The Institute was established in 1910 with a vision to bring the study of plants south of the river. They confess it’s been an up and down hundred years but yesterday’s gathering felt optimistic, not least because the rain held off for the big reveal and the rhubarb bellinis for toasting the artwork were delicious.
The Institute Herbarium contains plant specimens collected between the mid 1800s right up to the 1960s delicately dried, pressed and mounted on paper with details of what, where and when found. Incredibly, this unassuming Norwood Road house is home to over 100,000 specimens, stored in ranks of black boxes, divided between The British Isles Herbarium, European Herbarium of flowering plants and the non-flowering lichen, mosses and liverworts herbaria. Petra the conservationist from Kew was beavering away, repairing specimens and explaining how it’s fortunate she’s no longer expected to boil fish and bones to make the old school glue to affix the fragile cuttings.
The Institute also has a botanical library, teaching rooms with modern kits for slicing and dicing plantlife, and a garden rich in botanical rarities and laid out over distinctive organised beds. It’s impeccably tended by a team of passionate volunteers and boasts an excellent yet unassuming pond currently populated with much frogspawn and springily excited frogs and newts.
SLBI is open to the public on Thursdays between 10am-4pm and at other times by appointment. Members are incredibly knowledgeable and friendly and volunteers are welcome, whether they want to get their hands dirty in the garden or assist with cataloguing and caring for the Herbarium.
Come the summer, the garden will be open on several evenings for plant appreciation by twilight, glass of wine in hand and you can find details of talks, plant sales, field trips and walks at their website: www.sbli.org.uk
The first garden open evening is Thursday 20 May, 6-8pm. Find South London Botanical Institute it at 323 Norwood Road, Tulse Hill, SE24 9AQ.