Kew plans plant reproduction exhibition for summer 2015

"Sex is not off the agenda and is coming soon to a place near you," following Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew's controversial Intoxication Season, says public programmes director Gaynor Coley.

Coley: public programmes chief - image: © RBG Kew
Coley: public programmes chief - image: © RBG Kew

Former Eden Project executive director Coley, who joined Kew in 2013, said she wants visitors to "see plant science through a different lens". The plant reproduction programme could be David Attenborough-esque in how it "pricks people's interest in the variety of adaptations in the plant world and how they've changed to attract pollinators, whether you buy into climate change or not".

She said the Intoxication Season brought "great" tabloid coverage but added that she is "not sure we're trying to be controversial in the same way" with the summer 2015 sex exhibition.

"Plant science should be opened up for everybody and not just for a select academic audience," she said. "Part of the reason to put on this exhibition (Intoxication) is to have the debate. If we ignore the issue it's dangerous. We're trying to make sure across the palette we have more interesting topics and reasons to visit."

Coley said she is not forecasting more visitors because of the Intoxication Season. Instead, the focus is on increasing visitor satisfaction and making Kew distinctive compared to other gardens. The aim is to have visitors "recommend and return".

Visitor exit surveys from Kew's recent Plantasia show saw the top two satisfaction categories rise from 86 to 97 per cent, with a 10 per cent extra propensity to recommend, said Coley.

Kew's second Christmas event (26 November to 3 January 2015) will feature 12 sculptural pieces based on plant forms and Christmas food stories explained to link the Light Fantastic show to the gardens. There will be no Christmas market this year.

Coley is looking to equal 2013's 200,000 visitors. Kew attracted 1.3 million visitors overall in 2013 and is aiming for two million by 2020.

- The Eden Project - Coley was part of the founding group in 1997 and is founder Tim Smit's partner - is trying to repeat the formula in China and elsewhere. It wants to build programmes "from a four-hour experience to two days a week to a three-month internship to bring back to your community".

In comparison to Eden, Coley said Kew is "relatively small" in public engagement and a "slightly sleeping giant". She wants to take Kew's knowledge and heritage to a wider audience.

Restructuring - Changes to horticulture set-up take effect at Kew

Kew's "tweaked" horticulture structure began on 22 September. A replacement is "under discussion" for Millennium Seed Bank head Paul Smith, one of 125 staff taking redundancy or being laid off, mostly from science and public programmes departments, as part of spending cuts.

Kew launched its science department redundancy consultation on 4 September and the voluntary exit scheme has not been finalised. The formal consultation period was due to end on 3 October. Subject to the consultation outcomes, the new structure implementation begins in the second half of October. The new science structure will go live on 1 December.

In public programmes, the consultation process has been completed. Staff are now going through the process of implementing the new structure, with interviews taking place.

The structure is expected to go live "fairly soon".


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