The Birth of bgen – Celebrating 25 Years!

25 Years of BGEN: The Questionnaire!!!

We asked founder members to give us their recollections of the “birth” of BGEN.

We would like to thank Gail Bromley, Bill Graham, Sue Minter, Julia Willison and Ruth Taylor for their very valuable (if slightly hazy!) memories.

  • What inspired the formation of BGEN?

Gail Bromley -The fact that as educationalists we very rarely had much support or training – Education was a relatively new field for Botanic gardens at that time and only a few gardens actively employed education staff. As we all were a bit ‘isolated’ it was thought that it would be a great idea to form a network to share experiences and resources and to learn from each other; also to build the perceived value of ‘education’ activities in BGs.
Bill Graham – For me it was the desire to share information and collaborate with others who were often working in isolation. I was very keen on a network that was informal as possible that could be responsive to needs.
Sue Minter -I remember the first CONSERVATION conference at Kew in September 1991 -‘From specimen to habitat management’ which kicked off much emphasis on conservation and I wonder if this was linked to the launch of BGEN as I remember educationalists thinking that they were rather ignored… At any rate there was a belief that educationalists needed a peer best practice and support group which is what BGEN was -for practitioners…
Julia Willison – The need for staff working in botanic gardens to communicate about education and develop programmes for the public.
Ruth Taylor -There was no forum for education staff in Botanic gardens to meet and exchange ideas. Many education people worked in isolation. I was working at Chelsea Physic Garden and was keen to meet other people. A group of us met at a training course on interpretation in Edinburgh run by James Carter ‘Round and Round the Garden’. I’m not sure whether that was before BGEN was founded or as a result of it being founded.

  • Who were the founding members of BGEN?

GB – I’m pretty sure the initial idea / discussion took place between Bill Graham and Ruth Taylor (and possibly Sue Minter and Ian Darwin Edwards were involved)
BG-Not me! I was not one of the very first members. I know that Ian, Gail, Tim, were certainly involved. I am pretty sure that the idea and the early energy came from Ian Darwin Edwards and it evolved from his original concept. I was a little reluctant to participate in the network at first but Ruth Taylor from Chelsea Physic Garden persuaded me to run a joint workshop with her and I really got the concept and then became involved.
SM -I think the founders were Tim Walker from Oxford BG (was the 1st conference there???); also Gail Bromley from Kew and Julia Willison from BGCI. I attended for many years and then it was Dawn Sanders and Michael Holland from Chelsea Physic when I then became more involved with PlantNet.
JW -Ian Darwin Edwards, Gail Bromley, Ruth Taylor, Kevin (Westonbirt)
RT – Myself at Chelsea Physic Garden, Ian Edwards (RBG Edinburgh), Timothy Walker (Oxford Botanic Garden), Gail Bromley, (Kew).

  • Who was the first Chair of BGEN?

GB -I think it was Sue Minter
JW -Good question – I think it was Ian
RT – I’m not sure? Timothy Walker?

  • Where was the first BGEN Conference?

GB -My recollection was that the first meeting was at Ness Botanic garden – but it wasn’t a conference as such.
SM-At first it was quite an ad hoc group which held meetings at all the BG/Garden venues which was a good way to get to see what others were doing. Only later did it professionalise by becoming a charity.
JW –Stroud

  • When was the first BGEN Conference?

GB– Can’t remember – if anyone has old ‘fronds’ newsletters going back, it might be in there? I have one for 1998 (no 8) – and it was Lifelong Learning that year in Trinity College, Carmarthen
SM -I have the programme of the 2004 conference which was called ‘Ways into Learning’ held 10-13th November at Sunderland Museum and Winter Garden. Erica Bower from Kew was then the BGEN Co-ordinator.
JW -August 1989 – I remember it well, I’d just started working at BGCI

  • From where did the delegates come?

GB -Nearly all delegates were from the BGs in the UK – e.g. Edinburgh, Cambridge, Ness, Oxford, Chelsea etc
JW – RBG Edinburgh, Westonbirt, Kew
RT – Across Great Britain

  • Were there any delegates from abroad?

BG -I do know that the original concept by Ian (Darwin Edwards) was for BGEN to have members from abroad but to a great extent that role moved to BGCI
JW -Germany?

  • How many delegates attended the first BGEN Conference?

JW -24?

  • What was the theme of the Conference?

JW -Learning in the natural environment

  • How many BGEN members were there when it first started?

JW -There was no formal structure to BGEN at that time. People were interested in getting involved. I therefore think this is a trick question – O!

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