RHS John MacLeod Annual Lecture

Held every autumn, this influential lecture invites prominent speakers to explore issues in horticultural science

About the 2023 lecture

Guest speaker Professor James Hitchmough delivered the 2023 John MacLeod Annual Lecture at RHS Wisley. The topic was ‘Plant Fitness, Sustainable Planting and the Conceptualisation of Understanding Horticultural Plants’.

James explored how our evolving climate demands a deeper focus on plant fitness. He unveiled a framework linking fitness, niche, and geographic range as well as offering a pathway to a reimagined horticultural landscape that stands resilient in the face of biodiversity loss and climate change.

Unable to attend? Catch up on this year’s lecture

Programme for the 2023 John MacLeod lecture

The 2023 John MacLeod Annual Lecture took place on 16 November at RHS Hilltop – the Home of Gardening Science, located at RHS Garden Wisley, Woking, Surrey, GU23 6QB.

  • 2.30pm Reception and networking
  • 2.50pm Guests make their way to their seats
  • 3pm Introduction by Clare Matterson, RHS Director General

  • 3.05pm Lecture by Professor James Hitchmough
  • 3.45pm Questions
  • 4.10pm Drinks reception and networking 
  • 5pm Close

About the speaker

James Hitchmough is Professor Emeritus in Horticultural Ecology at the University of Sheffield. He retired from the University in 2022, but continues to co-supervise his final tranche of five PhD students as they complete their studies. Two of these students are working on understanding and quantifying plant fitness for the changing climate.

As has been a focus throughout his career, James continues to develop new types of designed plantings in landscape architectural practice, often in collaboration with Tom Stuart-Smith and currently also with Piet Oudolf.

Most of James’ consultancy and design work is in China and Australia, where he works primarily with native flora. The perspectives that come from his integration of academic research and practice shape a worldview that makes him an in-demand conference speaker around the world. 

Currently, James spends most of his time completing the garden and meadow creation project around his home in Somerset. This should be complete by September 2024; he then plans to focus on writing a more critical planting design literature for a time of rapidly changing climate.

History of the lecture

The John MacLeod Annual Lecture was created to highlight important and inspiring topics on horticultural science. A broad audience of RHS members, scientists, policymakers and the media is invited every year to hear luminaries of the scientific field give talks on major research projects or new areas of thought.

Who was John MacLeod?

The lecture’s namesake, Professor John MacLeod, who died in 2010, was a plant scientist and Professor of Horticulture at the RHS. He was also chairperson of the RHS Scientific Committee and was a powerful advocate for horticultural science. He was acutely aware of its pressing relevance in sustaining the natural environment and world food supplies.

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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.