A tasty treat for summer 2013: Kew Gardens serves up the tale of incredible edibles
25 May 2013 to 03 November 2013
In summer 2013, incredible edible plants and fungi are on the menu at Kew Gardens. A series of exhibits, horticultural installations, special events, activities and workshops will be used to celebrate and explore the delicious diversity of wild edibles.
This festival will showcase the sheer number of edible plants visitors will find at every turn in the Gardens – from vegetables in the Palm House Parterre, to coffee in the Princess of Wales Conservatory and more obscure examples such as tamarind, used as a spice in cooking, and the Barbados cherry, used in jams and syrups. Even rosehips can provide a surprising source of vitamin C!
Visitors will be inspired to not only broaden their relationship with edible plants and fungi; through tasting, growing and learning about a wider range of plants and fungi, they will also be inspired to think differently about the plants and fungi they eat, as well as the wild relatives they are cultivated from. These plants and fungi are sometimes beautiful, sometimes ugly, sometimes surprising and sometimes just plain weird. Kew works to protect this diversity and the wild relatives of edible plants and fungi.
Edible plants and fungi are vital food sources globally, yet we are often unaware of the sheer diversity of what is available to us, instead concentrating our diet on only a few species. Eighty percent of our global calorie intake comes from just twelve cultivated plants: eight cereals (barley, maize, millet, rice, rye, sorghum, sugar cane and wheat) and four tubers (cassava, potato, sweet potato and yam). However, at least 30,000 species of plants can be eaten. The humble bakers’ yeast is the single most important fungus to our diet, being the source of many food products.
Wild relatives are a store cupboard of useful genetic diversity. Kew’s ongoing research in this area focuses on species that have a high cultural, ecological and economic importance. Plants and fungi are important to all of us; everything we eat comes directly or indirectly from them – wild plants especially are vital for future food security.
Everything we see in the supermarket comes from a relative of a wild species. Humans have been moving useful and tasty plants around the globe for thousands of years, spreading them far beyond their countries of origin. This concept will be brought to life by a Global Garden.
The Global Garden, situated on the Great Lawn opposite Kew Palace, will feature over 90 edible plants from every corner of the globe. Grapes, pomegranate and olive trees will be planted in geographical areas in a circular design of raised beds, featuring stories about the origins and cultural heritage of these plants. Kew’s volunteer guides will provide hands on sessions for visitors who want to further explore these edible delights.
The Palm House...
The Palm House parterre will be planted up entirely with a variety of delicious and curious edibles. The Palm House will be interpreted for visitors as a rainforest larder, emphasising the exotic, edible plants that we may not be aware we are consuming when we eat processed foods, such as sugar cane and vanilla, as well as those that are more recognisable, like Kew’s fabulous banana collection.
In the neighbouring Waterlily House explore the cross-continental and cross-cultural stories of the Cucurbitaceae (the pumpkin family) and Capsicum (chilli and peppers).
The Grass Garden, found opposite the Davies Alpine House, displays some of the world’s most economically important plants that are a regular feature at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Cultivated grasses (such as wheat and barley) are planted next to their wild relatives. http://www.kew.org/visit-kew-gardens/garden-attractions-A-Z/grass-garden.htm
Princess of Wales Conservatory...
Learn about the world’s favourite beverage, coffee, in the Princess of Wales Conservatory, where visitors will see a coffee plantation and a shade-grown coffee installation (coffee grown under the natural forest canopy).
There are just over 100 species of coffee now known to science - 21 of which were discovered in the last 10 years alone by Kew and its partners. Kew has a dedicated coffee specialist who recently completed a study which showed that wild Arabica in Ethiopia and South Sudan, the genetic source of cultivated Arabica, (the main ingredient of high street coffee), could be extinct by 2080, a victim of climate change. http://www.kew.org/news/arabica-coffee-could-be-extinct.htm
Plant Family Beds...
Visitors will be encouraged to take a new look at Kew’s Plant Family Beds, which feature plants grouped together in their families. Edible plant families will be highlighted, and the story of the individual species told. http://www.kew.org/visit-kew-gardens/garden-attractions-A-Z/order-beds.htm
A Lesson in ‘Knowing your Onions’ from Kew Students...
At the end of the Order Beds, the deliciously abundant vegetable plots can be found, tended by the first year Diploma of Horticulture students. Learn their secrets for growing perfect vegetables, covering topics such as preparing your vegetable patch and companion planting to control pests.
In October the festival will embrace the theme of ‘harvest’, with giant, juicy pumpkins lining the Broad Walk. The focus of the festival will shift to fruits and the fascinating and mysterious world of fungi.
Most of us are familiar with fungi in the sense of the mushrooms we buy in supermarkets, or spot on woodland walks or in our gardens in the autumn, but there is more to fungi than this. Kew’s fungal herbarium (“Fungarium”) is home to the world's largest and most comprehensive collection of preserved fungi; over one million collections including mushrooms, moulds and other microfungi. Kew is also one of the few botanical institutions to have a team of fungi specialists, or mycologists. This is a vital area of research as fungi are present in every type of habitat throughout the world, are estimated to outnumber plants six to one, and there is still so much about them that is not known. They are also essential for almost all plants on earth to grow. Most plants are connected with fungi underground through the body of the fungus, known as the mycelium. The mycelium connects to the roots of plants, forming mycorrhizas, which help plants to take up important nutrients and water. For a fascinating look into Kew’s Fungarium watch this video http://www.kew.org/video/earth-fungi-herbarium/kew-video-fungarium.htm
More about the Science of Edible Plants and Fungi at Kew...
Dr Paul Smith, Head of the Millennium Seed Bank, says “We already know of thousands of plants that are vitally important to us, but many more have the potential to be so in the future. Over 30,000 species of plants are edible, but we use only a tiny fraction of these in commercial agriculture. Going forward, we may well need a much greater range of species, particularly if climate change alters growing seasons, pests and diseases become increasingly virulent, or the world’s population continues to expand and we run out of prime agricultural land.
“We can't afford to let these plants, and the potential they hold, die out, which is why we have science programmes at Kew dedicated to researching and conserving these useful plants.
“Our hope is that visitors will enjoy exploring the captivating stories of edible plants and fungi, and leave the festival with a fresh consideration for the food they eat and its origin, as well as the future of crops in the UK and around the world.”
Kew scientists and horticulturists work with communities around the world. For example, Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership is part of a global project to find, gather, catalogue, use, and save the wild relatives of essential food crops to help protect global food supplies and strengthen future food security. http://www.kew.org/news/campaign-to-collect-and-use-endangered-food-crops.htm
The Useful Plants Project, another initiative by the Millennium Seed Bank partnership, works with rural communities in some of the poorest parts of the world to conserve the wild plants they rely on, often harvested from diminishing wild sources, helping these communities to develop the knowledge and skills to cultivate these plants. http://www.kew.org/science-conservation/save-seed-prosper/millennium-seed-bank/using-our-seeds/helping-communities-worldwide/useful-plants-project/
In Kew’s Herbarium scientists are studying key groups of plants such as yams, legumes (or bean family) and coffee.
In the Jodrell, scientists are investigating the chemistry of under-utilised plants, which are crops grown in small quantities by local people, and older varieties of some of our favourite fruits. Their work aims to increase knowledge about the diversity of phytochemicals in these plants and whether their diversity has decreased during domestication, which could have a negative impact on health.
They also maintain the world’s most comprehensive online resource about useful wild and semi-domesticated plants, with a focus on Africa. http://www.kew.org/science-research-data/directory/projects/SEPASAL.htm
Notes to editors
For more information on the festival, or any of Kew’s work, please contact the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew Press Office on 020 8332 5607 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a world famous scientific organisation, internationally respected for its outstanding living collection of plants and world-class Herbarium as well as its scientific expertise in plant diversity, conservation and sustainable development in the UK and around the world. Kew Gardens is a major international visitor attraction. Its landscaped 132 hectares and RBG Kew’s country estate, Wakehurst Place, attract nearly 2 million visitors every year. Kew was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003 and celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2009. Wakehurst Place is home to Kew's Millennium Seed Bank, the largest wild plant seed bank in the world. RBG Kew and its partners have collected and conserved seed from 10 per cent of the world's wild flowering plant species (c.30, 000 species). The aim is to conserve 25 per cent by 2020, and its enormous potential for future conservation can only be fulfilled with the support of the public and other funders.
Kew receives funding from the UK Government through Defra for approximately half of its income and is also reliant on support from other sources. Without the voluntary monies raised through membership, donations and grants, Kew would have to significantly scale back activities at a time when, as environmental challenges become ever more acute, its resources and expertise are needed in the world more than ever. Kew needs to raise significant funds both in the UK and overseas.
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