24 June 2021

RHS to build collection of 400,000 garden plants as part of new science centre

24 June 2021

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) wants to build a collection of all 400,000 garden plants in the UK as part of its new science centre, it has said.

It plans to expand the “herbarium”, which already stores 90,000 dried plant specimens, to create a database of garden plant varieties and their uses for the environment, health and wellbeing.

The herbarium forms part of a £35 million new RHS Hilltop science centre which has officially opened at the charity’s Wisley gardens in Surrey.

The new centre contains modern laboratories for identifying and researching plant pests and diseases, as well conducting research on areas ranging from alternatives to peat to the most efficient watering systems.

Aerial view of RHS Hilltop

RHS Hilltop also includes a library of more than 28,000 books, including one dating back to the 16th century with illustrations and information on plants such as potatoes, tobacco and marigolds newly brought back from the Americas.

There is also an exhibition space, auditorium, teaching studios, offices and a cafe, and around 70 scientists and students will be based there, the RHS said.

It is surrounded by a series of gardens focusing on how colours, shapes and smells of plants can affect wellbeing, planting for wildlife, and growing foods from around the world, and will allow visitors to contribute to research through interactive displays on the topics.

Sue Biggs, RHS director general, said: “We know that together the UK’s 30 million gardeners can play a significant role in mitigating climate change, preventing the spread of dangerous pests and diseases and understanding how gardens make us feel better.

Team leader Heather Cooke making final preparations to the wildlife garden at RHS Hilltop (Oliver Dixon/RHS/PA)

“The opening of RHS Hilltop today ushers in a new ‘golden era’ of gardening science, enabling us to better equip gardeners both now and in the future with the knowledge they need to help their gardens, and themselves, to thrive.”

On the herbarium, Professor Alistair Griffiths, RHS director of science, said: “In the UK, we’ve got a massive diversity of cultivated plants, originating from around the world, and all have potential as nature-based solutions.

“We’re going to work towards a database of the garden plants and their uses from an environmental, and health and wellbeing perspective.”

He said the RHS wanted to conduct research and provide information on the characteristics of plants for delivering solutions in areas such as supporting pollinators, carbon storage and how they contributed to people’s wellbeing.

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