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12 Dec 2017

More than just a pretty place

City botanic gardens are more important than ever as places to relax in nature and take time out from concrete, computers, noise and hurry.

Kings Park in Perth and the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney are two of Australia’s best gardens. Despite being 4000km apart on opposite sides of the country, they have a lot in common.

Located on prime real estate in the heart of busy cities, both Gardens attract millions of visitors every year and are loved by locals and tourists alike. Few locations in Australia could compete with the views from these two gardens and even fewer offer such diverse plant displays and seasonal flowerings.

Having just returned from an internship at Kings Park, I have discovered another similarity that presents a common set of challenges – science communication.

Kings Park and the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney are both much more than beautiful gardens and green space. They are scientific institutions.

Hidden away in office buildings within the garden grounds are a diverse group of scientists and students conducting research in fields such as ecology, genetics, taxonomy, conservation and seed science.

The common ground that I am interested in as a science communicator is not so much an overlap in research topics between these two gardens, although there are many. My interest is in the frustration shared by the Sydney and Perth gardens that hardly anybody knows about the science that they work on.

When the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney was established 201 years ago, the public knew botanic gardens as scientific institutions. The research of those early gardens was in many ways easier to relate to as new medicines and agricultural opportunities were explored by plant scientists.

These days the scientific work of botanic gardens focuses on describing and discovering new plant species, studying plant genetics and protecting native species from the threat of extinction. Scientists at botanic gardens are part of a global network building knowledge of the natural world and advocating for its conservation.

In the fierce competition for front page news, it is challenging to pitch plant science against medical breakthroughs and technological advances, especially as science journalist numbers continue to dwindle.

Both Kings Park and the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney are rising to the challenge with a renewed approach to communication and a focus on storytelling. This blog site and a range of videos, interviews and photo galleries on social media are giving people chances to see what goes on in the lab and in the field.

The recent launch of PlantClinic at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney has allowed garden visitors to see science in action for the first time.

Watch this space to hear and see more stories from our science team!

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