The Legacy of Chelsea: Science

So that's another Chelsea done and dusted for this year. The plants have gone, the show gardens are being torn apart and all that bling and razzledazzle is no more. It's easy to focus on these aspects of the show and say they have no relevance to the ordinary gardener like you and me. I'm going to spend a couple of posts this week looking for a different point of view.

For me one of the most important Chelsea moments was a sparsely attended press call last Monday at the new RHS Experience stand. This was the launch of the latest RHS report entitled Gardening matters: Urban gardens.

We all have an idea of how good our gardens are for the environment, but for the first time RHS Scientist Dr Tijana Blanusa (pictured left) has pulled together all the available research evidence on just why this is so. Her report summarises the areas where our gardens have a key role:
  • Moderating temperature (cooling the urban environment and gardens as insulation)
  • Preventing urban flooding
  • Providing urban biodiversity
  • Supporting human health (psychological wellbeing and promoting physical health)
  • Getting the balance right re carbon emissions and water use

I was surprised to hear over 85% of us live in towns and cities nowadays and our gardens account for about 25% of land in most cities and contain around a quarter of non-forest trees. Therefore, decisions we make about the way we use our little patch of land can have a significant impact on the urban environment.

I spoke to Dr Roger Williams (head of RHS Science and pictured right) afterwards about what happens next. He told me producing the report has highlighted a number of gaps in the research which the RHS aims to fill, either through their own research programme or in collaboration with others such as Reading and Sheffield Universities. For example, they'll be looking to provide information on the best ways to use peat-free products in gardening and looking at which plant combinations (native and/or non-native) are best for wildlife.

I'm also concerned about the increasing pressure on our land in the UK and asked whether this report will be shared with non-gardeners such as town planners and policy makers. Roger told me they're looking to publish this paper in a research journal later this year and are planning a seminar aimed at decision makers around the time of publication.

In the meantime, the RHS are wanting to find out more about how we garden and have an online survey for you to complete. There's also lots more information about the report and sustainable gardening in general on their urban greening web pages.


  1. This is great news, and thankyou for highlighting it here - I think we must all spread the information and help so that the 'bodies' that need to know it, do, and use it in their decision making.

  2. a pity the press call didn't garner the attention it deserved. i hope the seminar does!

  3. Jennifer - I heard about it prior to Chelsea and it was my 'must go to' for the day :)

    Petoskystone - to be fair Victoria also came and she did a fab piece for The Independent last week. Amateur Gardening was also there and I expect they'll publish a piece too

  4. after reading victorias' piece, i was wondering if there are limits to what an individual can grow in thier urban garden. if a person wanted to grow a prickly type of hedge would the police complain it isn't safe? other than illegal drugs (pot, for example) are their other plants a person must have permission to grow?i'm thinking that while ones' own personal poison garden would be a kick,it might put others on edge....

  5. Hi, Petoskystone, over on VP's blog! With regard to prickly plants, the police here actively encourage householders to grow things like pyracantha or bayberry as they deter burglars.
    One of the benefits of having gravel in your front garden, as I have, rather than paving, is that not only does it let the water through, but it's yet another burglar deterrent - you can always hear someone coming. So these things are not only good for the environment, but keep the bad guys away!
    VP: Thanks for the link!

  6. PS: Should say that if VP hadn't told me about the press conference, I wouldn't have known about it. Indeed, if I hadn't gone to the show with VP, I would probably have been knocked over by a bus while wandering along in a dream! If you want to find out more, she's a good person to have along.

  7. Thanks VP - that's very interesting, and I've filled in the survey (took me a while to work out the size of my garden in square metres though - I only know feet and inches!). It's good that the RHS is trying to draw attention to the importance of urban gardens. House-hunting, I am horrified by the number of gardens (even in villages) I see which are paved or concreted over - and so many are really tiny, presumably because of the pressure on local councils to fit in more houses.

  8. Thank you, it is really encouraging to read that proper research is being done about the role urban gardens have to play. I'd love to see legislation mandating that front gardens turned into parking had to use permeable solutions instead of tarmac or solid pavers. Plus, if people really understand that they can make a genuine difference by changing how they use their outside space, we could see more people planting to encourage wildlife. Even, dare I say it, getting rid of their lawns and all those energy-hungry mowers and associated chemicals?! What a shame that the press conference was so sparsely attended. I'm off to fill in the survey.

  9. Victoria - thanks for answering Petoskystone's question :) And thank you for your lovely compliment :D I was thrilled to see your piece in the Indy as it'll reach so many more people than I can

    Juliet - yes metric measurements meant I had to think a bit too!

    Janet - I think that legislation is either here or on its way already - it's just that lots of people aren't aware of it. Sadly there's still a long way to go with all of this. I'm so glad the RHS are seeking the evidence which will answer the questions we have about our gardening and help with decision making.

  10. Hello VP, great blog!- have just been walking on the south downs. from up their its clear there is still plenty of land in England. The question is how do we use it, and more importantly how do we encourage people to be interested in how we use it, and somehow connect their potential with the potential of the land?
    I'm not sure how this will happen, but it could certainly involve the retraining of some pesky rabbits.


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