20 Oct 2017

Fungus Day Bears Fruit

Bruce Langridge

I’ve been running a Fungus Day at the Garden for six years now and this year saw record crowds – more than 800!

It began as a response to the opening of From Another Kingdom, the fungi exhibition we hired from Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in 2012 and which closed to visitors after last Sunday’s Fungus Day. The idea for an initial ‘Wales Fungus Day’ came up during a conversation with Professor Lynne Body (Cardiff University, former British Mycological Society President). We wanted to share our passion for fungi not only with other mycophiles (a real word – honest!) but also with people who were curious about fungi but didn’t know where to start.

Since then, we’ve had great fun creating a combination of fungi-inspired activities to appeal to a wide audience.

We’ve welcomed troupes of artists, illustrators, craft makers, cooks, sculptors, wood-turners and even the occasional poet and musician – Cheryl Beer’s fungi musical ‘The Tethered Fairy Ring’ premiered here and went on tour to France. The ‘fungi fruiting body’ tables, initially created by the much-missed Tony Ivens, have grown each year, and we’ve had guided walks about fungi in woodlands, grasslands, rotting wood, tree lichen, fairy rings and myths (possibly the same thing!). I have to say a huge thank-you for our regular foray leaders like David Mitchel, Ray Woods and Pat O’Reilly who kindly give their time for free and sometimes have to cope with huge crowds – David’s walk on Sunday had 49 people on it, each straining to see fungi that can be less than an inch high. Pat was at our inaugural Fungus Day, launching his ‘Fascination with Fungi’ book that has since proven to be a great help to my understanding of fungi.

Although this might sound like an Oscars night speech, I’d also like to thank long-standing supporters such as Philip Jones, Colin Jones, Peter Williams, Sue Parker, Penny David, the Ivens family, Gary Easton, Cyndi Andrews, Sarah Enoch, Jean Oliver and Kate Jones who were all here again last Sunday. Special mention, too, to Marilyn Caruana and her 40+ Stitching Bs who created textiles about specific Welsh fungi – we’re now thinking about where to show these now that From Another Kingdom has closed.

We desperately need to find the next generation of mycologists (there are few enough grown-up ones) and introducing children to the joys of looking for mushrooms is a good way to start.

We’ve thought laterally about how to do this and linking fungi and fairies has worked a treat.

We’ve re-branded one of our beech woods into a Fairy Wood, we book stallholders to sell fairy ephemera, visitors get in free if they dress as a fairy or elf and, this year, 20 members of Llangain Youth Ballet entertained full houses in our Theatr Botanica with their renditions of fairy-inspired works like the Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty.

Our family activity table, run as ever by Laura Vettori, is always full on with kids painting or writing on wooden fungi made by our woodturners. Anyone who has been on our guided walks would also have seen the proud faces of kids who have found fruiting bodies that eluded the eyes of the grown-ups, and I’ve noticed returning children – a little bit taller each year – who are sometimes telling adults what they are called. I like that.

I liked last week’s episode of BBC1’s Have I Got News For You when the panel had a good chuckle about UK Fungus Day, now a nationwide event that began here as Wales Fungus Day. That’s the best publicity UK Fungus Day has ever had.

I also liked a conversation I had on Sunday with Emma Williams, one of the leading members of the Glamorgan Fungus Group. I was taking a walk to parts of the Garden that people wouldn’t normally associate with fungi. I’d planned to take visitors to see the deceivers on the Stable Block lawns, the milkcaps in the Double Walled Garden, the bird’s nest fungus on the Broadwalk and the blushing brackets in the Aqualab Woods. But we only got as far as Principality House car park. I knew this unlikely site was great for elfin saddles and a whole lot more I couldn’t identify but Emma knew what they were. With the help of another new mycologist Stephanie, Emma was showing us poison pies, fibrecaps and all manner of webcap fungi which are notoriously hard to identify.

“Where did you learn all this, Emma?” I asked in admiration. “I became interested when I brought my son to see the From Another Kingdom exhibition here a few years ago,” she replied.

Wow! What a heartening way to end this year’s FungusDay and to mark the closure of the exhibition. Emma, by the way, has agreed to come back and give a guided walk at next year’s Fungus Day.