The SLBI as a Greek student – An unforgettable experience!

A guest blog from Pavlos, our Greek intern, who sadly leaves us today…….

Monday the 1st of April 9:00 am, I was walking silently towards the front entrance of the South London Botanical Institute to begin my volunteer training. The institute is nothing like the modern more corporate institutes and large corporations that nowadays students use to encounter around the globe, it is more of a calm and majestic place because it is housed in a very old Victorian era mansion. As I walked through the entrance steps leading to the big green door, I noticed that from the outside the house was lush with vegetation and insects buzzing around calmly. I rang the doorbell and my experience began…

Hi, my name is Pavlos Voulgaris and currently I am at my last year at the Agricultural University of Athens in the department of Biotechnology. I always wanted to work with nature and visualized my work being as close to plants and animals as possible. Another thing I always imagined is working abroad and having the opportunity to get to meet and learn from new people of different nationalities and cultures. That is the reason why I came to London, one of the biggest cities of Europe and a rather “green” city compared to everything I heard prior to coming. I was chosen among the students of my university to attain a scholarship and a program funding to come to the UK and experience work firsthand, in an institute relative to my subject of interest. The preparations were made months before actually coming to the UK because finding a suitable institution was my responsibility. When I first emailed Nell Gatehouse, the institute’s Administrator, I couldn’t imagine I would be accepted. The Institute offered a wide range of activities related to plants that I was so fascinated to experience each and every one of them. I was also really enthusiastic to get a glimpse at the huge herbarium specimen collection that was housed at the institute. I thought the reasons for coming to the UK were more than enough. Nature, exploration, new people and a fascinating place to work, what else could I possibly ask?

The activities the institute offers exceeded my expectations! I was amazed when I was able to attend some nature walks with the exceptional guidance of Dr. Roy Vickery the head of the institute and a very kind and caring person. At the time I was around an annual plant sale was due to take place in which I was fortunate enough to participate and learn all about the different plant varieties as well as indoors and greenhouse plant information. Further ahead in my time there I got the fantastic opportunity to help Caroline Pankhurst the Education and Project Manager also an amazing and heartwarming individual at the London Wetland Centre, in which I got the chance to experience the wild side of London right in the middle of the city.


                                   Mending herbarium specimens and helping on the SLBI stall at the London Wetland Centre

On Thursdays (garden open days) the gardeners come to take care of the small but uniquely and beautifully managed botanical garden. At the garden you don’t see everyday plants but carefully chosen unusual and diverse varieties of plants from across the world but local plants as well. With the magnificent guidance I received from Cath Pearson and Sarah Davey I was able to learn as much as I could about garden maintenance, scientific plant names, medicinal uses of plants and experience the garden at its most splendid time during  April and May as it transformed from lush green to yellow , purple and orange ink dots. I discovered about the delicate balance that is needed in order to have healthy plants that thrive and come back as seeds year after year. From simple weeding to the more elaborate pruning and compost container management I acquired the best possible practical knowledge.

Working hard in the garden while the gardeners have a sit down…

As a volunteer apart from garden work I also helped with every aspect considering the institute’s needs. Volunteers are always needed for basic office work such as printing and filing but in the long term the benefits far exceeded the work that needed to be done. Each and every day the motivation that I had was immense because I always ended up with new experiences, one of them was being involved in children’s educational programs. Educational programs are being held during the school calendar with their main purpose to provide children with the opportunity to get in touch with nature and at the same time experience the important role plants play in our lives, from breathing healthy air and spectacular beauty to food and medicine. There I helped Helga Krauss, Educational and Outreach Coordinator, with the preparation of the teaching material as well as volunteering to help with the activities in the garden. I also contributed in the creation of photographic material, with the use of microscopes, after my visit in Brockwell Park to gather more food plants to put under the microscope. The result was astonishing, I was able to pinpoint microscopic characteristics of over 15 food plants and create a picture folder for future educational use. Overall, having the opportunity to interact with the young generation and provide knowledge that may in the future provide with an alternative approach in life is one of the amazing lessons I learned during my time in the institute.

Getting ready to do vegetable printing with the kids in half-term…

After this wonderful experience ended at the beginning of June I was left with all the experience, joy, memories and friends from the institute. I was really lucky to have found such a great place to work for these 2 and half months. In the end all my dreams these two months came true apart from London weather…


              Cooking special Greek tomatoes for everyone to eat in the garden on the last day


Pavlos Voulgaris, 30.5.19

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