Amgueddfa Blog: General

Celebrating St. Fagans Victorian tree heritage

Luciana Skidmore, 28 October 2022

Autumn sends us an invitation to pause and admire the beautiful trees that surround us. It lays a vibrant carpet of colourful leaves welcoming us into the woods. In this once in a year spectacle, we advise that you wear comfortable shoes, take slower steps and mindfully redirect your gaze up to the sky to contemplate our magnificent trees. 

In St. Fagans National Museum of History, you can find some of the most beautiful specimens of trees planted by the Victorians and Edwardians that shaped our beautiful gardens. 

This year we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Fern-leaved Beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Aspleniifolia’) located in the terraced gardens of the castle. This magnificent and unusual specimen was planted in 1872 under the head gardener William Lewis. This cultivar was introduced in the UK in the early 1800’s and won the RHS Award of Garden Merit in 2002. The leaves are dark green and deeply serrated, turning golden before falling in autumn. This specimen has an impressive dark and smooth trunk with its girth measuring 3.67m in diameter. The Fern-leaved Beech is a Chimera, originated from a plant cell mutation of the Common Beech (Fagus sylvatica). An interesting fact is that occasionally some of the serrated leaves revert to the Beech leaf shape, when that happens it is advisable to remove the reverted branches as they tend to grow more vigorously than the cultivar.

Another magnificent feature that celebrates 150 years in St. Fagans is the row of London and Oriental Planes planted by William Lewis along the formal ponds overlooking the terraced gardens.  The London plane is a natural hybrid of the Oriental Plane and the American Plane. The Oriental (Platanus orientalis) and London Plane (Platanus x acerifolia) are distinguishable by their leaf shape with the Oriental Plane having more deeply lobed leaves. Many London planes were planted over 200 years ago in the squares of London, hence its common name. This tree can withstand high levels of pollution and was one of the few trees that could thrive in the soot-laden atmosphere of cities before the passing of the Clean Air Act in 1956. Did you know that this resilient tree can store around 7.423 kg of Carbon at maturity? Large trees like this play an important role in improving air quality by sequestering carbon dioxide, removing air pollutants and absorbing gases that are harmful to human health.

William Lewis was also responsible for the planting of the Pine Walk in 1870. This beautiful avenue of Black Pine (Pinus nigra) and Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) guides you through the path towards the old Orchard. These tall and majestic trees enclose the space resembling the walls of a Cathedral. The bark of the Black Pine is dark grey with ridges and the needles are longer than other Pines. The Scots Pine is the only Pine native to Britain, it has shorter and compact needles and a warm red upper bark. Unfortunately, in recent years we have lost some of our Pine trees, in order to preserve this historic feature, we have planted four new Black Pines along the path. 

As we take pleasure in admiring these magnificent trees in the present, we must thank some of the far-sighted people of the past who have gifted us with this wonderful legacy. Trees make our cities a more pleasant and healthy environment. They enhance biodiversity, reduce flood risk, improve air quality, provide shade, and reduce the urban heat island effect in summer months. If you would like to leave a valuable legacy for future generations, start by planting a tree.  

If you are visiting St. Fagans gardens this autumn, follow this Tree Walk Guide written by Dr. Mary Barkham to learn more about our outstanding tree collection. 

Everlasting flowers in St. Fagans

Luciana Skidmore, 1 September 2022

The act of drying flowers dates back to ancient times. In the past flowers and herbs were dried and utilised for decorative, medicinal and culinary purposes. In Medieval times they were used to repel insects and even conceal unpleasant odours. Drying flowers became a popular hobby and preservation method in the Victorian period in England. For thousands of years flowers have had a symbolic meaning in rituals, passages, religious activities and artistic expression. Dried flowers are now more fashionable than ever due to their everlasting beauty and convenience.

This year thousands of flowers were grown in the gardens of St. Fagans for the purpose of drying. They have been naturally air-dried and beautiful flower arrangements were created by our garden trainees. These are now available to purchase in the Museum store. 

Besides their outstanding and long-lasting beauty dried flower arrangements offer many advantages. They can be used in weddings as bouquets, buttonholes, corsages and centrepieces. Because they are dried, they do not require water. They can be bought months in advance and stored with ease, releasing the pressure of having to care for fresh flowers on the big day. They can also be kept and preserved as memories of such a special day. 

They are perfect for home decoration or gifting.  You can create permanent floral arrangements that will enhance your home without the need to buy fresh flowers every week. Did you know that imported fresh flowers can have 10 times the carbon footprint of flowers grown in the UK? Imported cut flowers are flown thousands of miles in refrigerated airplane holds. When grown in colder climates they need heated greenhouses which generate higher carbon dioxide emissions. Not to mention the use of pesticides and fertilizers used in the production of perfect blooms. Fresh roses in February? Not so rosy for our planet.

The cut flowers grown in St. Fagans gardens have been grown from seeds sown in April in our unheated greenhouses. They were planted outside in May when the weather was warming up and have been growing happily and healthily producing beautiful blooms throughout Summer. No pesticides, fertilizers or harmful chemicals were used in this process. Besides being grown sustainably the flowers also provide a source of nectar for pollinators including bees and butterflies. It is always a great joy to admire the hive of activity in our cut flower bed. 

The flowers are harvested in dry weather when they are partially or fully open. Excess foliage is removed, small bunches of flowers are tied together and hung upside down on bamboo canes or strings in a dark and dry area with good air circulation. The flowers are left to dry for two to three weeks until completely dry. Floral arrangements including bouquets, posies, buttonholes, corsages, floral crowns and wreaths can be created with dried flowers. 

There is a vast number of plants that can be dried and used in floral arrangements. Drying flowers such as lavender and hydrangeas or grasses such as Stipa gigantea and Pampas grass is a great way to get started. The stars of our cut flower garden this year are: Limonium sinuatum, Craspedia globosa, Helipterum roseum, Achillea millefolium ‘Cassis’, Limonium suworowii ‘Rat Tail’ and the soft grass Panicum elegans ‘Sprinkles’. 

If you are coming to St. Fagans National Museum of History, please visit our magnificent gardens and take a look at the beautiful floral arrangements available in the Museum shop. 

 

 

Patchwork of Memories – Remembrance and grief during Covid 19

Loveday Williams, 13 July 2022

In 2020 Amgueddfa Cymru and Cruse Bereavement Support Cymru came together to support people across the country through their grief and create a lasting memorial full of memories to those lost during the time of Covid-19. It involved creating a square patch containing a memory of a loved one, in which ever way people chose, in whatever words or images they liked. Each patch created demonstrated a visual display of lasting memories of someone they loved who had died, created in unprecedented times.  50+ patches were sent to the Museum and have been carefully sewn together to form a Patchwork of Memories.

For the last two year we have all lived very different lives, with change to our normal the only constant. Losing a loved one is always hard but usually we have the comfort of others and collective mourning at funerals to help us say goodbye and share our memories.  However, a death in the last two years has meant many of us being cut off from our support networks and our rituals or remembrance being altered.  

Rhiannon Thomas, previous Learning Manager at St Fagans said about this project “Helping people with grief is something that I am personally passionate about. Having worked with Cruse Bereavement Support previously to support families I felt the Museum was able to help families dealing with loss in a different way.  Amgueddfa Cymru and Cruse Bereavement Support Wales came together to create a project based around creativity and memory, the aim being to make a lasting memorial to those who have died during the pandemic.” 

Creating something is not a new response to grief, there are several Embroidery samplers in Amgueddfa Cymru’s collections made in memory of loved ones or marking their passing.   This sampler by M.E. Powell was created in 1906 in memory of her mother.   Creativity during difficult times of our lives can help all of us to express deep held emotions that we do not always have the ability to put into words. 

Bereavement Support Days

Alongside the Patchwork of Memories initiative, the Cruse / Museum Partnership also provide a safe inspirational space for the increasing numbers of children and young people awaiting bereavement support and help meet the diverse needs of bereaved children, young people and families who benefit from coming together to rationalise, explore and understand that they are not alone in their grief. 

A series of quarterly Bereavement Support Days are held in partnership with St Fagans, for children, young people and their families experiencing grief and loss. There is specialist support from Cruse staff and volunteers along with art and craft activities provided by Head for Arts and immersive Virtual Reality experiences provided by PlayFrame, which are light-hearted, allowing people attending the chance to make and create things that can be taken home with them and or captured and stored into a virtual memory box. The activities available are designed to stimulate rather that prompt.

Here is the film created by PlayFrame on Ekeko, the virtual memory space they have been creating alongside this project, installing objects, memories and stories donated by participants into a virtual memory box for people to enter and explore:

https://youtu.be/KoQE00ff-rc 

And a link the virtual reality memory space itself: https://www.oculus.com/experiences/quest/6371190072951353/

Alison Thomas, Cruse CYP Wales Lead said “Cruse Bereavement Support Wales provides in person support to children and young people within a variety of settings, so we see first-hand how difficult it can be for grieving children and young people. Their collective support on these days allows families the time and space to verbalise and begin to understand their loss and associated emotions. The focus of the Bereavement Support days is around children and young people, however, the benefits resonate through the whole family including the adults in attendance, some of whom require bereavement support on the day, most of whom stay for the duration and share a cuppa and chat with other bereaved parents and guardians. Following the session, the whole family can have a look around the Museum and spend time together in a safe and nurturing setting.”

Here are some of the written (in their own handwriting) evaluation feedback quotes from children, young people and parents / guardians who have attended the Bereavement Days:

'I feel calmer, less worried.  It was good being able to speak to people my age who understood what I'm going through.'

'I was very included in all the activities and was always involved in conversation.  There was a calm atmosphere making it easier to speak to people there.'

'I was very welcomed and was immediately approached by a friendly face.  It was very inviting and was easy to speak to people there.'

'HAPPY' 🙂

'Love 🙂 happy'

'Thank you Diolch, Diolch 🙂'

A mother of one of the young people said 'I feel much better than I did.'

Another mother said 'All was lovely, made to feel welcome, everything we did was good and the girls enjoyed themselves.'

The two memory quilts will be competed by the end of August 2022, following which we will hold a final project event with Cruse Bereavement Support Wales on 25th September at St Fagans National Museum of History, where we will display the two quilts and invite both the contributors who sent squares and the participants from the Bereavement Support Days to attend, along with the public, to see the quilts and share their experiences of taking part in the process.

We look forward to seeing you there.

Queer Tours at St Fagans National Museum of History

Oska von Ruhland, 14 June 2022

Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales is home to a growing collection of objects exploring Wales’ LGBTQ+ history. Like the other collections, they’re all available to view online in the Collections & Research tab on the Museum’s website. The Collections Online features objects both in store and currently on display.

Though the collection is always available to freely view and people may read through the information about each object and learn in their own time, it is a shared view that it is important to celebrate and uplift the stories and lives of marginalised communities and bring forward hidden aspects of Welsh history. In doing this work we hope to normalise queer lives in Wales, and solidify the important role of diverse identities as part of Welsh culture.

To give an idea of the sort of objects we will be discussing in the Queer Tours projects, we would like to invite you to look through Collections Online, and consider not only contemporary queer icons who make our variety of Pride events so unique, or even famous historical figures who have secured a place in mainstream Welsh heritage, but the lives of the everyday person who may have had to live in secret, or whose activism was never properly recorded. Here we want to bring forward all of these lost stories, in the hopes that by sharing them we will continue to uncover more.

In an effort to bring attention to the LGBTQ+ Collection, we have developed the Queer Tours project to encourage the public to explore the variety of objects and better understand Wales’ queer heritage. This project has been developed by Amgueddfa Cymru Producers on behalf of the museum for the Pride season.

For the ever-growing variety of objects in the collection, and a want to reflect as many important aspects of this heritage as possible, several parts of this project have been developed or are in the process of being developed:

  • A series of social media posts highlighting a selection of objects in the collection and their role in queer Welsh heritage that will be available on the Bloedd AC Instagram account.
  • A digital tour video of St Fagans National Museum of History exploring objects currently on display and the way we can interpret the history of queer everyday life.
  • A self-guided tour for visitors of St Fagans National Museum of History to follow the route themselves and become immersed in history themselves.
  • A  special one-time-event in-person led tour is being developed so that attendees may enjoy hearing about the work at St Fagans National Museum of History and the continuing effort being put into the LGBTQ+ Collection.

It is our hope that this project be useful and educational to people not just during this Pride season, but will leave a lasting impact and change views of what queer heritage means in Wales.

All of this work is possible thanks to the Hands on Heritage support fund.

Website discovery project

Amgueddfa Cymru & One Further, 23 May 2022

Hearing the voices of Amgueddfa Cymru’s digital users

We’re in the middle of an exciting series of projects that will reimagine how we serve our users digitally. We’re developing a fresh approach to our overall digital strategy, revisiting the systems that enable people to transact with us, and rethinking how we express ourselves online.

As part of this, we’re looking at the role our website plays. It’s served the museum for a long while and, although it has evolved over that time, we’ve reached a point where a more fundamental overhaul is required.

To kick off that process, we’re working with an agency called One Further. They’re helping us to develop a stronger understanding of how our website is serving our users and where there are opportunities to improve. Their outside perspective is useful because, working with it every day, our view of the website is likely to be somewhat distorted.

We’re also very aware that the new website must serve the people of Wales and provide a platform for engaging the communities that we work with (and those we want to work with more). For that, we need to hear directly from those people and communities.

That’s been a big part of the work that One Further has been doing for us. Here they explain some of the ways that we’re reaching out to hear the voices of our digital users.

The who and the why of a website visit

To capture responses at scale we’ve been using a variety of pop-up surveys across our website.

User intent surveys ask people about the context of their visit. Is it for personal or professional reasons? Is there a particular task they’re looking to complete?

Content engagement surveys ask people to rate the quality of a particular page and to suggest improvements.

Exit surveys appear when it looks like someone is about to leave the website. At this point we can ask them about the quality of their experience and what they might like to see improved.

Of course, these surveys can be obtrusive if not deployed sensitively. We make sure they only appear on the appropriate pages and don’t interrupt people who are in the middle of completing a transaction of some sort.

We make the majority of the questions multiple choice to keep completion rates high, and we don’t show people more than one survey during their session.

Website screenshot showing Welsh feedback pop-up

Optimising user journeys

We want to understand to what extent people are able to find information on the site quickly and easily. Is the layout intuitive? Are we using the right labels in the website navigation?

To test this, we use a tool called Treejack. It allows us to mock-up a website’s navigation and then set up tasks for people to attempt. These involve asking them to indicate where in the navigational structure they would expect to find certain information.

We then send a link out to people and wait for the results to roll in.

By asking people to complete typical user journeys on the site we can spot sticking points, dead ends, and obstacles.

If a significant percentage of people head off into the wrong section of the site then maybe we need to reconsider the ‘information architecture’. If people make it to the right section but then click on multiple options, maybe we’re not getting the labeling right. All of this is really useful feedback.

Treejack feedback example

Digging deeper with one-to-one usability testing

Those two methods allow us to get really useful feedback at scale. We then balance that with usability testing on a more personal scale.

This involves talking to people one-on-one over Zoom. We ask them to share their screens while we give them a selection of common tasks to carry out on the site. Having the person there in front of us allows us to ask follow up questions to dig deeper into the choices and assumptions that we see playing out. Although when someone gets stuck on something it can be difficult to suppress the urge to lend a hand!

To make sure we were speaking to a representative sample of people, we used a recruitment pop-up on the website and sent people to a screening questionnaire. We then scheduled the session at a time convenient for them.

Pre-covid we would often do these tests in either a dedicated usability testing centre, or on-site at our clients’ premises. We’ve actually found that testing remotely comes with various benefits, in particular:

  • The person taking part is able to use their own equipment, in their own environment, which makes them feel more at ease,
  • Without no requirement to travel, we’re able to test with people who might not otherwise have been available, and
  • If people cancel at short notice (or don’t turn up) it’s not such a big deal.

Make use of what we learn

Getting direct feedback from the museum’s audiences early in the process is incredibly useful for grounding us in how people perceive the website. That’s allowed us to have more informed conversations with people in various departments.

That feedback is also going to drive improvements to the website. In some cases there are some quick fixes to apply. Beyond that, we will be incorporating what we’ve learned into our broader recommendations for the future direction of the website.