Louise Gunner

Louise cares for the dried and pressed plant specimens in our herbarium, cataloguing and preserving them to ensure it’s safeguarded for the future. During the show season, Louise works as Floral Judging Co-ordinator for RHS Flower Shows

What do you do?

As an Herbarium Curator, I am a member of the team that cares for the herbarium collection. I add new and important specimens called Nomenclatural Standards – these are specimens that represent the definitive characteristics of specific cultivars. The Nomenclatural Standards are usually dried, pressed plant specimens but may be photographs or paintings if these better show a plant’s characteristics and normally the material comes straight from the breeder or introducer. The herbarium at RHS Garden Wisley specialises in cultivated plants and we are a key deposit for these specimens.
I am also Floral Judging Co-ordinator at RHS Shows. This role helps me discover, record and create new specimens of cultivars as they are introduced to the market.
During my time at the RHS I have also worked in a small team making digital versions of the 89,000 specimens in the herbarium.

“My parents have always been keen gardeners and that’s where my love of plants began.”

Why is your team’s research important?

Nomenclatural Standards are a reference point for the naming of cultivars. They can be used to resolve name queries and make sure that continuity of names is kept. This reference is important to gardeners so that they know what they are growing, can get the correct advice and pick the right plant for their garden.

Projects I’m working on now

  • Nomenclatural Standards

Completed projects

  • Herbarium digitisation project – imaging


For British Science Week – an annual celebration of science, technology and engineering – the herbarium welcomed groups of school students to learn about botany and press and identify specimens.

After explaining a botanical key (a set of questions and answers used to identify plants) to a student, they preceded to identify all the plants they had been given. It was great to see their knowledge grow, and was fantastic to watch a ‘light bulb’ moment happen and know that I’d helped them understand the world of plants, and that they wanted to learn more.


  • O’Beirne L, Harvey Y. (2018) The RHS special Fuchsia collection: to infinity and beyond. The British Fuchsia Society Autumn Bulletin 2018, pp 28–30
  • Matharu M, O’Beirne L. (2017) Advent Botany 2017 – Day 08 – Cultivating Christmas. pt. 1
  • Harvey Y, O’Beirne L. (2017) The genus Delphinium from the past, present and future at the RHS herbarium. The Delphinium Society Yearbook 2017, pp14–20
  • Harvey Y, Phillips B, Harris S, O’Beirne L, Kapetanakis P. (2017) Really, the RHS has an herbarium? NatSCA Notes & Comments, Issue 9, pp 1–4
  • Harvey Y, O’Beirne L. (2016) Wisley’s paintings of award-winning heathers. Nelson C (ed.), Heathers 13. Yearbook of The Heather Society 2016, pp1–3, ISSN 0440-5757

Get involved

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.