New exhibition aims to change minds about ‘weeds’

The ‘What is a Weed?’ exhibition will open at RHS Garden Wisley on 24 September 2023, using a range of media including artworks and animation to challenge negative stereotypes about weeds, and introduce new perspectives to engage with the issues and challenges in horticulture.

The displays have been created and curated by students aged 13-14 and 16-17 from two schools in Surrey. The exhibition showcases artworks and exhibits developed by the students, exploring subjects including human–plant relationships, beauty norms, compassion and the place of humans within the ecosystem.

The students, who attend St John the Baptist School in Woking and King’s College in Guildford, were supported in developing their ideas around the question of ‘what is a weed?’ by creative practitioners Ada Rose (She/Her & They/Them) and Linden McMahon (They/Them). Ada and Linden were brought together by the RHS based on their different strengths as artists, in order to help with the creative process and amplify the voices of young people on the topic of weeds and their significance. The students also received support from the RHS Community Outreach team and drew inspiration from the RHS Lindley Library collections, in particular botanical artworks and rare 16th century ‘herbals’, which describe plants and their uses.

Exhibition highlights include:
  • Interactive, innovative and sensory exhibits that will invite visitors to reconsider their preconceptions about weeds and to think about the implications of rigid ideas of beauty and perfectionism in society as a whole
  • Original and thought-provoking creative writing, zines, comics and an animated work by the students
  • Herbarium specimens created by the students from plants collected from roadside verges
  • Rare items and specimens from the RHS library, entomology and herbarium collections
Fiona Davison, RHS Head of Libraries and Exhibitions, said: “We are delighted to have worked with the RHS Garden Wisley Community Outreach Team, local students and creative practitioners to co-curate the ‘What is a Weed?’ exhibition. The project has given everyone involved the chance to discover more about the history of plants and gardening and why certain plants came to be thought of as weeds. By working with young people to explore the role of different plants in the ecosystem, and our attitudes to them, we can show the benefits a diverse range of plants can offer to wildlife and climate as well as health and wellbeing. This enables us to create engaging and sustainable gardens for the future.”

Creative practitioner Linden McMahon added: “Young people are leaders on climate change, ecological crisis, and social justice, and their creativity leaps outside the box. They are capable of imagining incredible things! By taking their ideas and art seriously, and working with professionals who have the resources to bring their ideas to life, this project gives a platform to voices which need to be heard.”

The exhibition and work with the young curators has been supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund as part of the RHS Gardens of Imagination project, which aims to celebrate and share new stories about gardening, horticulture and the RHS’ unique collections between by working with artists in residence.

Stuart McLeod, Director of England - London & South at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “For over a century, RHS Wisley has been a place where people have learnt and felt inspired by our natural world. Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, these young people have discovered amazing biodiversity stories, explored the fantastic archive and connected with what this means for our planet today. It's a brilliant way for our future horticulture champions to learn about natural heritage in a creative way.”

The exhibition is in the Wisley Gallery from 24 September 2023 to 23 January 2024 and entry is included with admission to the garden.

To find out more visit: ‘What is a weed?’ – young curators challenge stereotypes and introduce new perspectives on weeds.

Notes to editors

Notes to editors 

For further information or images please contact the RHS Press Office: [email protected] or email [email protected]

About the RHS 

Since our formation in 1804, the RHS has grown into the UK’s leading gardening charity, touching the lives of millions of people. Perhaps the secret to our longevity is that we’ve never stood still. In the last decade alone we’ve taken on the largest hands-on project the RHS has ever tackled by opening the new RHS Garden Bridgewater in Salford, Greater Manchester, and invested in the science that underpins all our work by building RHS Hilltop – The Home of Gardening Science.   

We have committed to being net positive for nature and people by 2030. We are also committed to being truly inclusive and to reflect all the communities of the UK.  

 Across our five RHS gardens we welcome more than three million visitors each year to enjoy over 34,000 different cultivated plants. Events such as the world famous RHS Chelsea Flower Show, other national shows, our schools and community work, and partnerships such as Britain in Bloom, all spread the shared joy of gardening to wide-reaching audiences. 

 Throughout it all we’ve held true to our charitable core – to encourage and improve the science, art and practice of horticulture –to share the love of gardening and the positive benefits it brings.  

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About The National Lottery Heritage Fund

Using money raised by the National Lottery, we Inspire, lead and resource the UK’s heritage to create positive and lasting change for people and communities, now and in the future.

Follow @HeritageFundUK on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and use #NationalLotteryHeritageFund 

Since The National Lottery began in 1994, National Lottery players have raised over £46billion for projects and more than 670,000 grants have been awarded across the UK - the equivalent of more than 240 lottery grants in every UK postcode district. More than £30 million raised each week goes to good causes across the UK.

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.