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Ian Dunn

Chief Executive, Plantlife

Ian has been Chief Operating Officer at the University of Southampton, CEO of the Galapagos Conservation Trust and run the corporate activities of the British Antarctic Survey. Now he is CEO at Plantlife, the plant conservation charity, a charity 'near and dear' to many of the Anthophiles interviewed on these pages.

Plantlife: Conserving our wild flowers, plants and fungi

Your three favourite flowers?

Jade vine – the colour is exquisite,

Corpse flower – the smell is extraordinary,

Bee orchid – what a clever flower!

Tell us about your childhood garden?

A functional suburban square of lawn – nothing else. With four children the extent of continuous ball (football, tennis ball, rugby ball, etc) damage meant carnage on anything higher than a blade of grass. My mother is making up for it now with an amazingly colourful and exquisite garden.

Who or what inspired your career choice?

I’ve not had a career in one sector. I have a deep desire to ‘connect the dots’ – climate, nature, society at a systems level. Still trying 40 years later!!

What is a typical day in the life of Ian?

Today news programme with a cup of tea, daily yoga, walk the dog – gets me to about 8 o’clock. Then there is no typical day – running a conservation charity like Plantlife is immensely variable, challenging and enjoyable. Evening will be dinner and chat with partner, down the allotment in summer and oil painting in winter.

No garden is complete without …

bees – because in order to get the bees you must have the flowers

Something we’d find:

On your bedside table: 5 books ranging from natural world to fiction and some latest thinking thrown in

In your flower arrangement: I don’t flower arrange preferring them in the ground

In your garden shed: wasp nests, spiders webs and possibly a few mice droppings – along with allotment tools

The flaws you wish you didn’t have?

An ageing body, lack of time, impatience

What would you be in another life?

An [protected] oak tree

Guiding principles?

You only live once and you have a responsibility to yourself and others to live it well

Who is a horticultural hero? Or a naturalist you admire?

It has to be Charles Darwin for grappling with and finally communicating a theory that ran so contrary to the accepted norms of the day. By prevailing in doing so he fundamentally changed our understanding of our world and ourselves.

What is the one flower or plant you’d never plant in your garden, but don’t detest when you see others plant it?

A monkey puzzle tree – have you felt how sharp those spiky leaf ends are!!

If there was a fire, and you could only keep one book on plants and flowers, what would it be?

I think I’ll break the rules here and go for the Collins Fungi Guide on the principle that if we can better understand fungi we’ll better understand plants

For posterity, what would you like your work to be known for?

When my time is up, it’s up. If some of my work contributes to the continuum of ‘knowledge’ that’s good enough for me.

Contact: Plantlife: The Wild Plant Conservation Charity

Instagram: @plantlife.loveplants

The Bee Orchid: What a clever flower! Images by Hugo Rittson-Thomas

Quick fire: some favourite things

Book (fiction): The Brothers Karamazov

Smell: Night-blooming Jasmine

Meal: with friends and family

Travel Destination: my dreams

A cause near and dear to me: indigenous peoples rights

Place to go for inspiration: Hartland Point – North Devon

A great walk near where you live: Stockbridge Downs

Thing to collect obsessively: try to avoid collecting

Museum: British Museum

Garden in the UK: Cambridge Botanic Gardens

Garden anywhere else: A Yanomani yanos garden on the Brazil/Venezuela border

Ian Dunn
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