The displays have been created and curated by students aged 13-14 and 16-17 from two schools in Surrey. The exhibition showcases artworks and exhibits developed by the students, exploring subjects including human–plant relationships, beauty norms, compassion and the place of humans within the ecosystem.
The students, who attend St John the Baptist School in Woking and King’s College in Guildford, were supported in developing their ideas around the question of ‘what is a weed?’ by creative practitioners Ada Rose (She/Her & They/Them) and Linden McMahon (They/Them). Ada and Linden were brought together by the RHS based on their different strengths as artists, in order to help with the creative process and amplify the voices of young people on the topic of weeds and their significance. The students also received support from the RHS Community Outreach team and drew inspiration from the RHS Lindley Library collections, in particular botanical artworks and rare 16th century ‘herbals’, which describe plants and their uses.
Exhibition highlights include:
Fiona Davison, RHS Head of Libraries and Exhibitions, said:
- Interactive, innovative and sensory exhibits that will invite visitors to reconsider their preconceptions about weeds and to think about the implications of rigid ideas of beauty and perfectionism in society as a whole
- Original and thought-provoking creative writing, zines, comics and an animated work by the students
- Herbarium specimens created by the students from plants collected from roadside verges
- Rare items and specimens from the RHS library, entomology and herbarium collections
“We are delighted to have worked with the RHS Garden Wisley Community Outreach Team, local students and creative practitioners to co-curate the ‘What is a Weed?’ exhibition. The project has given everyone involved the chance to discover more about the history of plants and gardening and why certain plants came to be thought of as weeds. By working with young people to explore the role of different plants in the ecosystem, and our attitudes to them, we can show the benefits a diverse range of plants can offer to wildlife and climate as well as health and wellbeing. This enables us to create engaging and sustainable gardens for the future.”
Creative practitioner Linden McMahon added: “
Young people are leaders on climate change, ecological crisis, and social justice, and their creativity leaps outside the box. They are capable of imagining incredible things! By taking their ideas and art seriously, and working with professionals who have the resources to bring their ideas to life, this project gives a platform to voices which need to be heard.”
The exhibition and work with the young curators has been supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund as part of the RHS Gardens of Imagination project, which aims to celebrate and share new stories about gardening, horticulture and the RHS’ unique collections between by working with artists in residence.
Stuart McLeod, Director of England - London & South at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said:
“For over a century, RHS Wisley has been a place where people have learnt and felt inspired by our natural world. Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, these young people have discovered amazing biodiversity stories, explored the fantastic archive and connected with what this means for our planet today. It's a brilliant way for our future horticulture champions to learn about natural heritage in a creative way.”
The exhibition is in the Wisley Gallery from 24 September 2023 to 23 January 2024 and entry is included with admission to the garden.
To find out more visit: ‘What is a weed?’ – young curators challenge stereotypes and introduce new perspectives on weeds.