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Meet: Tim Entwisle, director, Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne

Photo - Tim Entwistle

Professor Tim Entwisle has returned to become the new director and chief executive of the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne after a few years at the RBG Sydney and RBG Kew in London. Graham Ross caught up with him.

Congratulations on your new job! What is exciting you most about being back at the RBG Melbourne?

So many things! I'm returning to the place where I first fell in love with botanic gardens. Today the two sites - Melbourne and Cranbourne - are exemplars of how botanic gardens can celebrate their history but also be innovative. I want to raise the profile of these spectacular garden landscapes and make sure we use them to excite visitors about interesting and important plants. I also want to make sure our science and amazing store of plant knowledge is put to good use. There are some great people working here and I'm looking forward to helping them make a difference.


Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne. Photo - Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne

Given your experience in botanic gardens, first in Melbourne, then at RBG Sydney and most recently at RBG Kew, what changes do you envisage making in Melbourne?

I'm keen to bring together experts from science, horticulture and public programs to address conservation conundrums. Kew was very good at doing this. So was Sydney with the Wollemi pine. I'd like to make our glasshouse here worthy of plants such as the titan arum (which drew 20,000 people to the Melbourne Gardens over Christmas). In the second stage of the Observatory Gate development I want to build on the scientific legacy of this site to create a science communication hub for Melbourne. I'm also keen to do some thinking about the natural areas outside the Australian Garden at Cranbourne and how these can be used for conservation and perhaps an expanded seedbanking project. I have other ideas as well but I need to get to know the place better before I canvas those.


Australian Garden, Cranbourne. Photo - Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne


There were many Australians working at Kew while you were there. Was it a coincidence that so many Australians were employed in senior positions at RBG Kew in the 21st century?

I don't think so. Australia is a great place to be inspired about plants and we have an unparalleled network of city and regional botanic gardens. We are innovative, friendly and love our plants. That in addition to a strong work ethic makes us a good source of talent!


What do you see as the big challenges facing botanic gardens today?

Well I can think of four straight off - resources are always tight and all botanic gardens rely on philanthropy and a range of revenue-raising activities. It's hard, but rewarding, work to fund our big projects. Climate change is something we need to be planning for. Horticulture is not doing well as a career in the UK and I can see similar signs here. If we don't treat it as a profession and provide fulfilling jobs we won't attract the best people. And linked to that, fundamental plant science is also struggling around the world so botanic gardens have a big role in teaching, nurturing and promoting both horticulture and plant science.


Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne. Photo - Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne

You can catch up with more of Tim’s thoughts on his blog


Text: Graham Ross

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Author: Graham Ross