Client interview: Botanist + Education Officer Sally Lee Talks Making Facts Fun

Client Interview | Sally Lee



Who do you work for and what is your role there?


I work at Cambridge University Botanic Garden where I am an Education Officer.  My role involves encouraging all different kinds of people to visit the garden and ensuring that they feel welcome.  My job is very varied and already this year I have dressed up as a Victorian Plant Hunter for a night-time plant hunt, started a mosaic making project with Young Carers and kicked-off our community gardening project.  One of the things I like most about my job is that I’m always learning as all these different projects mean I end up working with different plants each week.


How does working with illustration help to explain sometimes complex ideas and information?


I think illustrations can be one of the best ways of communicating ideas.  With the right illustrations it’s possible to communicate difficult topics in a clear and undaunting way and to present topics that are often thought of as dry and boring as fun and interesting.  I think it’s a great skill to be able to create illustrations like this and takes a lot of thought and planning.  One of the loveliest examples of Hannah + Holly’s illustrations communicating complex ideas was the Planet Botanic Trail.  This trail was all about different plant families and getting children to track them down in the garden.  Hannah + Holly created beautiful family crests for each of the plant families.  Each family crest perfectly reflected the characteristics of that family through the images, shapes and colours used.  The images are really beautiful and we have since put them up on the wall in our new classroom.


What impact has working with Hannah + Holly had on you and your audience?


We have had great feedback from visitors since we started working with Hannah + Holly.  People really enjoy doing the trails and they love the illustrations.  Local families now eagerly await new trails and there is now an expectation from our visitors to have beautifully designed trails available from our ticket offices.  It is great to feel we are producing something of an excellent quality that reflects the high standards associated with the University of Cambridge.  The trails have been admired by botanic garden staff from all around the world since we have been able to showcase them at botanic garden conferences both in this country and internationally.  


You have worked with Hannah + Holly for a while now on several projects. What is your most favourite and/or most successful project so far?


There have been so many lovely projects it’s quite hard to choose.  One that was very much loved by our visitors was our Garden Giants trail.  This was a family trail that involved making your way to visit 6 giant trees and making a magic wand.  At each of the trees was information about the tree alongside how to build your own magic wand using found materials. With Hannah + Holly's help I think we managed to create something that did the hard job of combining factual information about plants with observational skills and more whimsical stuff too like the art of wand making.  Children really loved this trail and we had some children who were making new wands each week.


Have you got any other projects coming up?


Yes at the moment I am planning what we are doing for our ‘Summer at the Museums’ events that take place throughout the school summer holidays.  For this we are thinking of developing a new trail that involves lots of colouring-in and also running our Plant Hunter Challenge for older children.  


What's your favourite plant and why?


It’s very hard to say.  I don’t think I have just one.  Because my job involves telling people about plants I am drawn to plants that have interesting facts or stories about them.  My possible favourites include the Nelumbo nucifea which has such liquid repellent leaves that even if you drop something incredibly sticky onto them (we have tested both ketchup and honey) it just forms bizarre round balls and rolls straight off.  Another possible favourite is the squirting cucumber, Ecballium elaterium whose fruit can violently explode sending seed-filled goo flying everywhere.