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Stars of the Grasslands Garden

Our Grasslands Garden is now open to explore and our Gardener Damien has picked some of his favourite plants in the display. 

Regular visitors to the Gardens may have noticed that the central beds of our new Grasslands Gardens are bursting into life. 5,000 North American and South African perennials planted by the Gardens team last year are waking from their dormancy, and I thought I’d highlight a few of my favourites.

The earliest flowers have bloomed already but there is plenty more to come, with many of the species at their best in late summer. So do come along and visit.

Dodecatheon meadia, ‘shooting star’

I love Dodecatheons so my heart did a little somersault when I saw this on the list for the beds. Dodecatheon meadia is a spring-flowering, summer-dormant relative of the primrose from eastern North America. Its hanging purple flowers have strongly reflexed petals – so much so that they remind me of falling shuttlecocks. Its common name, more poetically, is 'shooting star'.

After germination Dodecatheon seedlings grow for a month or so before doing what, to the uninitiated, looks like dying. They’re actually entering dormancy, which is quite unusual for a plant at such an early stage of development. After spending summer and winter as tiny dormant buds in the soil, they then emerge again the next spring. The first flowers usually come in the third year from sowing.

Time to see in flower: April-May

  • Dodecatheon Meadia, C T Johansson (CC BY 3.0)
    , C T Johansson (CC BY 3.0)

Castilleja integra, ‘wholeleaf Indian paintbrush’

Another from North America, this time from the south-west. Also, a slight tease as it isn’t in the display just yet. The reason for this is it’s a hemiparasitic plant that draws most of its nutrition from the roots of other plants which is tricky to establish in cultivation.

We’re currently growing this in the nursery by allowing it to attach itself to pots of Canadian fleabane. The plan is to introduce some pots like this into the display this autumn. We would allow the roots time to make contact with other plants in the display, then remove the fleabane once the Castilleja has established on other host plants.

It usually parasitizes grasses in the wild, so we’re hoping this preference will help wean it off its current dependence on the fleabane once we plant out.

Time to see in flower: June-September

  • Catilleja integra, Wikicommons (in public domain)
    , Wikicommons (in public domain)

Echinacea pallida, ‘pale purple coneflower’

This is one of the real stars of the North American section of the display. Echinacea purpurea, along with its hybrids, is more familiar in UK gardens but Echinacea pallida is a wonderful, strong-growing plant with pale pink, drooping petals. Slugs and snails are a problem with Echinaceas while they’re young so checking the sides and bottoms of pots was a regular job when we were growing these. As you can imagine, a few thousand pots squeezed together provided plenty of hiding places for hungry critters.

Time to see in flower: June-July

  • Purple Coneflower, SEWilco (CC BY 3.0)
    , SEWilco (CC BY 3.0)

Cotyledon orbiculata var dactylopsis, 'pig's ear'

This fleshy-leafed succulent from South Africa was one of the few plants we propagated from cuttings rather than seed. A few people have mistaken this for an Aloe in the display, presumably because of the long, tapering, fleshy leaf. Cotyledon orbiculata’s usual leaf form is actually ovate like its close relative, the popular houseplant Crassula ovata, the Jade plant. They are quite different though and we have a breed with cylindrical leaves, hence its variety name: dactylopsis meaning ‘looking like a finger’.

Time to see in flower: July-September

  •  Pig's Ear, Noodle snacks (CC BY-SA 2.5)
    , Noodle snacks (CC BY-SA 2.5)

Bulbinellaeburniflora, 'Bleekkatstert'

This beautiful, fleshy-rooted plant with striking white flower spikes occurs in the Renosterveld and Fynbos plant communities in South Africa. It is listed as vulnerable in the wild, where its habitat is threatened by agriculture and livestock grazing.

We produced ours from seed but got satisfactory germination only at the second attempt. It germinates naturally as temperatures cool after the summer heat. Our initial summer sowing produced very little but an early autumn sowing a few months later, with warmth during the day but cooler nights, brought a good number of seedlings.

As well as Bulbinella eburniflora we are growing plants of its relatives Bulbinella latifolia and Bulbinella nutans. All are currently growing on the nursery standing ground and should be introduced to the display in autumn or spring, another incentive to keep coming back to see this dynamic, changing display.

Time to see in flower: July-August

  • 800px-Bulbinella_latifolia_var._doleritica_0zz, David Stang (CC BY-SA 4.0-
    , David Stang (CC BY-SA 4.0-

Around the World in 80 Objects

To celebrate the opening of our new World Gallery we're using our Twitter to take you "Around the World in 80 objects". 

Every day on our Twitter for 80 days we'll be posting a new object that you can see in our World Gallery as we navigate a route around the world.

We'll take you over mountains, deserts, and oceans, as we plot a course that shows the global span of our Anthropology collection.

Having started right here in England, so far we've moved south through Europe and will soon be crossing to Africa. From there we'll sweep across Asia, go island-hopping through Oceania, and traverse the Americas, before swinging back around to Lewisham via the Arctic.

So join us as we follow in the footsteps of Phileas Fogg and celebrate human creativity, imagination, and adaptability around the world.

For now, enjoy our recap of our journey over the past six days.

Day One - Great Exhibition Fan

Our journey began here in London, with this fan made in 1851 to celebrate the opening of the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park. The Great Exhibition was the first of a series of world fairs popular in the 19th century that inspired great minds including Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens.

Day Two - Napoleon's Pipe

A short hop over the English Chanel brought us to France to inspect a beautifully ornate pipe made of porcelain, silver, and amber that is said to have been smoked by Napoleon Bonaparte himself.

Day Three - Tree of Jesse

Crossing into the Alps of Switzerland, we shared this stunning carved ivory plaque depicting the Tree of Jesse.

Day Four - Snuff Box

Taking inspiration from the Grand Tour's of the past we moved down through Italy, inspecting this 19th century snuff box displaying some of Italy's most famous sights.

Day Five - Presepe

Presepi are a regular sight in Southern Italy at Christmastime. Presepi depict nativity scenes in miniature and often include humourous and ribald figures too, our Presepe includes some familiar faces.

Day Six - Mamuthones Costume

On to Sardinia, to inspect this Mamuthones costume. The Carnival of the Mamuthones dates back thousands of years and you can find out more in our new World Gallery.

World Gallery: Tattooed Memory

Temsuyanger Longkumer speaks to us about "Tattooed Memory", his incredible artwork that features in our new World Gallery in the Nagaland Encounter. 

Can you talk us through what 'Tattooed Memory' means to you?

Tattooed Memory is a memoir of growing up in a tribal community with a dual ethnicity.

My parents were from the Ao tribe in Nagaland. The Ao’s were among the first tribes in Nagaland to receive western education, which came along with Christianity.

After embracing Christianity my parents went on a missionary journey to the Konyak region, one of the most remote areas in Nagaland where they eventually settled and raised their family. My siblings and I were born and raised in the Konyak way of life, but we were also taught the ancestral customs of the Ao tribe through songs and stories.

The sculpture is a body cast I’ve made of myself. It displays a Konyak tribe’s facial tattoo and an Ao tribe’s Tsungkotepsü shawl. The tattoo and the shawl are both highly respected symbols of their respective tribes and something only great warriors and highly accomplished citizens are entitled to wear. When I was young I greatly admired the visuals and what they stood for and dreamt of one day achieving the same.

The sculpture also includes the landscapes I would explore as a child and a watchtower from where I would watch the world go by as part of the head. A memory-laden river takes the form of eyelashes which I have made from my own hair. They work their own down to meet the roots where it all began.

What do you find important to your creative process?

I find interactions of all kinds central to my creative process. Even the smallest conversation on a seemingly random issue can sometimes spark brilliant ideas. 

What mediums do you enjoy working in at the moment?

Currently, I’m enjoying working on a series which uses a multitude of mediums - painting, printmaking, and Claymation.

This group of works involves over-arching ideas relating to the human body as a microcosm of events in the universe. I am exploring the relationship between the microscopic world - the politics and diplomacy between neighbouring cells, the battles waged, fought, spread, repelled - to that of the external world outside of the skin.

What are the difficulties or challenges you encounter when creating artwork like this?

Apart from the technical difficulty of composing the varied materials into a coherent body, the main challenge in creating ‘Tattooed memory’ has been in finding a balance between an artistic interpretation and the darker side of the subject sometimes involved.

The practice of headhunting contributed largely to the exclusive rights to own the facial tattoo and the tsungkotepsü shawl, not to mention the influence it had on the vast array of artistic expressions in the forms of dance, songs, sculptures and architectural designs.

The new World Gallery has as a strapline, ‘what it means to be human’. What does being human mean to you?

Being human, to me, is to live and partake in life with empathy, to the best of one's ability, and the fact that we ask ourselves "what it means to be human" is what makes us human.

What is one thing you believe we all share as humans?


The Museum of Your Life

Our collections are made up of important objects, whether they are a rare example or a part of everyday life. With our World Gallery opening, we’ve been asking you to share your important objects with us.

What would go into the museum of your life?

What hold special memories that you couldn’t imagine parting with?

Here are some of your objects and stories.

This beautiful vase belonged to my grandmother and it was given to me after she passed away a few years ago. We had a shared love of the colour green...

She had 3 of these in the windowsill of her drawing room - purple, red and green. The sun would shine through each one reflecting the beautiful colours around the room. 

She knew the green was my favourite. This was one of her treasured objects and now it is mine. It reminds me of her every day.

A few days before my daughter was born, with my wife absolutely bossing early labour contractions, we ordered a Chinese takeaway thinking it may be the last we have as a family of two. This fortune was in my cookie.

I was scared and nervous for what was about to happen and this fortune felt comforting. I know they’re a bit naff but it felt like a sign. I keep it in my wallet to remind me of those days just before my life changed forever and I became a Dad.

They really calm me down. I think it’s their bird sound. It’s like a beat that you can do and they copy. It’s basically like I’m talking to them.

I remember hearing wood pigeons in school in Lower Sydenham Woods on a trip looking for other birds. My second favourite bird is a Peregrine Falcon – powerful and colourful, fast and smart.

I wear the bracelet every day, as it reminds me of my family and makes me feel connected to them. Last year me, my mum and my sister went on holiday together and we bought fabric bracelets to remind us of the trip – the fabric bracelets didn’t last long, so for Christmas my sister bought us all matching metal bracelets that we could all wear, and that would last.

My family live in the south west, and I don’t see them very often so the bracelet allows me to feel close to them. It holds happy memories of fun times together with my family!

Find out more about objects that are special to others in our World Gallery.

Family labels for the World Gallery

A group of ESOL learners (English for Speakers of Other Languages) and their families made labels for the World Gallery.

You will find pictures and questions in every continent to help you explore other cultures and remind you of your roots and traditions. 

How do you express your own culture?

What knowledge and skills do you pass to the next generation?

How do you relate to other people?

How do people show their power?

What makes a good leader?

What do you own that means the most to you?

We need your help

The Horniman is looking for stories about the objects that mean the most to you.

It could be a photograph, a gift you’ve been given, a family heirloom or something that always makes you smile. Whatever you choose, tell us the story of how you came to own it, why it is important to you and what you think when you see it.

Our World Gallery will be full of objects that mean a great deal to different people, whether they are vital tools, clothes, decorations or toys.

We want your help in creating an online museum of objects to complement the World Gallery, so that we can see the objects that are most important to you, our audience and visitors.

So, how do you send your entry?

Send us a picture of your object and the story behind it, or record your own video like the ones above, to web@horniman.ac.uk. Alternatively, you can message us on Facebook or Twitter.

We will be selecting some of your stories and pictures to go into the World Gallery and will include others on our website, as part of this virtual museum.

The Mini-Museum of Travel

Helen Merrill fills us in on how our volunteers went about putting together their latest Engage Discovery Box, a mini-museum in itself.

In the run-up to the opening of the World Gallery later this year, many of us here at the Horniman have been trying to answer the question, What does it mean to be human?

As a part of this project, the volunteers from our Engage Discovery Box Project took the lead in creating new discovery boxes that will be used in conjunction with the World Gallery by visitors and groups for years to come. Discovery boxes act like mini-museums, containing objects that follow a theme chosen by the group.

A thirteen strong team was organised and a theme of 'travel' agreed upon to complement the vision of the museum's Founder, Frederick, J. Horniman – Tea trader, Collector, Philanthropist and Anthropologist. The team needed to search for Museum objects in the Horniman collection that considered this theme while taking into consideration a broad target audience of young families, outreach venues and other community groups.

The objects had to incorporate sight, colour, smell, sound, and touch. The catalogue of available objects was vast but the objects not only had to represent the theme but they needed to be the right size and shape to fit into the Discovery Box. Safe handling was also a key factor. Eventually, the list was whittled down to 8-10 suitable objects.

  • Saddled camel model
  • Horniman tea tin
  • Bike gear 
  • Compass 
  • Yugoslavian slippers 
  • Image of Dorothy’s shoes 
  • Indbanas head piece 
  • Masai milk gourd 
  • African head scarf
  • London tube map
  • Range of other maps
  • Monarch butterfly
  • Three smell pots out of a choice of cinnamon, nutmeg, curry, and coffee.

Once the objects were chosen, the next stage was trial and evaluation with visitors. A special session was run in the Hands on Base to gauge visitor perception. Questions and feedback focused on discovery, adventure, travel, transport, and nostalgia, giving a picture of how the objects fit into the theme of travel while some objects were potentially not so relevant.

On the whole, the experience was extremely positive and thought-provoking, and it was great to know that a whole host of specialist groups would benefit from the mini-museum. For their efforts the team were nominated for the London Volunteers in Museums Awards which took place in September 2017 at City Hall. The team were declared runners-up in the award for 'Best Team Contribution', clearly recognising the enthusiasm and hard work of this dedicated team.

The accolade proved that the Horniman Volunteer Teams certainly know what it takes to engage, inspire and enrich visitor experience.

How an idea becomes a gallery

Have you ever wondered how we put together a brand new gallery? Well, Sarah Watson from Collections Management tells us how.

This year the Horniman has been preparing for the opening of a new gallery which will show around 4,300 objects from our anthropology collection. The new World Gallery will redisplay a number of objects previously found in the Centenary and African Worlds Galleries, and importantly will include many more objects - some of which have never before been on display.

Once the World Gallery is open you will see inspiring and exciting objects from across the world highlighting different themes and cultures. Sounds enticing, doesn’t it? Before you rush to the Museum though there is still a lot of challenging work taking place behind the scenes in order for the doors of the World Gallery to open for the first time. 

Before any of the Museum's objects can be installed there needs to be decisions made about how they will be arranged and how these displays can be made possible physically. Considering how to arrange objects in a new exhibition is no easy task and one which our curators have been focused on for the last six or so years.

Some of these decisions are made at layouts when objects are set out in a mock-up of how a showcase might eventually look. Conservators, curators, collections management, documentation, and workshop staff all attend to discuss the practicalities and challenges of displaying particular objects. 

Prior to a layout, all of the required objects must be retrieved from the Horniman’s very own TARDIS - the Study Collections Centre (SCC) - our offsite storage facility which houses the majority of the museum’s collection.

Retrieving objects is carried out by the Collections Management Team who are responsible for the care, storage, and documentation of the collection. As part of this team, I work with my colleagues prior to each layout to identify the location of selected objects, collect them, and arrange them according to a design planned by curators. 

This process of retrieving objects from the SCC can be quite time-consuming, usually taking between one and four days depending on the number of objects needed and the complexity of moving them. One of the largest layouts we have done so far featured over two hundred objects. One of the challenges we encounter when retrieving objects is if they are heavy or large, or both, making them more difficult to move. This adds to the amount of preparation and time needed, and will often require the assistance of additional colleagues and lifting equipment to move them safely. 

So, what happens after the layout has finished I hear you ask. After the curators, conservators, and workshop staff have met and agreed on which objects can be displayed and how collections management carefully pack all the selected objects so they are ready to transport from the SCC to the Museum. Objects that haven’t been chosen will be packed away and go back into storage. As with retrieving objects, packing them also takes time, often as many as four days as we need to ensure that objects are packed as to not sustain damage while in transit. 

To get to the point where we start retrieving objects to the moment they are packed and ready to transport can take the best part of two weeks, particularly if there are a lot of objects involved. Once the layouts are complete we will begin the process of installing objects in the refurbished exhibition space for the World Gallery to open in 2018. In the meantime, we are getting very good at packing, and are delighted to see so many fascinating and unusual objects going on display from the collection.

Crowdfunding success - thank you

Our crowdfunding campaign for the World Gallery recently came to a close and we have been overwhelmed by your generosity.

Thanks to you we managed to raise £25,957 over 42 days from 310 supporters, including a large donation from Lewisham Council, who gave £8,000 of funding.

As well as lots of local businesses, members and regular visitors donating, we saw backers from around the world pledge their support.

We’ve now got lots of work ahead to fulfil the rewards for backers, not to mention completing the World Gallery itself, so watch this space for updates.

If you missed the Crowdfunder, but would still like to help contribute you can do so online - donate to the World Gallery appeal.

Behind the Scenes with Jaz

Jaz from the Horniman Youth Panel shares his photo diary with us, taking us behind the scenes of their film project for the World Gallery.

Hi, my Name is Jaz. Recently, I took part in a project filming for the Horniman with Chocolate Films. It went really well.

  • _MG_0100, Members of the Youth Panel during filmmaking.
    Members of the Youth Panel during filmmaking.

There were lots of cameras and lots of people I did not know and it made me shy, but I got my confidence up by joining in and taking photos behind the scenes.

This photo is of a little girl showing us her microphone, bell, whistle, and medal. She was more confident than me and that’s where I got my confidence from.

This photo is of a lady in her dress, called a Muumuu and she has a volcanic rock for smashing food to make a paste. I took the photo because her dress looks nice and the dress comes from Hawaii.

I had a camera every day to take photos. This photo is of London and I was adjusting the setting on the camera so I can take a good photo of the city and the Shard.

I was adjusting the light levels, zoom, and focus. Doing the settings made me calm and confident.

  • Jaz Photos Before+After, These are two photos taken by Jaz using different settings, you can see the difference that changing the light levels makes to the photos.
    These are two photos taken by Jaz using different settings, you can see the difference that changing the light levels makes to the photos.

For anyone who has not been to the Horniman you should come because it is a nice park. If you are like me, who likes trees, animals, and gardening, you will like it.

Thank you for reading.

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