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By Elizabeth Grace, Social Media & Content EditorISSUE #034 A TRIBUTE TO THE UNION OF FOOD AND SPIRITS | News

Introducing our Cultural Partnership with the Royal Botanic Gardens

Nestled alongside the glistening hues of Sydney Harbour, neighboured by the Sydney Opera House and only moments from the CBD, the rolling expanse of the Royal Botanic Gardens takes your breath away.

A verdant oasis for all manners of plant life, the Royal Botanic Gardens, and the newly established Australian Institute for Botanical Science, both play an essential role in the ongoing education, protection and research into a range of plant species, many of which are endemic to Australian shores.

Archie Rose is thrilled to come on board as a cultural partner of the Royal Botanic Gardens for the next year, and we look forward to bringing some spirit to the gardens that have brought so much life to Sydney for the past 200-plus years. Since 2014, Archie Rose has endeavoured to bring the highest quality Australian spirits that showcase the very best of Australia’s raw ingredients to the world, backed by an ethos around ethical and sustainable sourcing, so partnering with such an iconic organisation was a no-brainer.

To celebrate our partnership, we interviewed Chief Botanist and Director of Research at the Australian Institute for Botanical Science Dr Brett Summerell, and Curator Manager Dave Laughlin about the important work they do to keep plant life across the country happy and healthy, and some of the botanicals found at the gardens and your favourite Archie Rose serves.

Dr Brett Summerell

From performing vital scientific research to leading a team of world-class plant scientists at Australia’s oldest living scientific institution, you have had an impressive career. Where did your love of plants come from and how did you progress to one of the world’s foremost experts on plant diseases and fungi?

I have always loved nature and the outdoors – and of course, plants are a huge part of that! I started growing vegetable gardens and house plant collections and developed an interest in agriculture and horticulture which led me to study agricultural science at the University of Sydney. Just as I finished my PhD studies, a job as a plant pathologist at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney was advertised and I was lucky enough to get it – I have been at the Gardens ever since (33 + years). It is a wonderful organisation to work for in beautiful landscapes and the opportunity to do important work in fantastic places all around Australia.

What is it about plant science that excites you?

Plants are amazingly diverse, growing in pretty much every environment on earth – from deserts to Antarctica. They have come up with ways to adapt to the most extreme conditions or to grow amazingly well in the most luxuriant locations to form rainforests. You never get bored as there is so much diversity, colour, beauty and of course they support us all.

You’ve been referred to as the ‘real-life Mr Fungi’. Where did your fascination with mycology (the branch of biology concerned with the study of fungi) begin?

I studied agricultural science at University and got fascinated by plant diseases – how to diagnose them and how to prevent them. Most plant diseases are caused by fungi so in order to understand them I had to explore them in more detail and quickly discovered that healthy plants are dependent on fungi in the soil and in their root systems. They are also essential for decomposing dead matter and creating healthy soils.

Fungi are the second largest group of lifeforms after insects but probably only 10% of the species are scientifically described – there is so much we don’t know. This is especially the case in Australia so it has been fascinating to research them and to describe a large number of new species.

You are a champion of plant conservation, what is it about plants that make them so important to our day-to-day lives?

Plants are the basis for most life – either directly or indirectly all forms of life, including humans, depend on plants for food, habitat, oxygen, medicine and many more things. Without plants, most life would not exist and our planet would be a very barren place.

Considering that 85% of Australian plant life is endemic, how can readers better protect native flora and be more sustainable?

The most important thing we can all do is ensure that humans do not continue to degrade and destroy our natural environment. If you go out into national parks make sure you clean your footwear with a spray of methylated spirits to prevent the transmission of disease-causing organisms into the bush. Practical action can also involve planting trees in your local area or backyard – or joining bush regeneration groups to help. Or you can support organisations involved in conservation like botanic gardens.

What would you say to any future plant scientists out there or to those who had no idea such a career path existed?

If you want to have a career where you can make a difference in the future of the planet then studying science, particularly plants, is the way to go. Whether it is discovering species previously unknown to science, protecting plants from exotic diseases, developing sustainable agriculture or how to reduce emissions in the atmosphere, plants provide answers. We desperately need more plant scientists and more people passionate about protecting plants.

Dave Laughlin

Tell us about your role as Curator Manager at the Royal Botanic Gardens and the Domain.

As the Curator Manager, I am privileged to curate and hopefully improve one of the world's great living collections of plants. I am surrounded by an amazing team of horticulturists who work incredibly hard to maintain the garden. My job involves ensuring the team has all the resources needed to care for the plants within the collection. The plants are everything and touch every part of our organisation. Much of my role involves the cooperation of other teams such as science and education to provide access to the plants in the living collection for research and learning. I also work closely with plant societies and other botanical organisations to safeguard rare plants and educate the public about plants. Training, mentoring and development of staff is a vital part of the job because without an experienced and motivated team the plants suffer. This is a very enjoyable and rewarding job and every day I learn something new.

What does a day in your life look like for you?

I am a creature of habit. My workday starts with my walk to work following the same route. I try to plan my day as I walk and think about the known tasks ahead. Often as soon as I turn the computer the structure ends and the unexpected begins. I try to get into the garden as often as possible and spend time with the horticulturists. I get to meet lots of people each day and I am constantly amazed by the generosity that plant people show to the garden.

A large part of your role includes managing the living collections that are housed onsite at the gardens. What role do these collections play in conserving plants away from their natural habitats?

The living collection plays such an important part in the conservation of plants that are rare, threatened and sometimes extinct in the wild. Take our palm collection for example, which contains 18 of the 30 rarest palms in the world! We make the collection available for scientific research which adds to our ability to conserve plants in their natural environments.

Working closely with our botanists and horticulturists, we also ethically collect propagation material from wild plants and create important ex-situ collections as insurance against catastrophic natural events as well as collecting seeds to be stored in the Australian PlantBank for future conservation.

Ultimately, we use the living collection to educate our visitors and future generations about the importance of plants to life on earth. We use the plants to inspire an appreciation of the natural world in the hope that future generations will be good custodians of our precious and fragile ecosystem.

How can living collections be established?

Everyone who maintains a plant or seed with the ability to grow is keeping a living collection. Your garden or indoor plant collections are living collections, but botanic gardens take living collections to the next level. It’s good to have a plan as to what should be in the living collection and what can grow in the environment. Importantly when considering long-lived plants such as trees, consider any predicted changes in the environment during the life of the plant. The resources available to maintain the collection and how many resources the collection will require to keep it alive and healthy should also all be considered.

At the Royal Botanic Gardens, we maintain detailed records of the plants within the botanic garden collection. The maintenance of these records is vital.

Archie Rose features a number of botanical blends in our spirits, some of which can be found in the gardens! What other uses do some of these botanicals have?

The botanicals Archie Rose uses are amazing, many of which have varied uses! Lemon myrtle with its very refreshing citrus flavour is used in a range of drinks, sweet treats, sauces and even ice cream. The river mint has a more delicate flavour than the more common culinary mints. This great little plant can be used as an Australian native alternative to peppermint or spearmint. We have a few Cinnamomum in the garden but not cassia bark which is widely used in Southeast Asia as a spice and to make tea. Juniper berry, which is derived from a conifer and therefore not a true berry, has a range of uses in European cuisine. Of course, juniper is also a key ingredient in gin with its distinctive flavour. We have grown juniper in the herb garden in the past and plan to reintroduce this wonderful plant. Coriander with its unique flavour grows well in Sydney and can always be found in the herb garden.

Learn more about the living collections at the Royal Botanic Gardens here.

Find out more about the Australian Institute for Botanical Science **here