[Skip to content] [Skip to main navigation] [Skip to user navigation] [Skip to global search] [Accessibility information] [Contact us]

Previous Next
of 50 items

Dinosaur Cherry on a Prehistoric Cake

Our Deputy Keeper of Natural History, Emma Nicholls, uses her expert eyes to examine the Velociraptor sculpture in our Prehistoric Garden. 

Over the last few months the super green-fingered Gardeners at the Horniman have created a landscape full of plants from the Cretaceous period. Now starting to flourish, the Prehistoric Garden is looking stunning. To top the Prehistoric Garden off, in August of this year we became home to a permanent installation of the most exciting kind- a stylised Velociraptor dinosaur.

  • Velociraptor  , The (r)awesome new addition to our Prehistoric Garden.
    The (r)awesome new addition to our Prehistoric Garden.

Velociraptors rose to fame in the 1993 timeless classic Jurassic Park, in which they are portrayed as scaly, scary, two metre tall monsters intent on feeding beyond stomach capacity and learning how to open doors. In reality Velociraptor was only about half a metre in height and most likely covered in feathers. Whilst pretty certain, the presence of feathers is an extrapolation from other fossil discoveries, and hasn’t been proven for sure. However our Velociraptor is skeletal so the choice of ‘to feather or not to feather’, was not something we needed to worry about.

Our Velociraptor was generously funded by an anonymous donor, for which we are incredibly grateful. It started life as a number of large 8 mm steel sheets, from which the raptor’s parts were cut and then welded together by Neil Bowen of Lakeland Steel. Now fully assembled in the Prehistoric Garden, it measures an impressive 1.5 m in height. It is therefore around three times life size and an imposing addition to our gardeners’ latest masterpiece.

  • Velociraptor, Upside down and in pieces
    Upside down and in pieces

When the Velociraptor first arrived it was deep silver in colour but we are letting it weather to a beautiful tan brown. Exposed to the elements, the mild steel corrodes at around 1 mm a year. Those of you quick at maths will have calculated that in 8 years’ time our Velociraptor will therefore be a pile of twinkling dust, but that’s only if we leave it untreated. Once corroded to the perfect tan colour, Head Gardener Wes Shaw will coat it in a protective sealant to protect the steel from further degradation.

  • Velociraptor, Before and after shots show how our Velociraptor is turning a lovely brown as the steel reacts with the elements.
    Before and after shots show how our Velociraptor is turning a lovely brown as the steel reacts with the elements.

I think it’s fair to say that no-one really wants an unsteady two metre steel Velociraptor wobbling around in the wind, so to keep its impressive bulk steady its feet were literally nailed to the floor. It has large steel plates beneath its feet which have been set in the ground with giant metal tent pegs. A large rock between its feet completed the task. So don’t worry, although it looks fearsome, it’s safe to visit… there won’t be any fearsome steel dinosaurs rampaging down the hill any time soon.

  • Velociraptor, The large steel plates beneath the feet of our Velociraptor.
    The large steel plates beneath the feet of our Velociraptor.

Have you visited our Prehistoric Garden yet? Tell us what you think and share you photos on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #horniman.  

Visit our Dinosaurs: Monster Families exhibition - on display until 30 October 2016. 

Planting for pollinators: help save the bees and butterflies

Our new pollinator bed is designed to be a banquet for pollinating creatures like bees and butterflies. Andrea, our Gardner, shows us around the pollinator bed and tells us the best way to plant for pollinators at home.

This summer, you may have noticed a new border spring into life in the Gardens. Last autumn we started to plant up the bandstand terrace bed with herbaceous perennials, which began flowering in the spring, and are still going strong, creating a lovely splash of colour. As it is still the first year, some of the plants might look a bit sparse, but over the next couple of years, they will get bigger and fill out the bed.

This border contains about 50 different species of plants and has been designed to be attractive to pollinating insects. Pollinating insects like bees, hoverflies, moths and butterflies transfer pollen from one flower to another, helping the plants to fruit and set seed.

As farming practices have changed over the last few decades, there has been a steep decline in the wild flower population that was previously their main food source. As a result, many of their populations are in decline. This may result in problems in the future with food production, as so much of our food is reliant on plants being pollinated, so it is important to help them out.

  • Planting for pollinators: help save the bees and butterflies, Photo by Andrea Benson
    , Photo by Andrea Benson

There are many different pollinators, and there is no one plant that is a good food source for them all, which is why variety is important.

Some flowers, like those in the daisy family, are popular with a variety of pollinators. The flower head is made up of many small florets, each one a nectar source for the insects. This includes flowers like the Echinacea purpurea (Purple coneflower), and the Echinops ritro Veitch’s Blue (Southern globethistle).

  • Planting for pollinators: help save the bees and butterflies, Photo by Andrea Benson
    , Photo by Andrea Benson

Other flower shapes are not so simple. The Salvia guarantica ‘Black and Blue’ (Hummingbird sage) has lipped flowers with long tubes. Bumble bees and solitary bees use the lip as a landing platform and push their heads inside the flower to reach the nectar, coming back out with pollen covering their back.

Others, such as the Lychnis chalcedonica (Maltese cross), have their nectar deep inside a small tubular centre to the flower, which moths and butterflies are able to access with their long thin tongues.

As well as planting a variety of different plants, it’s a good idea to try and create a display that has a long flowering season – especially early and later in the year, when alternative nectar sources might be scarce. Winter/spring bulbs like Crocus, Galanthus nivalis (Snowdrop) and Eranthis hyemalis (Winter aconite) can provide a food source early on in the year, while plants such as Salvia and Rudbeckia (Coneflower), that continue flowering into the late summer and early autumn, cover the other end of the year.

  • Planting for pollinators: help save the bees and butterflies, Photo by Andrea Benson
    , Photo by Andrea Benson

  • Planting for pollinators: help save the bees and butterflies, Photo by Andrea Benson
    , Photo by Andrea Benson

Over the next few years, we’ll continue to tweak the planting display. We’ll be adding some more spring bulbs, as well as assessing how well the plants are doing, and replacing any that have died or are struggling. We’ll keep a good mix of variety and seasonal food source for the pollinators, as well as ensuring there is a long lasting and colourful display for all our visitors.

If you want to help out at home, you can. A list of pollinator friendly plants can be found on the Royal Horticultural Society website. By adding any of these plants to your garden, you’ll be doing your bit. You don’t even need much space. A window box full of spring bulbs or a pot with a couple of sunflowers in will be a welcome refreshment for the pollinators flying around your area.

Send us your pictures of pollinator-friendly plants using the hashtag #Horniman. 

The Pollinator boarder has been created with support from the Finnis Scott Foundation

Big Butterfly Count 2016

This year we are taking some time to celebrate beautiful butterflies and marvellous moths.

Join us for our Big Wednesday event where you can take part in the Big Butterfly Count on the Nature Trail with entomologist Richard Jones, go on a story tour with Mr Horniman and do some butterfly-inspired art and craft.

What is the Big Butterfly Count I hear you ask? It is a nationwide survey aimed at helping us assess the health of our environment. It runs from 15 July – 7 August, and during this time thousands of people across the UK will take count of butterflies and moths.

To take part you just need to spend 15 minutes counting butterflies and moths during bright and sunny weather. You can count during a walk, or sitting in one place – a perfect thing to do during a visit to the Horniman Gardens. You can even download a handy identification chart to help you spot different species.

Information about how to take part from the Big Butterfly Count:

How to count:

If you are counting from a fixed position, count the maximum number of each species you can see at a single time. For example, if you see three Red Admirals together on a buddleia bush then record it as three, but if you only see one at a time then record it as one (even if you saw one on several occasions) – this is so that you don’t count the same butterfly more than once . If you are doing your count on a walk, then simply total up the number of each butterfly species that you see during the 15 minutes.

How to send in your counts:

You can send in your sightings online at bigbutterflycount.org or by using the free Big Butterfly Count smartphone apps available for iOS and Android.
Remember – every count is useful, even if you don’t see any butterflies.
The Horniman staff will be taking part in the Big Butterfly Count and we will keep you updated on how many we see!

Tag us in your butterfly-counting pictures at the Horniman by using #Horniman on Instagram and Twitter.

The wildflower meadow bed

This year we have a new wildflower meadow bed coming into bloom in the Gardens. 

The wildflower meadow bed sits against the outside west wall the Sunken Garden. It was sown in October of last year, so this is its first year in flower and it is looking great. 

We used a wildflower seed mix to fill the bed, from a company called Pictoral Meadows that is specially tailored to suit the semi-shady site where the bed sits. 

The bed will be a permenant display. In the spring our Gardeners will cut it down and it will re-grow each year. 

At the start of the year it looks like a bed of weeds, but as the summer goes a mixture of woodland plants start to appear. It flowers from May through to September and by the end of the summer it is a beautiful mix of colours and scents. As you can see, the bed already looks wonderful. 

Can you identify any of the following plants?

Red Campion (Silene dioica)

Herb bennet (Geum urbanum)

Ox eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare)

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)

Crane's-bill geranium (Geranium pratense)

Columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris)

Tag your photos of the wildflower garden with #GrowingGardens and #Horniman on Instagram and Twitter.

Brazil Food Garden

The Horniman’s Festival of Brasil extends out into the Food Garden this summer. Among wildflowers in the green, gold, blue and white of the Brazilian flag, we’ve grouped some of our food plants by recipe to give you a taste of the country’s vibrant food and drink culture.

Brazil’s cuisine is a mixture of European, African and South American influences, and in the display you’ll find plants from the Old and New Worlds and from temperate and tropical regions.

One of the most important tropical crops for us to include was Manihot esculentum, otherwise known as cassava or manioc. This fast-growing shrub is native to Brazil and produces starchy tubers – like potatoes or yams – that have been a staple food in South America for thousands of years. You can find cassava growing in the tacaca and arrumadinho sections of the garden.

It is not an easy plant to source in the UK and ours were grown from seed sown in January this year.

Elsewhere in the garden you’ll find the black beans needed to make the popular pork and bean stew feijoada, the okra used in the West African-influenced caruru, and of course the lime and sugar cane needed to mix a proper caipirinha

It wouldn’t be a Brazilian summer without a bit of colour so around our recipes we’ve sown a mixture of wildflowers in the colours of the Brazilian flag.

Against a background of green foliage Glebionis segetum (Corn marigold) gives us yellow, Centaurea cyanus (Cornflower) blue, and Silene latifolia (White campion) the white of the stars in the centre of the flag. The seed was sown in April and is just now – with no help from the June weather – starting to come into flower.

Look out too for a splash of red from the bedding Salvia ‘Forest Fire’ (the red Salvias that have been popular bedding plants since the 19th Century were bred from the Brazilian native Salvia splendens) and some lively Brazilian street art on boards around the garden.

Travel back in time at the Prehistoric Garden

This summer, a new display of Prehistoric plants and living fossils is being planted in the Horniman Gardens. Here, we introduce you to some of the plants you will be seeing in the new bed.  

You may have noticed that our gardeners have started some work in the conifer bed on the lawn above the herbaceous border. This is going to be our new Prehistoric Garden. The theme will tie in with our current major exhibition, Dinosaurs: Monster Families but it will also remain as a permanent planting after the exhibition has moved on. 

We have kept three trees in place from the original planting: the yew, the redwood and the Lawson cypress. We will be replanting the rest of the area with other plants known as 'living fossils' - species that have been around for thousands of years. This planting will include a ginko and a Wollemi pine, as well as tree ferns, cycads and a monkey puzzle tree. 

The tree ferns, or Dicksonia antarctica, were particularly appealing to low-slung herbivorous dinosaurs like the stegosaurs because they did not grow too high off the ground. Today, ferns have prospered, with over 12,000 named species. Perhaps because there are not any dinosaurs left to eat them!

Monkey Puzzle trees, or Araucaria araucana, were around in the Mesozoic Era - which is sometimes known as the Age of Conifers. Conifers were some of the first to evolve on dry land. Today, these cone-bearing trees are represented by familiar species such as cedars, firs, and pines. 

It will still be a while before the bed is completed but there is already a lot to see, so do go and take a peek. 

This project has benefted from funding from the Tesco Bags of Help initiative, with a grant of £8,000.

Planting in the Sunken Garden

Our gardeners are busy digging up the flower beds in the Sunken Garden to make way for our next colourful display. 

This spring saw the Sunken Gardens planted with a wonderful display of dark purple tulips sitting in a sea of blue, pink and white forget-me-nots. 

Sky blue coloured forget-me-nots are common in the wild, but the pink and white veritities are less common, so it was a joy to see this colourful display in our gardens this spring. 

Now the flowers are past their prime, they are being dug up by our gardeners, who will be replanting the Sunken Garden with a new display of flowers that are currently being grown in our nursey. 

The new dispaly will carve the beds into geometric triangles of contrasting-coloured flowers. The arrangement will consist red Salvias, pink Verbenas, red Zinnias and purple Nicotiana. 

Keep an eye out for our new display, which will be planted in the next few weeks. 

We would love to see the photos you take of the display - so please tag us @hornimanmuseum on twitter, and share your pictures with the hashtag #horniman on Instagram

Sowing the seeds for future gardeners

Our Head of Horticulture Wesley tells us all about work being done by a group of student horticulturalists.

If you visit the Gardens here at the Horniman on a Monday, you may well have come across an enthusiastic group of students from Capel Manor College working here.

Capel Manor College run a wide range of land-based courses at their centres all over London that cater for all ages and levels. 

These students study on the Level 1 Horticultural Diploma course at the college based in Crystal Palace Park. Led by their tutor Susan Urpeth, this fantastic group of gardeners use our Gardens to practise some of the practical tasks that are part of their studies.

It is a great opportunity for the Horniman to help the next generation of gardeners. And we get lots of extra help with jobs that we usually don't find time for. 

Over the last couple of months, they have rejuvenated shrub borders, planted 1,000s of bulbs, sown wildflower seeds, carried out lawn maintenance and prepared hundreds of pot plants for the Edible High Road Festival which will be happening in Forest Hill from May 7 onwards.

We would like to say a big thank you to Susan and her students for all their work so far this year, and wish them luck in their studies. 

The trees in our gardens

We are getting in the festive spirit on twitter looking at Christmas decorations and trees in our collection, which got us thinking about the trees we have growing in our gardens.

A Horniman Christmas tree currently in Gallery Square

We are very proud of our tree collection here at the Horniman, we have a few specimens that date back to before the site became a Museum, including a number of oaks  that are estimated to be over 300 years old. Oaks are our most important native tree, they are often called ‘keystone’ species because it has a disproportionately large effect on its environment relative to its abundance.

It is thought that one oak tree is home to 500+ species compared to the weedy sycamore that supports just 15 or so!

We have some beautiful cedars in our Gardens.  They are native to the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and Algeria and  are now common to many  UK gardens and  parks as they are stunning evergreen trees that provide a regal feel.

Near to the London Road main entrance we have a magnificent copper beech tree (my favourite incidentally) which looks equally magnificent in the summer or when it loses it leaves in the autumn/winter. Along with the oak the beech is one of our native trees in the UK.

One of the best features of the Horniman Gardens are the horse chestnut trees that line the Avenue and main entrance to the Museum.

In recent years horse chestnuts have received some bad press as they get ravaged by the horse chestnut leaf miner every year which results in leaves going brown and dropping from trees during the summer.

I hope visitors this year will have noticed that our beautiful avenue of tree has stayed completely free of this pest and leaves have fallen naturally when they were supposed to during the autumn. This is due to some rather nifty cutting edge technology for treating tree pest problems that involves injecting pesticide directly into the vascular system of the tree that acts as a systemic pesticide killing the pests when they feed on the leaves.

Over the last couple of years, we have lost a number of our mature specimens due to pest and disease problems and health and safety concerns.  However, we are very keen to see this as an opportunity to plant new species that will add to the legacy of trees in the Gardens - trees planted this year include the Tulip tree, Chinese Pistachio tree, and the very rare and unusual Paulownia kawakamii.

We are recycling felled trees by splitting the wood into fire wood and selling it every Saturday morning at the Horniman Farmers’ Market. A bargain at £5 for as much as you can carry.

We are offering people the opportunity to sponsor a new tree  to help support the work of the Museum and Gardens, for more information visit our website.

So next time you visit the Gardens, please take some time to appreciate our wonderful trees.

Horniman soil at the Tate

I was contacted in the summer by the Project Manager of this year’s Turbine Hall installation at Tate Modern - who lives in Forest Hill.  He explained the basic premise of obtaining soil samples across London and seeing what grows from them.  It all sounded very interesting and the Horniman Gardens team were really keen on helping out.


We have over 16 acres of gardens, perfect for soil harvesting

Empty Lot features a grid of 240 wooden planters filled with compost and over 23 tonnes of soil collected from parks and gardens all across London from Peckham Rye to Regent’s Park, and of course the Horniman Gardens. 

By the end of the summer we had supplied over two tonnes of the Horniman’s finest soil.  Spread across the site it was easy to supply that quantity without leaving gaping holes in our shrub borders. In September the artist Abraham Cruzvillegas visited the Horniman Gardens to see first-hand where the soil came from.  It was great to meet him and get more of an idea of what he was planning.


Our celebrity soil being used by seedlings in our nursery

Last night (12.10.15.) members of the Horniman Gardens team were invited to the opening at the Tate and were blown away by the installation, which fills almost all of the Hall.  The first seedlings could already be seen germinating and it will be fascinating to see what grows over the next few months - growing conditions have been artificially created using grow lights and hand watering the soil.


Sacks of Horniman soil packed up for the exhibition

Despite a few aching backs in the team from bagging up over two tonnes of soil it has been great to contribute to such an iconic art installation at Tate Modern.


For more information on the exhibition click here

Previous Next
of 50 items