Saskia Harris

Saskia replies to enquiries sent by members and colleagues to the Horticultural Taxonomy team to identity cultivated plants. The identifications support the work of other teams such as Pathology, Entomology, Horticultural Information and Environmental Horticulture within RHS Science

What do you do?

I identify specimens or images of garden plants using the clues provided by the description and sample, drawing on experience and training, and the range of information and expertise available in the RHS. This may include a search through online sources and databases, the RHS Herbarium, the Lindley Library specialist literature or the RHS Gardens. Through my replies I hope to encourage and inform the gardening public.

Specimens of interest might be dried, mounted and preserved in the Herbarium.

At RHS Flower Shows I support the RHS Advisory team, assisting gardeners and members of the public at the RHS Advice Desk.

“My time running after my long-legged, farmer father in the African bush got me interested in the natural world. It was my passion to follow in the footsteps of my grandfather, Linus Ingwersen, a Landscape Architect, that steered me to a career with the RHS.”

Why is your team’s research important?

Our work represents an important service to gardeners to help them make informed decisions about how to choose plants or how to care for those already in their possession. The identity of a plant opens the door to a whole host of extra information such as which habitat it prefers to grow in, how tall it grows or how it spreads, whether it is good to eat, if it provides good food for pollinators, whether it is poisonous or its roots have the potential to damage buildings. Knowing the identity of the plant helps to improve its quality of life, allows diseases to be treated more accurately and improves the chances of it surviving and thriving. It is a key service to deliver information to gardeners that can enhance their garden, improve biodiversity and give the amateur gardener the pleasure and reward of caring for a healthy plant.

Projects I’m working on now

  • Contributing to the creation of a unique record of the UK’s garden flora, a database of plants throughout seasons, fashions and environmental changes. At any point in the future, the collection could be consulted to support the research of our scientists, and those in other organisations, and could contribute to analysis and decisions on topics such as the impact of climate change, plant-insect interactions, or molecular characterisation of garden plants – it’s a solid reference collection

Completed projects

  • Participating in a collaborative project with Activate Learning/Merrist Wood College to support young, diverse and disadvantaged college students to engage meaningfully with their curriculum and our scientific work for mutual benefit


Since joining the team at Wisley, I am proud of the work I have done to collect specimens from the RHS Trials for inclusion in the Herbarium.

I have a great sense of achievement when passing on my enthusiasm for horticulture and science, especially when helping a curious gardener to identify an unusual plant.

I represented South African botanists as a Botanical Liaison Officer at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew – at that time, the ultimate goal for a young foreign botanist.


  • Sterling Dr N, S Harris(2019). Submission of plants for an RHS Plant Award and the botanical recording that follows. Lilies and Related Plants 2019–20, pp 22–26. RHS Lily Group.
  • Harris S. (2016) Wintergreen Culham Research Group blog
  • Harvey Y, Phillips B, Harris S, O’Beirne L, Kapetanakis P. (2017) Really, the RHS has an herbarium? NatSCA Notes & Comments, Issue 9, pp 1–4
  • Harris S, Harvey Y. (2018) Growing a different type of standard. NatSCA Conference

Get involved

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.