Horticulture professor James Hitchmough has returned from an expedition to China with several species of plants he suggests could be used in British landscape design.
The trip was part of a larger project to make links with Chinese botanical institutes and improve urban spaces in Britain and China. Hitchmough was accompanied by two Chinese students from the University of Sheffield.
Some of the plants collected by the team include Salvia Wardii. This is not currently cultivated in the UK but Hitchmough is interested in working with it. The team also found several species of Pedicularis, which Hitchmough thinks has lots of potential for meadow design although it is regarded as ungrowable and semi-parasitic by the British horticultural trade.
Hitchmough, who was one half of the team responsible for planting design at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, said British parks would benefit from more diversity. "Many species of plants in British urban spaces are imported from Asia, so we obviously like them. We would like to explore the possibility of bringing more plants over to use in public landscapes," he said. "It is about rethinking the horticultural plant palette."
The team travelled thousands of kilometres through some of the least-accessible parts of China over nine days this July. They used 4x4 vehicles to get around and relied on the language skills of the two PhD students.
Chinese partners - Developing new links
Professor James Hitchmough hopes to build links with Chinese architecture practices, nurseries and regional governments, but the intellectual lead for the project will remain in Sheffield.
"Plant diversity in Chinese green spaces is incredibly low despite the fact surrounding countryside is so richly diverse. There is huge potential there," he pointed out. "Our bigger programme is about giving them tools to be sustainable.
"Most people who go to China are from the Alpine Society or similar and aren't interested in individual plant communities. We have a different mindset. I see plants as cogs in a machine."