How does your garden grow: Unsung female heroes of science

We come together in this place of connection

To know and to be known

To enter into relationship, which is our teacher, our inspiration, our shelter, and our prod toward growth

In this place, may we feel safe from the storm

And strengthened to reach beyond our sanctuary

To bring others to safety

And to calm the fearful winds of conflict

That all may know peace


Message by Grace Graham

Good morning and thank you for having me here today.

First, let me start off by introducing myself with my post-nominals. Grace Graham, Master of Science. Now, I am not a scientist, but I do have an interest in horticulture or in other words, plants and flowers. 

Just a little about me. I'm a mum, a Buddhist, a martial artist and a business woman. I work with emerging female leaders and I am a champion of women and their achievements and feel that we need more of a big up than we get or give ourselves. So my message will have a female focus today.

My interest and fascination in plants came over a year ago, when I'd had enough of pigeons landing on my house, disrupting my Sky viewing and keeping me awake until the early hours of the morning. They kept landing on my window box, which was a total mess and a place the birds called their home. So, I called the council to ask if they could do something and they were going to charge me £520. That was enough to get me to clean it up myself. It was a nasty job, but when it was finished it looked great. The pigeons kept coming, although there were fewer so I had to do something. I went along to a garden centre and decided to buy some plants and flowers. I haven't looked back since!

Before going any further, and seeing as I am a champion of women and their achievements, I want to thank those female scientists, those unsung with heroes or heroines, who did things to make our lives that little bit nicer or easier. 

So, who likes to smell nice? ... We have Tapputi to thank for that. In 1200 BC this lady, from ye olde Egypt, was considered the world's first chemist. She used flowers, oil and water, along with other solvents and made perfume. Big thumbs up to her!

Is anyone into mathematics? When we think of mathematics Pythagorus tends to come to mind doesn't he? Well, how many of you knew that his successor was a woman called Theano? Apparently the Greeks were really supportive of women in science and Hypatia, an astronomer, mathematician and philosopher, was well respected in her fields. Hands up to you ladies!

Anyone who has had, or is connected to anyone who has had a serious illness, can thank Marie Curie for her pioneering research on radioactivity. Marie Curie, a physicist and chemist, was the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. A charity, set up in her name, provides care and support for people who are terminally ill and want to be cared for at home. She gets a whoop whoop from me!

There are many more female scientists who have made a difference in how we live today, but I only have so long to talk to you today, and want to talk about plants. 

I am fascinated by plants and flora and fauna. Between the age of 9 and 23 years old I grew up in a jungle. That jungle was my living room... in our house... in Albion Road, Stoke Newington. At 9, we moved the Albion Road and that was to be our permanent home, after moving from place to place prior to that and being quite unsettled as kids. By the time I was 23 my mum had passed away and the plants died with her, because I had no idea how to look after them. But let me tell you about my mum the Horticulturist. 

Dr Doolittle, talked to the animals. Horse whisperers talk to horses, and my mum spoke to the plants, like she talked to her children. 

Just like us, my mum's plant children thrived. She cared for them, like she cared for us. We had all sorts of plants. Lemon plants, money plants, spider plants. Plants that flowered at certain points of the year. Plants that grew out and plants who grew tall. One Mother's Day my brother and I bought our mum a rubber plant each, neither of us knowing that we were buying the same plant. What was interesting was that the plant my brother bought grew tall, like he did and mine grew out with many branches, and reflected me, the girl who had her fingers in many pies. 

If a plant wasn't thriving, my mum would know what to do. She'd either move it to a space where it go more or less sun, dependent on where it was in the first place. She'd sing to it or talk and ask it what was wrong. We though she was cookoo, but she always knew what to do. The same as if it were one of us, her kids!

Some of the plants would be used in our food, like rosemary, thyme or coriander. For tea, we'd have mint or what my mum and grandma used to call bush tea. Talking of plants for food or drink. Did you know that a method was developed to make alcohol and flour from potatoes in Sweden in the 1740s. Eva Ekelblad did this and helped to reduce their famine at the time, and as a result became the first female member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. A mini fist pump to you Eva!

Now, I'm going to mention two other ladies who were connected to the plant world. We all know Beatrix Potter for being an author. How many of you knew she was a natural scientist? Even more interestingly, how many of you knew she was a Unitarian? Because of her fascination with fungi, doing many paintings and drawings of them, she was well respected in the field of mycology. 

Anna Atkins is noted as the first person to create a photograph. In the 1800s she published a book with photographic images, which were of dried plants and algae. I tip my imaginary hat to you ladies!

What can we learn from plants and what to they do for us?

Plants and flowers are amazing and one of the biggest things they can do for us is bring us immense joy!

Now here is the science!

We need plants in our life because without them we wouldn't be able to breathe. They reduce minimise pollution by reducing the carbon dioxide in the air and give off oxygen. If anyone has read The Lorax, by Dr Seuss, it explains photosynthesis in a really lovely and child friendly way.

I know we live in London and many would call our city a concrete Jungle, but in this borough of Hackney, we are so blessed. We have the most green spaces of any London borough and our parks have won many awards. At least two or three times a week I go one power walks through Clissold Park, Finsbury Park and the Woodberry Wetlands. It is like a little peace of tranquility and a wonderful place to connect with nature and clear your head.

Plants regulate the water cycle by helping to distribute and purify our water. Amazingly they help to move water from the earth into the atmosphere.

Trees and plants absorb sound and I noticed this last weekend when I spent time with  my family in a field in by the edge of the M25. You could see the traffic fly by but couldn't hear much.

Plants can help to prevent things such as fatigue, stress, headaches and dry skin, especially if you work in an office, including your home office, particularly if you are using computers regularly. Here are some magical plants you may want near your desk:

Cacti - they absorb radiation from computers

Snake plant - these are very popular around office because they absorb the most harmful of rays

Spider plants - We used to have loads of these. This absorbs pollution and cleans out harmful gases in the home. They can also grow like wildfire!

Aloe - This is my favourite plant and reminds me of Jamaica. (Tell the story about the aloe plant being unhappy) I am now like my mum. Aloes have amazing uses and carry a lot of water. They can relieve sunburn, itching and swelling. They also absorb odours and kill micro-organisms.

Stone lotus flowers - As well as absorbing computer rays, it can help to calm your mind and release stress.

In essence plants are so essential in our lives and we can use them to help us feel good and improve our health. There is something special about nurturing plants and helping them to thrive, and when they do, they return the favour and help you. If, like me, you don't have a garden, change the environment of your home by having some plants around, because if anything, they'll keep you company, make your home look nice and give you a pleasant atmosphere. 

I salute the plants, trees and flowers and everything they do for us. 

May it be so!