By Irene Hallyburton (Malaria Research Scientist, Wellcome Centre for Anti-Infectives Research) and Ailsa Mackintosh (Public Engagement Officer, Wellcome Centre for Anti-Infectives Research)
If science is the most communal of human endeavors, drug discovery is its pinnacle. Over the course of decades, many people work together in a cyclical process of design, create and test. They’re brought together with the shared goal: producing a single molecule, a new drug, which will improve the lives of those suffering from disease. The steps involved in discovering new medicines may be a mystery to many, but the concept of collaborative effort to produce something complete, worthwhile, and beautiful is not.
The WeeCAIR Medicinal Garden is one of those endeavours which demonstrates the power of communal effort. While the conception may have come from a single person it took collaboration for the seed to grow. Behind our garden is the idea of creating a link from the outside of the building to the work being done inside. Almost all our plants have a clinically used drug associated with them. While we don’t work specifically on naturally derived products, seeing the link between plant and pill can help people to understand the work we do. We chose the plants in our garden for their impact on modern medicine, from treatments for tropical diseases in Artemesia and Black Elderflower, to the treatment of menstrual issues from Alchemilla mollis, or lady’s mantle.
Collaboration is key for the garden; the plants themselves work together to create an attractive and sustainable eco-system. However, the real blossoming of the garden are the possibilities for outside collaboration that the project has unearthed. Through different conversations across the city, our garden has started growing in more than just the literal sense. There are small medicinal gardens popping up all over Dundee as we work with the new sensory garden at Dundee Science Centre and new pocket parks in Stobswell, an inner-city area facing diverse challenges.
Green prescribing, the use of nature-based activities for improving people’s physical and mental health, has become more common in recent years. We hope that our garden can contribute to community wellbeing and prove therapeutic in many different ways. As the project develops, and the summer sun increases the weeding required, we think it’s best to remind ourselves that in the best research and gardens, there are no mistakes, only experiments.
Follow our garden updates on Instagram: @wcair_sci_garden