With £100,000 fellowship funding from the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851, the charity will investigate what it is about different varieties of hedge that mean they provide important eco-system services, the benefits of mixed hedging, and practicality of planting and maintaining them.
Existing RHS research has shown that hedges can improve air quality, slow the flow of rainwater, reduce noise, provide shelter for wildlife and help regulate temperature through shading and cooling, with beech, privet and holly among those known to provide all round benefits. Features such a leaf shape, texture and branch structure are all thought to make them more adept at various roles.
However a monoculture of hedges – as is traditional in many gardens and urban areas - can leave hedges susceptible to disease and limit biodiversity. Planting and management can also act as a deterrent for gardeners.
Led by principal horticultural scientist, Tijana Blanusa, the new two year project will research the best combinations of hedges for year-round impact in a laboratory setting and via real world application at a school.
The six combinations of mixed hedging that will be trialled will be drawn from four hedging plants: Privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium
‘Aureum’), Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
, Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata
‘Atrovirens’) and Eleagnus (Eleagnus x ebbingei
‘Limelight’). All have been chosen because of their accessibility and varying form and function.
The findings will be published in 2024 and are intended to aid the development of green and healthy urban environments.
Tijana Blanusa, principal horticultural scientist, said:
“The humble hedge is often the hero feature in any garden. Acting as a natural screen, they not only provide important environmental services but are relatively cheap, long lasting and have only a small ground footprint. Knowing which planting combinations to choose to get the most environmental benefit, and how to look after them effectively, could enable wider uptake as we seek to future proof our towns and cities.”
Nigel Williams, Secretary at the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 said
“The 1851 Royal Commission is delighted to support this research by Tijana who was the deserving winner of our 2021 Fellowship in the Built Environment with the theme of restoring nature to the city. The potential impact on the urban environment is significant and we wish her and the RHS every success in their quest for an optimal solution.”
The Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 awards 35 postgraduate Fellowships and Scholarships each year, for advanced study and research in science, engineering, the built environment and design, as well as special awards to support projects consistent with its overall aims. The total annual disbursement is nearly £4m a year, funded from the Commission’s investment portfolio.
It is not the first time that the Royal Commission and RHS have partnered. In 1861 the latter leased a garden in the Commisson’s grounds in South Kensington for 21 years, hosting a series of events from the space. More recently the RHS’ Lindley Library received funding to conserve some of the drawings in its archive of the Kensington Garden.
For more information about the RHS’ hedges research visit www.rhs.org.uk