News comes that Kew Gardens is to decolonise its collection. Kew recently published a manifesto for change, saying that it was going to “ensure the diverse countries and cultures that partner with RBG Kew and contribute to our collections are accurately and equitably represented. ... We will move quickly to ‘decolonise’ our collections, re-examining them to acknowledge and address any exploitative or racist legacies, and develop new narratives around them.”
Kew Director, Richard Deverell, said "We have a lot to do to broaden the narrative around these plants, how they have been used around the world by indigenous communities, how they got to Britain . . . There are complex historical narratives here and what matters to us is that we tell these stories in a way that resonates with all the different communities we’re seeking to reach."
It seems to me that, although some will see this as mere fashionable garden wokery, all such plant collections have complex back stories, and what Kew is doing is something to welcome, even if what the Director said would have sounded better in plain English. Mind you, given that Henry Hobhouse devoted over 60 pages to a chapter on sugar and the slave trade, it's going to take more than re-designed signs to do justice to this issue. Happily, it will not involving defacing or digging up plants, or chucking them into harbours.
I wish I'd thought of the title of this post, but I've borrowed it from The Spectator. Just glorious.
Henry Hobhouse: Seeds of Change: six plants that transformed mankind; Papermac (1999).