Kew Mutual Improvement Society

150th Anniversary Lecture Series


This year we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Kew Mutual Improvement Society Lecture series!

The lectures series runs from September to April with weekly talks being held Monday evenings from 6:00 - 7:00pm, online and live in the Lady Lisa Sainsbury Lecture Theatre at RBG Kew.  

Standard lectures are £3, and fundraising lectures delivered by keynote speakers are £10. 


Upcoming Events


Lucy Hart | Fulham Palace: Ten years and growing

Lucy Hart, Head Gardener at Fulham Palace has been at the forefront of the historic garden's restoration over the past ten years. 

The palace, formerly home to the Bishops of London is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, with activity on the site dating back to 4,000BC and is the second oldest botanic garden in London. In her talk she will discuss the garden's history and pioneering plant collections made by the botanist Bishop Compton in the late 17th century, and how they are being kept relevant today.

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Fundraising Lecture

Juliet Sargeant | From Small Acorns… The making of the Modern Slavery Garden

Juliet Sargeant is a garden designer who believes that gardens can do so much more than look good. As a former medical doctor she has long been interested in the relationship between health and landscape, but more than that, Juliet believes that gardens are an artform that can educate, inspire and change the way we think and behave.

In 2016 The RHS Chelsea Garden hosted its first social campaign garden: The Modern Slavery Garden. Join us to hear more about Juliet’s experiences of her first Chelsea Show Garden and how a garden can be used to tell a difficult story.

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Nick Wray | The Development of the University of Bristol Botanic Garden

Nick Wray delivers a fascinating talk on the move and redevelopment of the University of Bristol Botanic Garden, of which he is curator. This marked the first university botanic garden to be redeveloped in the UK for over 40 years. 

As many Botanic Gardens are tied up in the constraints of their heritage, the opportunity to redesign an educational and research garden, from its layout to its collections, provided a unique opportunity to create a space specifically designed to fulfil the educational needs of today. The University of Bristol Botanic Garden is that garden.

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Lucy Smith | Waterlilies, Waders and Watercolour: The Journey of a Botanical Artist

Lucy Smith, one of RBG Kew’s extremely talented botanical artists, joins us to share her experience investigating the giant Victoria waterlilies of Kew’s glasshouses.  Join to learn about the inspiration behind the project and the challenges faced in observing and painting these incredible plants. You will also get a sneak peak of the work in progress and a chance to see the life-sized Victoria amazonica leaf painting!

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Tayshan Hayden-Smith | Grow2Know: The healing power of horticulture

Tayshan Hayden-Smith describes how he harnessed horticulture’s profound healing power to uplift and unify his community surrounding Grenfell Tower in the wake of the fire of 2017. 

Building on this legacy Tayshan founded Grow2Know, a non-profit that empowers, inspires and educates people through horticulture, working to engage younger and more diverse demographics. Join us to support one of London’s most inspiring horticultural movements. All profits go to Grow2Know. 

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Dr Mark Spencer | Murder Most Florid: The power of forensic botany

Plants too are silent witnesses to crimes. Their presence in many crime scenes can help an investigator identify a suspect or locate a victim. Apparently mundane plants such as brambles and nettles can provide valuable insights into when a crime was committed. Fragments of leaves and seeds embedded in soil on the footwear of a suspect can place them at the scene.

Join us to hear from Dr Mark Spencer, experienced consultant and forensic botanist who has worked on various missing person enquiries, murders and other serious crimes, about one of the more obscure yet fascinating fields of our industry.

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Georgi Ennis | My Life in the Trees

Britain remains one of the least-wooded countries in Europe and the tiny area of surviving ancient woodland is still under threat. Join Georgi Ennis, Kew-trained arboriculturalist turned Woodland Officer for the Forestry Commission, for a guide to protecting, expanding and promoting the sustainable management of woodlands. 

Georgi has not only climbed trees, but has also climbed the ranks of the male-dominated industry of arboriculture. She spent five years climbing trees as a sub-contractor before coming to Kew to train in arboriculture. Now she manages thousands of hectares of woodland in South Hampshire and the Isle of Wight for the Forestry commission, but still finds time to do tree surgery on the side!

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Prof. Duncan Cameron | Decoding the Secret Language of Soils

The soil is the foundation of most terrestrial life on Earth, yet its staggering complexity and value as a resource is often ignored. Most undervalued of all is the amazing array of organisms that make soil their home. Duncan Cameron, professor of Plant and Soil biology and co-Director of the Institute for Sustainable Food at the University of Sheffield decodes the language of life underground.

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Geraldine King | In Pursuit of historic camellias from China to Europe

Geraldine King is the Estate Manager and Head Gardener at Chiswick House, home to the oldest collection of Camellias in Europe and possibly the world.

In her talk she will discuss the introduction of Camellias to England and how the historic Chiswick collection is cared for including tips on caring for and propagating your own beautiful camellias.

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John Little | Kicking the Habit: Designing without topsoil

John Little is a brownfield gardener and creator of Grass Roof Company. His job consists of getting soils, plants, biodiversity and joy into new infrastructure and urban places.  

Come and hear about the huge potential of creating diverse plant communities and important habitats by freeing ourselves from the constraints of topsoil. John will look at how using mineral soils, construction waste and sands can help to redress the ‘bland-landscaping' within public space, developments and highways. Taking the open mosaic habitat as our template he’ll look at the possibilities of using soils to dictate the plants, invertebrates and future maintenance of new landscapes. 

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Paul Smith | The Global Tree Assessment: A framework for saving all of the world’s tree species

Dr Paul Smith is a trained plant ecologist, author of several acclaimed field guides and has won many awards throughout his career. Following on from his role as Head of the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank (MSB), Paul now acts as CEO of The Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI). 

Join Paul as he discusses the colossal efforts of BGCI, as they undertake The Global Tree Assessment which is set to be the largest red listing effort ever. They are aiming to assess the conservation status of the world’s tree species by 2023 to prevent the extinction of the rarest and most endangered tree species on our planet.  

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Prof. James Hitchmough | New garden and landscape plants: Indulgence or necessity in an era of climate change?

Climate change is widespread, rapid and intensifying, and across the globe the capacity of plants to cope is being challenged. This doesn’t just apply to the natural world, our cultivated plants also need to change if horticulture is to keep up. Dr James Hitchmough, Professor of Horticultural Ecology, answers the important questions: Where do new garden and landscape plants come from, and who will lead the charge?

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Fundraising Lecture

Pieter van Midwoud | Ecosia: How a Search Engine Planted 100 million trees

Join us for this lecture where Pieter Van Midwoud will explain how an internet search engine planted over 100 million trees around the world. Since 2009 the non-profit organisation Ecosia has led the way in a regenerative future through reforestation, empowering local communities, fighting hunger and saving wildlife. By browsing with Ecosia you could help to reforest the worlds landscapes. 

Pieter studied forest and nature conservation before working with a non-profit organisation on the development of The CarbonFix Standard (CFS). The CFS was set up to certify climate reforestation projects to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Since 2016 Pieter has been the Chief Planting Officer for the environmentally centered search engine, Ecosia. 

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Howard Sooley | Derek Jarman, Prospect Cottage and Me

Derek Jarman died in February 1994, leaving behind a fine legacy of films, paintings, books, and the wonderful garden of Prospect Cottage. As a garden it is unusual and inspirational, existing outside of the horticultural tradition in which cultivated space and nature are distinct. At Prospect Cottage, a garden without walls, both physical boundaries and the boundaries of convention are abandoned.

Howard Sooley shares with us his experience gardening alongside Derek Jarman and his unique perspective on the garden’s design and construction.

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Advolly Richmond | The Rev. Thomas Birch Freeman: Victorian Botanist and Plantsman

Discover a botanical and horticultural legacy that has been lost to time with the inspirational garden historian and presenter, Advolly Richmond. This talk takes us to Ghana where Advolly travelled in order to uncover the fascinating life of Thomas Birch Freeman, an Anglo-African Victorian missionary, diplomat and botanist.

Advolly travelled to Ghana in 2018 in order to further her research on the life and legacy of the Rev. Thomas Birch Freeman. In addition to her research, Advolly runs Introduction to Garden History courses for various organizations such as the National Trust and the University of Birmingham. 

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Dr Henrik Sjoman | Urban Trees of Tomorrow

With rising populations and diminishing greenspace, humanity must begin to incorporate more plant diversity into its urban landscapes in order to protect the health and integrity of our urban ecosystems. Discovering the urban trees of tomorrow will pave the way in improving the health and prosperity of our cities and towns for years to come. 

Dr Henrik Sjoman is the senior researcher at the Swedish University of Agriculture and sciences & Scientific Curator at Gothernburg Botanic Garden. Henrik’s experience has been crucial in helping diversify the urban treescape by introducing unconventional tree species that are resilient to urban environments.

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Fundraising Lecture

Stephanie Hafferty | No Dig Gardening

Stephanie Hafferty is a no-dig homesteader, and garden and food writer. She is leading authority on no dig gardening, and author of three books on the subject. She is now dedicating her time to setting up a new no-dig homestead in West Wales. 

Join Stephanie to learn more about how to grow year-round using no dig gardening, from allotments to market gardens, using natural organic methods which benefit wildlife and the planet. 

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