Who got that cash?

November 23, 2007

The humble British garden is the subject of a new three-year research project by Kent University researchers.

Entitled "The Ethnobotany of British Home Gardens: Diversity, Knowledge and Exchange", the project has been awarded £151,616 from the Leverhulme Trust.

The project will look at the social networks along which gardening knowledge - and plants - are exchanged, along with the impact gardening can have on households.

The researchers will produce an inventory of biological resources drawn from different kinds of home gardens as well as allotments around the county of Kent. Government estimates put the number of gardeners in the UK at million.

Assistance for the project will be provided by the Eden Project and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, two organisations with which Kent University's department of anthropology has ongoing collaborations.

The project is directed by Roy Ellen (pictured right), professor of anthropology and human ecology, and Simon Platten, a Leverhulme research fellow, both from the department of anthropology.

Professor Ellen told The Times Higher that in spite of the British obsession with gardening, little research has been done on the subject.

"Despite the enormous amounts of money spent on research and development in the horticultural industry, relatively little is known about how lay people learn about gardening.

"This is an ideal context in which we can look at how people learn certain kinds of practical skills.

"As an anthropologist, for me this is a perfect opportunity to investigate how knowledge is passed on."

Professor Ellen said that early work indicates that, despite the amount of time devoted to gardening by the general media, very little in the way of practical skills are passed on this way.

"We have only just started with some pilot work, but our hunch is that despite the number of gardening programmes, most people would appear to learn their skills by trial and error or perhaps by picking up tips from other people," he said.

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