Current Issue #488

Drawn to the City: Dr Lucy Sutherland, our Botanic Director

Drawn to the City: Dr Lucy Sutherland, our Botanic Director

Each month, illustrator Leo Greenfield sketches and profiles an Adelaide character who makes the city tick. This month: Dr Lucy Sutherland.

Dr Lucy Sutherland, director of the Botanic Gardens of South Australia, is a social scientist keen to explore the bonds between museum collections and the community. For Sutherland, “place and belonging” are vital when working to perverse and highlight the potential of these “living collections”.

Sutherland has never been shy of taking on new territory, and the recent move to Adelaide is part of her own personal history of adventure. Originally from Bristol, UK, by the age of 11 she had already lived in six countries including Mexico and Cuba before settling in Australia. Later, at the University of Canberra, Dr Sutherland began her investigations into conservation and applied science with a degree in Natural Resources.

For Sutherland, it was important that her studies where “multifaceted”. This outlook allowed her to explore varied disciplines and their links such as fine art and performance. This process of looking to the bigger picture is evident in her approach to botanic gardens today. Sutherland doesn’t want to narrow down her role, rather as in her research seeks to “straddle disciplines” and explore how botanic gardens operate in a wider context engaging with the powerful connections people have with plants via culture and memory.


When approaching her PhD at the London Metropolitan University, Sutherland evaluated the function of contemporary eco-tourism within the framework of botanic gardens and conservation. Such projects allowed her to explore gardens and communities in Belize,
Cameroon, South Africa and Cuba. Through this, she examined botanic gardens as “places that serve the community, mapping and addressing conservation issues”. For example, botanic gardens are now advocating for and educating sustainable farming practices for the harvesting of traditional medicines in developing nations, practices that provide solutions for conserving both plant life and culture.

The success of these programs is due to the way they operate by hybridising external systems with local values. Since 2000, Sutherland has been a Professor at the La
Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina, in Lima, Peru. The program is an example of cultural hybridity, where a European education model has been refined and influenced by local approaches to learning and education. The courses here have a focus on eco-tourism and how it can work hand in hand with the conservation of plant life. Sutherland also teaches directly in the rainforests of Peru, contributing to projects that see botanic gardens as focal points to creating real social and economic improvements within

Sutherland speaks of her industry as a generous one with “very close bonds”, an outlook that sees Adelaide’s Botanic Gardens as part of an international network of leading institutions working to conserve and share the precious diversity of plant life and the very human culture it informs and supports.

Leo Greenfield is a freelance illustrator

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