Predicting and protecting plant futures with RBG Kew's Richard Barley and Rebecca Lane

Rachael Forsyth, Rebecca Lane and Richard Barley

This week RBG Kew's director of gardens Richard Barley and arboretum supervisor Rebecca Lane join the Horticulture Week Podcast.

Kew has changed a lot over the last 10 years, including the introducing the Great Broadwalk Borders, the Children's Garden, Agius Evolution Garden, "reinvigorating" the Kitchen and Winter gardens, plus the restoration of the Temperate House.

These days a visitor coming to Kew might say "there's a bit more obvious horticulture and perhaps a bit more of an eye for design on the site," Barley says.

The staff culture at Kew has also changed, says Lane, "giving more autonomy with the view of improving design and I think that's made a really big difference to how people are looking after their areas and the drive within the teams has really improved as a result of that". 

Kew recently achieved Plant Healthy certification (only the third garden in the UK to receive it) and Barley explains why it was so important to Kew: "Plant health and biosecurity are incredibly important for this country and for any country because the risk and cost that arises from accidental introduction of pathogens and pests and diseases as everyone knows can be horrendous - not only monetary cost, but costs to the landscape.

"We are really focused [on this] and we need to be because our collections are hugely important, but also as we feel it's our responsibility to set that example for other organisations as well."

Faced with the vagaries of climate change for its outdoor collections, Kew is undertaking research on future climate conditions 2050 to 2100 in the London area and whether its plant stock will be suited to them.

Strikingly, "By 2050 approximately a quarter of what we are growing currently will be out of its range of comfortable growing conditions", Barley adds.

"So our gaze shifts to parts of the world which have conditions that are better matched to the future climate in this part the country, and that's where we look to find species that we can substitute into the landscape for the future."

Lane explains how they are working to monitor individual species, relocating them where necessary so as not to lose collections.

On the educational front, Kew is updating its signage and putting plants more "into context" and aims to "encourage people to think so to build understanding about the issues of biodiversity and the environment broadly". Added to this are various festival held thoughout the year and online content.

Visitor numbers have bounced back strongly since Covid but Kew is continuing work on its diversity agenda to reach all communities within the UK and overseas.

As for the future, fundraising will be key with significant developments in the pipeline. Chief among these is a "carbon-neutral  Palm House", an expansion of the Mediterranean Garden and a "'Carbon Garden' or possibly a 'Climate Change Garden', we're still debating the name of it" where the connection between carbon and nature can be explored.

Presenter: HortWeek senior reporter Rachael Forsyth
Producer: HortWeek digital content manager Christina Taylor

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