RHS releases science strategy

Confronting the threat from climate change and the impact of new pests and diseases will be among the key objectives of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) new science strategy called The RHS Science for Horticulture Strategy.

The five-year plan of action focuses on "ensuring that the UK’s 27 million gardeners have the tools they will need to address the new horticultural and societal challenges they will face in the future".

Key areas will include:

• Improving the detection, identification and management of garden pests and diseases by using a three-pronged approach involving surveillance, field research and laboratory techniques

• Promoting environmentally sound gardening practices and exploring how plants and gardens can support health and wellbeing

• Working with UK gardeners to share the latest intelligence on garden plants and harness their on-the-ground knowledge to guide and support RHS research

RHS director of science Dr Alistair Griffiths said: "The RHS is determined to ensure that as the population increases, particularly in urban areas, and resources become more limited, gardeners will have the knowledge, expertise and support they will need to not just survive, but thrive in a changing world.

"Over the coming years we will be looking at the role cultivated plants and gardens can play in improving the environment, from capturing pollutants to reducing the risks of flooding in our cities. It is vital that further scientific work is done to evaluate the full potential of the 400,000 different kinds of garden plants in the UK, and the RHS is best placed to undertake this work."

Dr Griffiths added: "We’ll be looking at the changes gardeners can make in order to maintain the nation’s cherished gardens while being more eco-friendly, including the sustainable use of energy and water.

"We are committed to building a more resilient gardening community that enjoys gardens, understands the critical role of plants, and manages its impact on the environment for the benefit of people, plants and the planet."

A selection of forthcoming RHS research projects:

Climate change
• Plant adaptation to climate change – experiment to explore the ability of selected plants to withstand increasingly common extreme weather events such as intense rainfall or drought conditions

The sustainability of gardening
• Explore the value and potential benefits of grey water (previously used water, such as for baths or washing-up) for use in the garden – analyse the long-term impacts on human and soil health

Human health and wellbeing
• Work with the Universities of Sheffield and Virginia to investigate the influence of gardens on human health and wellbeing. The research will largely focus on the environmental and social impact of the loss of front gardens

Plant health in gardens
• Biosecurity management for gardens and gardeners – developing a suite of tools for gardeners to help them prepare for, raise awareness of, and plan for the impact of new and established pests and diseases

To support the delivery of the strategy, the RHS will build the first dedicated UK centre of scientific excellence in horticultural and environmental science, horticultural taxonomy and plant health.

This new facility will be an" inspiring visitor destination" built at RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey, and will become the national knowledge bank of ornamental horticulture, gardens and gardening when it opens in 2019. 

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