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Building the Extremes Garden

Wes, our  Head of Horticulture, lets us know what went in to creating our new outdoor showcasing exploring plants with some amazing adaptations to extremely arid environments.

The big challenge to build our Extremes Garden was to find suitable plants to display, as they are not the type that can be picked up in your local garden centre, and we needed something especially striking as a centre piece.

Fortunately my old mate David Cooke, manager of Kew Gardens' Temperate House helped us out, and loaned a Giant African Cycad, Encephalartos altenstenii.

Cycads are amazing plants that survived when the dinosaurs inhabited the planet; they actually predate the evolution of flowering plants and produce cones rather than flowers as reproductive structures.

Glasshouse manager Kate Pritchard from Oxford Botanic Gardens also kindly loaned us two lovely Organ Pipe Cactus that have also made a big visual impact on the garden.

Other plants came from Southfields specialist cacti nursery; gold medal winners at Chelsea this year. The amazing Architectural Plants Nursery in Horsham also provided us with a nice selection.

We paid a visit to a private nursery/collection owned by Cacti expert John Pilbeam (Connoisseurs' Cacti) to source the remaining smaller specimens.

After a lot of deliberation we positioned the plants. They were planted in their pots because they are only going to be on display until September (when they will need to be moved inside for the Winter) so it saved disturbing their root balls which cacti in particular don’t appreciate.

We then laid a weed-suppressing membrane around the plants and over the surface of the bed, creating a patchwork between the plants.

We then mulched with 5 bulk bags of decorative stone, to give the display its arid/desert look.

The display only really took the highly skilled Gardens team 2 days to install, and we are very pleased with the results.

Extremely fascinating objects

Our Extremes Late event tomorrow night is all about extremes: extremely hot music, extremely rude art and extremely high acrobatics.

It's also a chance for us to present a selection of extremely interesting objects from our collections.

Expect some extremely strange, cold, romantic, ugly or even extremely disappointing objects. Here's a preview of just three.

This extremely magical object from Poland removes spells from cows whose milk is failing, a sign that the cow may be bewitched. The udder would be placed through hole for milking, thus removing the spell.

This extremely cute object is a stuffed toy from Canada. We're pretty sure that it is an owl. And, as it's made from white fur, it's also extremely fluffy.

This extremely scary object is a Halloween mask. It's made from square piece of sacking cloth with three holes for eyes and mouth, and black and brown painted facial features.

These are only three of our extreme objects. Come along tomorrow night to see more. Tickets are on sale here

Taxidermy on Film

Dan Brown (MASH Cinema) is providing the film programme for our Taxidermy Late. Here he tells us a bit more about it.

My view of taxidermy is shaped by Jan Švankmajer’s film, ‘Alice’; a little macabre but truly captivating. Even now, wandering around natural history galleries in museums, I love looking at the specimens and the characters created by the taxidermists.


When programming the films for the Horniman’s Taxidermy Late, I wanted to include a mixture of genres, allowing me to explore different areas of this fascinating subject. Hopefully showing a truer representation of it: one of integrity, artistry and scientific discovery.

Below is a short introduction to some of the selected films.

'The Taxidermist' by Bertie Films

Produced by Warp Films, this eccentric short film explores what would happen if pets lived forever, thus leaving a taxidermist without work.

'Le Taxidermiste' by Le Taxidermiste Team

This beautifully made French animation deals with the fate of a taxidermy collection after the death of its creator. It’s time to say goodbye to what is left behind.

‘Taxidermists’ by Nicole Triche

This documentary follows two taxidermists at the biennial World Taxidermy Competition, providing a glimpse into the often overlooked world of art, science and competition.

Modern Taxidermy: Mounting the Indian Elephant from American Museum of Natural History

Rich Remsberg’s edit of this archival film (1927) documents Carl Akeley's taxidermy process from the raw hide to the finished display.

These films will be shown in collaboration with Electric Pedals who will use the energy created by the audience to power the cinema.


Today is the last day you can buy tickets for Taxidermy Late in advance: book yours now to be in with the chance of skipping the queues and having enough time to watch MASH Cinema's fabulous film selection.

Extreme Animals Arrive

This week has been an exciting one at the Horniman Museum and Gardens as we prepare for the opening of our new family friendly exhibition, Extremes.

There have been quite a few taxidermy animals to settle into their new home. It was exciting to see them all arriving.

Extremes offers a chance for us to loan some larger taxidermy specimens which are rare in the Horniman collections. Can you guess who these claws belong to?

There is also an opportunity for some of our own collections to come out of storage and get some well-deserved attention on display. The Exhibitions team have been busy preparing and mounting a wide variety of objects.

It's been fantastic fun testing out some of the interactives, too.

For the last few weeks, our #ExtremeCurator has been experiencing the enviroments explored in the exhibition, and looking at how well-adapted some animals are compared to humans. You can catch up on Paolo's adventures on Youtube.

Today, Paolo took a tour around the exhibition itself. Keep an eye out for the last #ExtremeCurator video, where he'll introduce you to some of the animals featured in Extremes.

Extremes is open to the public from 12.30pm on Saturday 15 February. You can buy your tickets online in advance.

At Home with Music gets ready to open

This week sees the launch of the Music Gallery's new display, At Home With Music.

A few weeks ago we shared a behind the scenes look at the new display being installed.

A lot has changed since then, and the new display cases are now home to an array of beautiful instruments.

At Home With Music will tell the story of the keyboard instruments we have invited into our homes over the centuries, as well as displaying a range of instruments and looking at how they produce such fantastic sounds.

Some of the largest keyboards will also be displayed outside the glass cases, allowing visitors to get even closer to some of their exquisite detail.

Some of the final steps toward the launch involve curator Mimi giving some of the Horniman staff a guided tour of new display.

The star of the display is a late 18th century English harpsichord by Jacob Kirckman. At the launch event, Composition Competition winners Adam Stafford and Tim Watts will have their pieces performed on the harpsichord, which has been painstakingly restored to playing condition.

At Home With Music will be open to the public from Thursday 30 January 2014. You can find it along the first wall of the Music Gallery, to the left as you enter.

Danny Boyle at the Horniman

We were very pleased to welcome Oscar-winning filmmaker Danny Boyle to the Horniman yesterday evening.

Danny and his crew filmed a pilot for a Channel 4 show Babylon in the local area last November. To thank SE23 residents, he and his team offered to hold a Q&A talk which we were delighted to host.

Questions from the audience ranged from his favourite films, his proudest moment, the show filmed here in Forest Hill and, of course, the 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony. Danny entertained and enthralled the audience with tales from his award winning film and stage career and charmed us all.

Winter Gardening Jobs in the Materials Garden

Head of Horticulture Wes gives us an update on the important work going on in the Gardens to protect our plants for Winter.

Many of the plants we grow in and around the display gardens are from warmer climates and will not survive a London winter, so at this time of year the gardening team are busy protecting them from cold temperatures, wind and rain.

Some plants like the Cyperus papyrus (papyrus) we dig up, containerise and leave in a heated green house until the spring.

Our banana plants are the hardy Musa basjoo. They will survive being left in the ground if protected from the elements. Bananas are often referred to as trees, but they are really giant herbaceous plants, the largest in the plant kingdom. Their true stem is underneath the ground in the form of a large rhizome. This is the part of the plant that really needs to be protected.

Gardener Damien begins this task by removing all the leaves and using them as mulch around the base of the plant. The stems are cut in half.

He then puts canes up in a wigwam like fashion around the clump and ties horticultural fleece tightly around, securing at the top and bottom.

This will keep the frost off of them, and more importantly keep them dry to avoid the rhizomes from rotting.

This appears quite a brutal way of treating these plants, but it does them no harm and in the spring, when the weather has warmed up they re-shoot from the cut stems or from the base of the clump. They will get a good soak and some fertiliser and they are good to go for another season.

What's this? A Charmed Life

Since July, a group of 8 brilliant volunteers have been involved in collecting information and memories from visitors to the museum about an intriguing object – a glove charm from Naples

As well as talking to people about the object and encouraging them to enter their thoughts into the iPads next to the object, they have been taking photos of the lucky charms our visitors have in their pockets.

Sze Kiu Leung - one of the volunteers - takes us through a selection of the charms.

During the past month, as part of the Collection People Stories project, we have been inviting our vistors (as well as our fellow volunteers) to share their special / lucky charms with us by letting us take a photo of the charm, as well as telling us a little bit of background information about it (e.g. what it is and why it's special).

  • Charm, This lady said this was a religious talisman given to her by her mother when she was a child. I have worn it ever since - I am now in my 30s. I lost it twice and went to big efforts to retrieve it and fix it!
    This lady said this was a religious talisman given to her by her mother when she was a child. I have worn it ever since - I am now in my 30s. I lost it twice and went to big efforts to retrieve it and fix it!


This lady said this was a religious talisman given to her by her mother when she was a child. "I have worn it ever since – I am now in my 30s. I lost it twice and went to big efforts to retrieve it and fix it!"

  • Charm, I have carried this everywhere for 20 years. It is the name of the sun in Egyptian. I would feel lost without it.
    I have carried this everywhere for 20 years. It is the name of the sun in Egyptian. I would feel lost without it.

"I have carried this everywhere for 20 years. It is the name of the sun in Egyptian. I would feel lost without it."

  • Charm, This is my motherâs wedding ring. Wearing it gives me a sense of closeness with my family member.
    This is my motherâs wedding ring. Wearing it gives me a sense of closeness with my family member.


"This is my mother's wedding ring. Wearing it gives me a sense of closeness with my family member."

  • Louise's lucky charm bracelet , It is made of beads which ward off the evil eye.
    It is made of beads which ward off the evil eye.


Volunteer Louise's lucky charm bracelet – it is made of beads which ward off the evil eye.

  • Roy's lucky glove, This is Roy's (aged 3) lucky glove. It is a golfing glove, but he likes to think it is his wrestling glove and likes to just wear only one glove on his left hand.
    This is Roy's (aged 3) lucky glove. It is a golfing glove, but he likes to think it is his wrestling glove and likes to just wear only one glove on his left hand.


This is Roy's lucky glove (aged 3). It is a golfing glove, but he likes to think it is his wrestling glove and likes to just wear only one glove on his left hand.

  • Tempe's lucky bracelet, She wears this for all exams, interviews dates etc. As a rule though she wouldnât say that she is superstitious.
    She wears this for all exams, interviews dates etc. As a rule though she wouldnât say that she is superstitious.


Volunteer Tempe's lucky bracelet – she wears this for all exams, interviews dates etc. As a rule though she wouldn’t say that she is superstitious.

  • Kieron's cap, He wears this every day and has a subconscious need to wear it, like a good luck charm.
    He wears this every day and has a subconscious need to wear it, like a good luck charm.

Volunteer Kieron's cap – he wears this every day and has a subconscious need to wear it, like a good luck charm.

What's this? What we know about the object

In July this year, we set up a new case displaying an object in our African Worlds gallery. Around the case were two ipads, into which our visitors can put their questions, information or memories about the object.

Lots of questions were asked about the object, so we asked our curator Fiona to tell us what she knows about the object.

This object is a mano cornuta, or 'horned hand' amulet in the form of a brown leather glove with white stitching, stuffed with pink wool to resemble a gloved hand.

The wrist is bound with a cotton thread to attach a twisted and knotted loop of string by which to hang it.

It would have been used as a charm against bad luck, probably hung from his barrow by a street seller. It probably came from Naples, and is believed to have been acquired by the Museum in the early 20th century from Edward Lovett, who was a collector of amulets.

Mano cornuta, or 'horned hand' amulets come in all sorts of material and sizes. In southern Italy, they are sometimes made of coral, amber, silver, and mother-of-pearl.

They are still sometimes used, and were once worn widely as a protection against the ‘Evil Eye’. This was the look given by someone wishing to cause a person injury or misfortune, usually a jealous rival, and it was thought that some such people could cause harm by glancing at you.

Making a gesture like the one formed by the glove, or wearing an amulet such as this one could offer some protection by diverting the evil glance.

Tomorrow, this object will be going back into our stores and a new object will arrive in the case in African Worlds. We hope you'll enjoy discovering the next object.

Bioblitz: the video

After a year of Bioblitz, the project is soon coming to an end.

We have almost finished the reviews themselves - we have only one more to do! - and are now ready to begin sharing our findings with everyone.

Over the next couple of months, we’ll be celebrating some of our more exciting finds and discoveries.

In the meantime, we have made a short video about the process in action. Twelve expert reviewers, eleven different reviews, several staff and volunteers and 250,000 natural history specimens have been involved over the last year.

Watch the video to get an idea of how we went about looking at a quarter of a million specimens in one year.

 

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