Dunnett on...Putting horticulture at the centre of policy debate

I have recently had the great honour to be appointed at the latest Royal Horticultural Society Ambassador, specifically to spear-head the RHS 'Greening Grey Britain' campaign.

In many ways, this is the culmination of my many years of research and practice work in highlighting the creative and innovative use of plants and vegetation in urban contexts, notably with green roofs, rain gardens, urban meadows, and low-input-high impact planting design.

The Greening Grey Britain campaign aims to encourage individuals, organisations and local authorities to take positive action to increase the amount of plants and planting in urban areas, and to highlight the role of gardens in horticulture in doing this. There’s a big focus at the moment on the ongoing paving over of front gardens, and all the environmental, social and aesthetic implications of this. How can we reverse this trend, and change innovative and straight-forward ways to combine all the functional things these small spaces need to do, with space for plants? In short, how can we promote the perception of green front gardens from that of being burdens, into that of being an asset?

But the real prize of the Greening Grey Britain campaign is to place horticulture at the centre of policy debate at local and central level about how to confront and address the two major challenges of our time: climate-change and rapidly increasing urbanization. For too long, ‘urban greening’
and ‘green infrastructure’ has been led by other professionals.

But the real people who understand how to work with soils, vegetation, and nature in the artificial environments of cities are horticulturists. This arena has the potential to re-vitalise horticulture for the future.   

It’s time for horticulture to leap over the garden wall, or the park fence, and to infuse our cities with green that is not only sustainable and beneficial, but beautiful and fulfilling too.

Nigel Dunnett is professor of planting design at the University of Sheffield

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