In World War II The Ministry of Agriculture mobilised gardeners to “Dig for Victory” and feed the country. In today’s battle against the climate and biodiversity crisis, the power of 30 million gardeners can be similarly harnessed. However, a national survey* reveals 8 out of 10 people think the government undervalues the positive impact that gardening can make on the environment.**
As Britain’s leading gardening charity, the RHS recognises its unique position to empower the general public to make a meaningful contribution towards climate change targets. Today (13 September) sees the launch in Parliament of the national Planet-Friendly Gardening Campaign, part of the RHS’s ambitious new Sustainability Strategy.
When it comes down to what people choose to plant, buy, and consume, it’s about small actions leading to big results. RHS scientific research shows that if every one of the UK’s 30 million gardeners planted a medium sized tree and nurtured it to maturity, they would store the carbon equivalent of driving 11 million times around the planet. And if each person made an average of 190 kg of compost a year, this would save the carbon equivalent to heating 506,000 average sized houses for a year.
Sue Biggs, RHS Director General, says: “The RHS is committed to using its own community outreach work to help Britain’s 30 million gardeners make a positive contribution towards the climate and biodiversity crisis. But we can’t harness this potential alone. If we are to mobilise the biggest gardening army across the nation since Dig for Victory we need government support for Planet-Friendly Gardens. This includes funding for research and development in horticultural science as well as financially supporting community gardens in schools, NHS Trusts and public spaces.”
The RHS believes that knowledge is key to bringing about change. That’s the thinking behind a new “Planet-Friendly sustainability calculator” which will empower gardeners to make the best sustainable plant and gardening choices. This online tool - the first of its type - is being developed through 5 years of RHS funded groundbreaking research into the carbon and water dynamics of the domestic garden.
RHS Director of Science and Collections, Professor Alistair Griffiths, says: “Collectively, the actions of each and every one of our nation’s 30 million gardeners can create positive change and help us adapt to and mitigate against the climate crisis and help to reverse the biodiversity crisis.
“We are not underestimating the mountain of things we all have to do to change our behaviours individually, but we are calling on government, industry, influencers, communities and individuals to recognise that gardening and growing plants more sustainably can play a major role - and it is something we can all do, either on a window sill, in our own gardens or with a community gardening group.”
So far the RHS Mains2Rains campaign has received pledges to potentially save 6.6 million litres of mains water (equivalent to 82,385 baths) but there’s still significant scope for progress.
Only 19% of UK gardeners say they have specifically adopted sustainable gardening principles such as conserving water, making their own compost and reducing fossil fuel usage. The transition to peat-free gardening shows people are willing to change their habits. Almost a quarter of gardeners (36%) who currently don’t make compost say they would consider doing so if the council provided free or subsidized compost bins and a manual.*
As part of its Planet-Friendly Gardening Campaign, the RHS has come up with a list of achievable actions for gardeners:
1. Plant a tree in your community, school, workplace or garden to draw carbon out of the air: Grown to maturity, a small tree stores up to 376kg of carbon; a medium tree 511kg; and a large tree 3,350kg.
2. Water the way Nature intended: Pledge to switch from mains to rains on RHS mains2rains https://mains2rains.uk ***
3. Go peat free: Protecting precious peatland habitats which are the largest land carbon store and havens for biodiversity will also help reduce flood risks.
4. Make your own compost: Every 1kg of home-made compost saves 0.1kg fossil carbon, which could save more than 19kg carbon, per gardener, every year.
5. Pull up a paving slab (1m²) and grow perennial plants to maturity: Herbaceous perennials (lawn grasses and non-woody plants) draw 3.21kg carbon/m² out of the air; shrubs 19.54kg and trees 40.38kg.
6. Plants for pollinators: Help slow and reverse declines in bees, butterflies, moths, hoverflies and other pollinators by growing a wide variety of plants including a mixture of native, near-native and exotic plants to support pollinator biodiversity.
7. Grow your own bunch of flowers: Growing or buying UK-grown cut flowers can save up to 7.9kg Carbon per bunch compared with buying imported bunches.
8. Electrify your garden: Even though 82% of garden tools sold in the UK are powered by electricity, nearly 40%**** of gardeners still use ones powered by fossil fuels. An average gardener uses 9L of petrol a year equating to 7,6kg fossil carbon.
9. Help map UK garden plant biodiversity: Add your garden plants to RHS My Garden online to help the RHS conserve this important biodiversity for future generations.
10. Eat more home-grown, UK, local and seasonal fruit and vegetables.
The RHS will be sharing its Planet Friendly Gardening actions along with gardening advice through its membership, online, with films, social media, at its RHS Shows and across its channels that reach millions of people.
Leading by example, the RHS is setting stretching sustainability targets for its own operations. It aims to be climate positive by 2030 - capturing and reducing more greenhouse gas emissions than it emits. Other targets to achieve by 2030 are to eliminate all single use plastic and ensure that all packaging is 100% reusable, recyclable, or compostable in all RHS work and to be water neutral - capturing, reusing and recycling water in RHS Gardens, Shows and Sites.
Sue Biggs RHS Director General says; “We have already achieved a lot but we know that we can work harder to make our Shows and Gardens even greener and we are committed to achieving this by 2030. At RHS Chelsea we have been working on becoming more sustainable and since 2018 have been working with A Greener Festival, which will form part of our developing Sustainable Show strategy. We hope that we can work alongside and learn from others and share what we learn as we move towards becoming Net Positive for Nature and People.”
“RHS Chelsea next week will be an international platform for the RHS COP 26 Garden, one of the first actions of the new Planet Friendly Gardening Campaign. This will demonstrate to millions how our gardens, plants and public green spaces can play an integral part in protecting biodiversity, our planet and people and ensure a greener, more resilient future for us all.”
For more information please contact the RHS Press Office, [email protected]