating and it will be fascinating to see what grows over the next few months - growing conditions have been artificially created using grow lights and hand watering the soil.

 

Sacks of Horniman soil packed up for the exhibition

Despite a few aching backs in the team from bagging up over two tonnes of soil it has been great to contribute to such an iconic art installation at Tate Modern.

 

For more information on the exhibition click here

Food Glorious Food: From Garden to Kitchen

If you read our previous Food Glorious Food blog you'll see how much we grow in our gardens and the variety of produce Damien has been harvesting. Berries, potatoes, marrows and herbs, we get a lot from our Food Garden.

  • Cafe cake, Sophia Spring
    , Sophia Spring


Some of our homemade cakes using our own fruit

With so much tasty food being grown in our gardens, we wouldn't want it to go to waste so our chefs in the cafe cook up some fantastic food that you can enjoy.

  • The Horniman Cafe, Customers enjoying lunch, coffee or afternoon tea in our cafe
    Customers enjoying lunch, coffee or afternoon tea in our cafe


The Horniman cafe

Jason has made a warming moussaka made with aubergine grown in our food garden. We have a beautiful Black Beauty variety growing here at the Horniman that tastes as good as it looks.

This savoury course (below) is a sausage and caramelised red onion filling inside a crispy pastry lattice, seasoned with Horniman-grown herbs(easily one of my favourites). On the side is tomato salad with a range of varieties we grow here, including red, green and yellow varieties.

  • Home made sausage pastry , Food from our cafe using garden produce
    Food from our cafe using garden produce


Is it lunchtime yet?

And it wouldn't be the Horniman without a good gateaux. When I popped into the cafe Val was finishing this beautiful fig and marrow cake that looks delicious.

  • Fig and courgette cake, Food from our cafe using garden produce
    Food from our cafe using garden produce


Fig and marrow cake

I've tried making cakes using courgette before and it ended up (to quote Mary Berry, the Doyenne of Dainties) with a soggy bottom. Val's cake was perfectly formed, but she wouldn't let me in on her secret recipe, yet.

The menu in our cafe is constantly changing, so be sure to pop in and see what takes your fancy.

  • Hungarian stew, Food from our cafe using garden produce
    Food from our cafe using garden produce

A Hungarian stew with home-grown cabbage.

If you're a fan of tea and cake, and all things foodie join us on Saturday 26th September for our event Food Glorious Food, part of Urban Food Fortnight. This event marks the 2nd anniversary of our Farmers' Market and the launch of Tea Trail London, a vibrant new webapp mapping tea's history and tea customs across London.

Food Glorious Food: Grown in our Gardens

For those unfamiliar with the Food Garden we use this gently sloping, south-facing area  to grow a range of food plants from peas and pomegranates to potatoes and pearl millet.

Apart from a few permanent residents, the garden’s quarter-acre is filled each year with plants raised from seed. Planning for this begins now, when we take stock of the growing season, and this carries on through the winter as we draw up next year’s layouts, calculate plant numbers and finalise seed orders.

  • A, Food Glorious Food, produce from our gardens
    Food Glorious Food, produce from our gardens

Examples of layout and seed order

So what have been the successes this year, and where does it all go?

Our cane fruit has produced by the kilo, keeping Valerie in the Horniman cafe busy making delicious berry mousse. We grow an early blackberry (‘Kotata’) which ripens in mid-July, followed by raspberries, loganberries, boysenberries and Japanese wineberries through August and into September. I’ll be out picking the last of them once I’ve written this.

  • C, Food Glorious Food, produce from our gardens
    Food Glorious Food, produce from our gardens

  • D, Food Glorious Food, produce from our gardens
    Food Glorious Food, produce from our gardens

Our Loganberries; basket of mixed berries from earlier in the summer

Everything in our ‘Leafy and Fruiting Vegetables’ section has done well too. We’ve had lettuce, chard, some lovely red cabbages, tomatoes and aubergines, courgettes and cucumbers and some truly massive marrows. Later on there’ll be kale and Brussels sprouts too. Yum, I say. You heard me right.

  • E, Food Glorious Food, produce from our gardens
    Food Glorious Food, produce from our gardens

  • F, Food Glorious Food, produce from our gardens
    Food Glorious Food, produce from our gardens

  • G, Food Glorious Food, produce from our gardens
    Food Glorious Food, produce from our gardens

Me with volunteers Keith and Irene; aubergine ‘Black Beauty’ in the garden; view of the Leafy/Fruiting section

Hungry plants like tomatoes and marrows get a boost with a liquid feed made from the comfrey plants in our Medicinal Border.

I let the leaves break down in a bag and collect the rich black liquid that drains out; it’s high in potassium which helps plants develop and ripen their fruits. The liquid needs diluting before use and stinks outrageously but it’s sustainable and doesn’t cost a penny.

  • H, Food Glorious Food, produce from our gardens
    Food Glorious Food, produce from our gardens

  • I, Food Glorious Food, produce from our gardens
    Food Glorious Food, produce from our gardens

Comfrey in the medicinal border; comfrey feed in bucket

Over in the Bulbs, Roots and Tubers section there’s lots still to come. As the nights lengthen there’ll be potatoes and sweet potatoes in September, swedes and carrots in October, and celeriac, Jerusalem artichokes and parsnips from November onwards.

I’ve already harvested beetroot, turnips, onions, shallots and new potatoes over the summer. Chef Jason put our beets to good use in the cafe, making borscht, and a beetroot and goat’s cheese salad.

  • J, Food Glorious Food, produce from our gardens
    Food Glorious Food, produce from our gardens

  • K, Food Glorious Food, produce from our gardens
    Food Glorious Food, produce from our gardens

  • L, Food Glorious Food, produce from our gardens
    Food Glorious Food, produce from our gardens

View of bulbs, roots and tubers section; onions drying for storage; first turnips of the year back in June

Every week during the summer I look at what’s been harvested and send the Horniman Cafe a list. Once they’ve confirmed what they want to use it gets bagged, crated and delivered early in the morning.

  • M, Food Glorious Food, produce from our gardens
    Food Glorious Food, produce from our gardens

  • N, Food Glorious Food, produce from our gardens
    Food Glorious Food, produce from our gardens

  • O, Food Glorious Food, produce from our gardens
    Food Glorious Food, produce from our gardens

3 different crated deliveries ready to go 

When you visit the Food Garden please keep in mind two simple rules:

  • Keep to the paths
  • Don’t pick anything

That’s it. Other than that it’s yours to explore and hopefully be insired by.

Feel free to come and say hello if you see me working down there. Questions are always welcome, including ‘what’s the best way to cook a marrow?’ Maybe it’s the gallery full of taxidermy I walk through every morning before I get out to the garden, but my answer is ‘stuffed.’

 

 

 

The Horniman horses

We were recently visited by Livingstone and Finsbury, four legged members of the Metropolitan Police Mounted Branch. The horses (and others) donated 7 tonnes of manure to the Horniman Museum and Gardens that we have used on our Plantastic Gardens.

Inspector Katherine O'Brien commented that although "Police horses might seem unlikely gardeners" they were very pleased to see manure, that would otherwise go to waste, being used.

The horses helped us with our Planting for Pollinators garden which was planted in April. This bed contains species that will be very attractive to bees and butterflies when in bloom.

Wes Shaw, Head of Horticulture here at the Horniman, pointed out that "horse manure is an excellent way to provide great food for plants". This pop-up garden will look fantastic when in bloom, with Californinan Poppies, Fairy Toadflax and Cornflowers creating a beautiful display overlooking the London skyline.

 

Our Plantastic Gardens will be blooming throughout the summer and you can also visit our Plantastic exhibition within the museum.

Pictures taken by Sophia Spring.

Donation of manure made possible by Veolia Environmental Services (UK) plc.

Plantastic Gardens

Preparations are coming along nicely for our Plantastic garden displays.

 

Sunseekers will be a mass planting of sunflowers in the bed opposite London Rd. We are growing around 1400 plants, 700 Helianthus ‘Prado Red’, and 700 Helianthus ‘Prado Yellow’.

Seeds were sown in April by our fantastic volunteers Irene and Ewa, who did a great job sowing them all in individual pots. One week later the seeds began to germinate with approx 90% success rate.

They are growing nicely and will be planted when they are about 10-12 inches in height and able to withstand attack from the Horniman Squirrel Brigade who take great delight in pulling up all our newly planted plants!

If we get a good summer I expect to see them flowering through June, July and August.

 

Sunflowers in the nursery

 Our specially designed carpet bedding display Anatomy of a Flower will depict the cross section of a dissected flower giving victors a chance to learn about basic flower structure. Kevin is currently building the raised circular bed for the display in the small garden opposite the cafe outside seating area; the plants will be delivered and put together like a giant jigsaw in the last week of May.

 

Plants for Pollinators will see the transformation of the large empty bed on the bandstand terrace into a glorious riot of colour with flowers that will attract lots of pollinating insects.

The hardy annual seed mix was sown by the team in April, and they are just starting to germinate a week later.

 

Andrea and Ian divide seed mix up so they can apply it evenly over the bed

 

Andrea and Ewa sowing the seed by hand

All three displays can be seen throughout the summer months, we hope you enjoy them.

Mud Kitchen Fun

The families at our first Mud Kitchen (for children aged 5 and under)  in April had fun playing at making mud pies and other tasty treats which included a birthday cake, with twigs for candles, and a mud pizza with extra grass topping.

If you’ve never been to a mud kitchen before you might not know what to expect. There are only two essential ingredients: earth and water, everything else you can improvise.  

A mud kitchen can be set up in any outdoor space, with old pots and pans or plastic containers; small tables or even old milk crates to use as mixing stations and access to some water.  Don’t worry if you don’t have an outside tap, we used a rainwater butt which we filled with water and had more than enough for over 30 families.

Having fun playing with earth and water is probably one of most people’s earliest childhood memories. That’s not always the case for children today so we thought we’d bring back some messy fun for families in the Horniman Gardens; with the added bonus for grown-ups that they didn’t have to clean up afterwards (thanks to our great volunteers).

The children had fun pretending to cook their mud pies in our makeshift oven, experimenting with measuring and mixing as well as practising their pouring skills.  The adults had an important part to play too, advising their little chefs on which decorations to use on their creations – beautiful daisies and dandelions growing in the grass - rather than our Gardeners’ prized flowers.   

Families were able to drop into the mud kitchen anytime between 11.00 am and 12.30 pm on the Friday morning.  Some stayed for a short time to make one or two ‘cakes’ before heading off to enjoy some non-pretend food at our cafe.  Others were so engrossed in creating their masterpieces,that they stayed for the whole session.  It was great to see everyone, both adults and children, having so much fun outdoors and getting closer to nature.

If you want to join in the fun, and encourage your children to explore nature and enjoy playing outdoors then come along to one of our Mud Kitchens over the next few months.  They will be running monthly from May – July, check the website for further details, but be prepared to get messy!

Lewisham Healthy Walks

May is National Walking Month and a great time to get out and about with better weather and summer on its way. Here at the Horniman Museum we host Lewisham Healthy Walks - part of an NHS initiative to get people outdoors, keeping fit and healthy and socialising though friendly, local walking groups.

  • Healthy Walks, Irene Rhoden
    , Irene Rhoden

Every Thursday a lovely friendly group of people meet at the Horniman to take a leisurely walk around the gardens.  Many regular members of the group live locally and have grown up in and around Forest Hill and are big fans of the Horniman Museum and Gardens.

Although some people might be put off by the steep hills, this is exactly the reason that makes the Horniman Gardens so popular with the Healthy Walkers. Walking up the hill makes this particular walking group a bit more like hard work, but a great way to get exercise!

  • Healthy Walks, Irene Rhoden
    , Irene Rhoden

Once a month the Museum hosts a ‘tea and talk’ for group members after the walk where the Healthy Walkers get to meet staff from behind the scenes at the Museum.  Highlights over the past year for the group have included find out all about corals with Jamie, our aquarium keeper, learning about conservation with Charlotte and Julia in the conservation labs and having a tour of the library with Helen and Gill, our Horniman librarians.

  • Healthy Walks, Irene Rhoden
    , Irene Rhoden

As well as the beautiful display gardens, the walkers often venture on to the Horniman Nature trail which is a world away from the hustle and bustle of London, yet just hidden away at the bottom of the gardens.

Although the group is open to all to join, many come to it for health reasons referred to by their GPs. 

  • Healthy Walks, Irene Rhoden
    , Irene Rhoden

Nina wanted to share her story:

"I was diagnosed with heart failure in January 2007.  Following medical treatment I had an 8 week exercise, nutritional and lifestyle course at Lewisham Hospital.  After this I attended active heart sessions and have continued these at Forest hill Pools.  A friend of mine who had been a leader told me about Lewisham Healthy Walks and I did try Ladywell Fields and Wells Park but having been to Horniman Park I decided this was the one for me.  Starting on the flat and then a steep incline it seemed perfect.  I liked the idea of group walking with a trained leader to look after us.  The discipline of regular walking and the social contact benefit s health and wellbeing (I mean making friends!) After many years I still enjoy it, seeing the changes through the seasons and all weathers and the changes in the park.  It also links into my memories of the park and museum with my parents and siblings.  Plus, mow we have monthly sessions at the end of the walk with a cup of tea, biscuits and fruit, but more importantly talks from the education staff which are always interesting.  Thank you Horniman Museum and Park and Jenny Budd."

Nina Gray-Lyons

  • Healthy Walks, Irene Rhoden
    , Irene Rhoden
 

Contact Jenny Budd the Healthy Walk Coordinator for Lewisham for more information about their programme of walks across the borough: Telephone 020 3049 3485 or email jenny.budd[@]nhs.net

Find out more about Healthy Walks at www.wfh.naturalengland.org.uk/walkfinder

And more about National Walking Month at http://www.livingstreets.org.uk/

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