The WeeCAIR medicinal garden was the brainchild of Irene Hallyburton, then a malaria research scientist within the Wellcome Centre for Anti-Infectives Research (WCAIR – which very easily becomes WeeCAIR when it’s a wee something we care about). Irene noticed a patch of land outside of the School of Life Sciences, on the University of Dundee campus, that was unused and, frankly, a bit boring. She wanted to change that, so we developed the plans for a medicinal garden.
Our aim with the garden is to provide a space to explore science in a less conventional way. Our green space provides an educational resource to learn both about the history of medicines, as well as the ground-breaking drug discovery work going on inside our building.
Almost every plant in our garden has an active ingredient which a medicine has been made from. The idea was sparked because of the link with the malaria research going on within the Centre as one of the main malaria treatments comes from artemisinin which is found in sweet wormwood.
Although we started our project just before the Covid-19 pandemic, we managed to continually work on different aspects of the project and work on building up our digital resources. We hosted online virtual events during local festivals, as well as creating a digital story for use during WCAIR’s virtual sleepover with Girlguiding Dundee. Word spread fast around the local area, and we started having chats with lots of other local groups. First, we helped Dundee Science Centre develop their own sensory garden space featuring medicinal plants. Hospitalfield House in Arbroath also asked us to participate in their ‘Beer and Berries’ festival where we hosted a talk as well as planting a satellite medicinal garden within their historic walled garden.
So, going forward what is the plan? We want to make sure our on-campus garden is a sustainable project which means building a community who can take leading roles on its upkeep and different engagement ideas. The project has also started growing stronger roots around the city with more and more communities and organisations approaching us to create and help with their own garden spaces. We have plans for multiple different gardens in local museums as well as primary schools. These additional garden spaces mean that we can provide educational experiences and listen to our audiences all around Dundee, even those who may not easily set foot near our main garden. If we build strong roots for the project, we will ensure its success.
The garden has thrived due to its highly collaborative nature. We are always on the lookout for new ways of adapting the medicinal garden idea and working with partners to grow sustainable ideas. We couldn’t have succeeded in getting this project going without the support from our senior leadership team and wider university support. But we are not yet done and hope that the project is never actually ‘over’! We are always on the hunt for people to get involved and bring their own fresh takes to the project. Do you know of a community that would love their own garden? Do you have an idea for an activity we could do or resources you could lend? We would love to hear from you! Feel free to contact Ailsa Mackintosh at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can certainly get you involved!
Public Engagement Officer
Wellcome Centre for Anti-Infectives Research
School of Life Sciences, University of Dundee