Botany on Your Plate

I recently developed and led three afternoon workshops for adults with learning disabilities at the South London Botanical Institute as part of their current Botany on Your Plate series of workshops and events. As far as I am aware, the workshops are the first to be developed there specifically for people with learning disabilities. However, there is already a rich educational programme in place for children and adults.

Founded in 1910, by Allan Octavian Hume, The South London Botanical Institute (SLBI) in Tulse Hill is situated in a Victorian house and garden and though smaller than the likes of the Natural History Museum, is a fascinating centre for heritage and botany alike. It holds a herbarium, library, education spaces and a botanical garden. I really wanted to develop these sessions in order to help make it more accessible for local people with learning disabilities.

I developed the workshops to cater for a variety of skills and interests. The first session was art based, the second cooking based and the final session used music and storytelling to explore the theme of botany on your plate.

The group that came are based just up the road in West Norwood and are members of the L’Arche London community. L’Arche is a local Charity with its roots in France where it was started by the philosopher, theologian and humanitarian Jean Vanier. L’Arche is very present in the local community and is about to celebrate 40 years of being in West Norwood.

I began planning these sessions with thoughts on what it would be about the theme Botany on Your Plate that could resonate with people. The obvious thing is that of food and my experience of most people’s enjoyment of shared meal times together in the homes – where good food and conversation is often present! L’Arche has its own garden project and so the link between growing and eating food is a a connection that people will already make. However, I was keen to develop this further and help people get to know the layout of the house and garden.

In the first session I developed an activity where people could eat specific fruit and then find the corresponding plants in the SLBI garden. These plants were not necessarily bearing fruit, so I put photos of the fruit near to the plants and made the activity into a treasure hunt. We then searched for vegetables in the house to then use for printing to create our own plate designs. The second session saw us exploring herbs using out senses and working out what they were. This was good because we could use some herbs from the L’Arche garden as well as some from the SLBI garden and some extras from elsewhere! We made herbal teas from different recipes that I got from Rachel De Thample. The final session used a sensory story from Coralie Oddy (Remini-Sense) about gardening. This in concentrate on the seasons and the growing cycle and we also sung songs on this topic to complement it. We also had a search in the garden and brought things in to tell and/or show the rest of the group what we found on our search.

It will be interesting to learn what people took away from the session and what they remember of it. I hope that it is the beginning of a connection between the SLBI and L’Arche and will also pave the way for other local connections.

Sarah Glover is a freelance education practitioner who particularly works in the area of heritage, music, storytelling and accessibility.