Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

The autumn 1995 meeting of the group took place at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew. We were treated to a very broad range of talks and demonstrations covering a wide selection of Kew’s operations.

First up, Ken Bailey explained the networking and hardware strategy at Kew, describing a dizzy range of impressive hardware (8 Novell servers, more than 800 PCs, 24 Macs, Data General Aviion server, 4 Unix workstations, fibre optic cabling etc etc). This is supported by a team of 4 programmers and 4 support staff. PACE and VMark Universe are used for most system development.

Mark Jackson then described the development of a multimedia system for visitors. Multimedia Toolkit software has been used to develop this system which it is to be networked around the gardens.

Steve Ruddy demonstrated the KewScape mapping system which provides a graphic representation of the gardens and collections. Data is taken from Kew’s Living Collections Database of 89,000 accessions held on the DG and displayed on a site map on a portable screen-based data collection unit (Gridpad). The Gridpad is used in the gardens, the AutoLisp software allowing plant records to be updated. AutoCAD is used to record 30 layers of information, including services, buildings and vegetation.

Milan Svanderlik of the Media Resources department explained how Kew is using Kodak PhotoCD to archive and access images. A database of images is being created using Kodak’s Shoebox software.

After lunch, Ken Bailey and Steve Ruddy reported on Kew’s World Wide Web pages and how these have been authored. The present trial system has been compiled largely from existing publicity and promotional material, but longterm aims are to distribute scientific information and to give outside access to Kew’s databases. (Kew’s Home page is at

Francis Cook then talked about terminology standards, including the Dictionary of Plant Names and Genera and the taxonomic standards working group.

The last speaker, Liz Dauncey, gave an excellent presentation on Kew’s prize-winning identification system for poisonous plants, PLATO. This expert system has been developed in conjunction with the National Poisons Unit for use by medical professionals in hospitals. Your Chairperson was nominated (thanks guys) to prise apart an evil-looking specimen and use the system to identify deadly nightshade (A. belladonna). She also lived to see another day . . .

After tea (and frantic handwashing), a panel discussion ranged widely over the publication and sale of information and training. Internet and the production of Web pages (inevitably?) featured strongly. Thank you to the panel members, most of whom were persuaded into action at very short notice.

Many thanks to Bill Loader and the staff at Kew for organising such a fascinating and wide-ranging day – and an excellent meal the night before.

Fiona Marshall