A gardener’s tools: the dissecting kit

I’m delighted to welcome Kew’s Miranda Janatka for the first post in a series on A gardener’s tools, in which different gardeners will be writing about the tools which they find invaluable as they go about their work of tending gardens and nurturing plants. Having seen a photography of Miranda’s dissecting kit on her Instagram feed, I had to ask her if she’d be happy to reveal something of the background behind the collection and, fortunately for us, she said ‘yes’.
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What makes a job, a craft? For those in office-based careers it can be hard to understand how delicate horticulture can be. Don’t get me wrong, it can be brutal, tough and physically demanding, but we are also sculptors, carvers and surgeons in our field.

 Tools of the trade: Miranda’s botanical dissecting kit

Tools of the trade: Miranda’s botanical dissecting kit

First acquired in my student days, my dissecting kit is no different to that used by those studying biology or entomology. Despite all the advantages of modern day technology, a Kew Diploma student is still required in botany lectures to get down to the nitty gritty of what really makes plants. Scraping off cells to mount onto glass slides or pulling apart floral reproductive parts, the knowledge of a studied plant becomes intimate, then later laborious, as tutors hover over the shoulders of students peering down microscopes and devotedly drawing out by hand each cell by cell. This is haltered only by a student exclaiming loudly in excitement and everyone dropping their work to rush over and look down their viewer.     

 The kit at work in a Kew Dip botany lecture

The kit at work in a Kew Dip botany lecture

However, the kit is more than a fond memoir of those days, and I use it frequently in my role here at Kew Gardens in the Tropical Nursery. Carefully pulling out germination trial seedlings from agar jelly in petri dishes, or hand-pollinating flowers, some extinct in the wild – a blunter set of tools just wouldn’t do. Certain plants such as Nepenthes species are fussy in many ways, and when we take cuttings, we use clean scalpels to carefully slice off parts to better our success rates.

 Sharp tools facilitate accurate observations: here a dissected  Crocus  flower (left) is compared to a  Sternbergia  bloom

Sharp tools facilitate accurate observations: here a dissected Crocus flower (left) is compared to a Sternbergia bloom

 Miranda using tweezers from her dissecting kit to move seedlings with precision

Miranda using tweezers from her dissecting kit to move seedlings with precision

Full of various sized tweezers and scissors, probes and blades. I’ve slowly added to my dissecting kit over the years – if I spot a make-up brush or a cotton bud that looks like a good candidate for a pollination tool, in it goes.

My colleague’s girlfriend has sown his nickname on his, and mine is wrapped in abandoned red ribbon I once found in the School of Horticulture. They all very similar and uniform, yet conversely rather personal.

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Miranda works in the Tropical Nursery at Kew Gardens, and can be found on twitter at @miranda_J

Are there any gardening tools for which you have a particular fondness or affinity? Do let me know, either on twitter, or in the comments below. 

Text and photographs copyright  Miranda Janatka 2018

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