RHS Science Autumn 2017 update

Our Science Team reflect on their work this autumn - including a lecture, a symposium and some apples

This season we turned our attention to the wider scientific and horticultural community as we recognised the challenges faced by UK gardeners affect us all and require a collaborative and coordinated response.

To provide everyone with the tools and information they need to respond to these challenges we're sharing our work and ideas with colleagues from universities, industry, government and other charities and organisations.  

Since August 2017 we have: 

John MacLeod Lecture 2017

In the spirit of collaboration, autumn was the season for the annual lecture in honour of former RHS Professor of Horticulture - John MacLeod. The lecture seeks to address and discuss the scientific ‘hot potatoes’ of the day with an audience of scientists, students, staff and RHS members.

This year’s annual lecture was a huge success despite the train strikes that threatened to keep our audience away. Over 130 hardy souls negotiated the London transport to see and hear renowned Soil and Climate Change Scientist, Professor David Wolfe, from Cornell University, New York. We were also joined by over 7,000 people online via Facebook live and the livestream on our website.

Building on the theme of last year’s lecture by Dr Ross Cameron, Professor Wolfe spoke about the importance of gardeners inspiring those around them to take action to adapt in a pragmatic way to the challenges of climate change. Wolfe highlighted the importance of research into new and more effective ways of gardening and the vital role that consumer choice plays in driving the development of climate friendly products and approaches.   

If you were at this year’s lecture we hope you enjoyed it, but don’t worry if you missed it, you can still watch the full video and see all of the slides – enjoy!

P.S. RHS Young Ambassador, 'Green Fingered' George attended the lecture and wrote a great blog about the experience.

PhD Symposium

Continuing our theme this November we invited students from a range of horticultural, botanical and plant science disciplines to the annual RHS PhD symposium to come together and talk about their research. This year the turnout was spectacular as RHS Garden Wisley played host to researchers from a huge range of UK universities - including many we don't currently have joint projects with.  We heard about the pollution-busting power of house plants, innovative, plant-based treatments for blindness, the role of the upper classes in horticultural progress in the 18th-century and a range of new technologies including robotics and a fresh look at greenhouse lighting.

We’d like to thank all the students who presented and their supervisors who supported them.

We are committed to training the next generation of horticultural scientists and it’s exciting to see the breadth and depth of research you are all making a difference with.  

More information on the RHS Science PhD programme 

Codlins, Costards and Biffins – apples take a ‘core’ role

Our interest and expertise in apples is legendary and this season has seen our amazing library collections demonstrating just how important our historic work and materials are in bringing our knowledge to life for everyone.  

With events such as Amazing Apples at Wisley and Codlins, Costards and Biffins at RHS Garden Harlow Carr, RHS Garden Rosemoor and the Lindley Library, the world of historic research and its place in our understanding is brought into the limelight in an exciting new way.

Our online visitors are also enjoying a new digital home for everything they ever wanted to know about Heritage Apples – with over 1,500 visitors (so far) exploring heritage varieties from history to ‘how to’ and beyond.

RHS scientists out and about

Recent upheavals in orchid classification, arising from molecular research, has had a major impact on orchid hybrid nomenclature and Senior Registrar - Dr Julian Shaw - outlined proposals to address this problem when he spoke about his is paper "What can be done to stabilize nomenclature in the orchid hybrid register?" at the 22nd World Orchid Conference, Guayaquil, Ecuador, 8-12 November.

In mid-November, Plant Pathologist - Dr Rebekah Robinson - attended the ‘European conference on Xylella 2017’ in Palma de Mallorca. The meeting gathered together around 270 attendees from 20 EU and 14 non-EU countries to share current knowledge of Xylella fastidiosa - a devastating plant pathogen which has only recently been detected in Europe and is threatening UK horticulture and the wider environment. Rebekah presented a poster discussing the challenges and opportunities the RHS has encountered when communicating plant health - in particular Xylella - to the UK public.

Principal Entomologist - Dr Andrew Salisbury - spoke about “It’s not all pests! Communicating Garden Entomology” at the inaugural meeting of the Royal Entomological Society’s "Public Understanding of Entomology" Special Interest Group as part of Ento17.  Andrew highlighted the RHS Entomology team's range of engagement activities, from communicating new research to engaging school pupils. 

Principal Scientist - Dr Tijana Blanusa -  spoke about the 'Importance of plant choice for flood mitigation' at the International Society for Horticultural Science (ISHS) symposium 'Greener cities for more efficient ecosystem services in a climate changing world' in Bologna, Italy in September. Flooding is a key challenge for UK and European gardeners and the role of plants in helping us deal with it is a key RHS research area. Tijana’s work focuses on understanding how different plant characteristics are linked to their ability to provide services, such as flood mitigation, in order that we can provide reliable advice on which plants to choose for maximum benefit.

Head of Horticultural & Environmental Science - Dr Paul Alexander - travelled to Portland, Oregon in August to present his paper “Water management in peat-reduced and peat-free growing media: the effects of different frequency and volume on pelargonium” at the ‘International Symposium on Growing Media, Soilless Cultivation, and Compost Utilization in Horticulture’.

Dr Eleanor Webster (Climate Scientist) presented alongside Robert Brett (RHS Hyde Hall Curator) and BBC Gardeners World presenter - Arit Anderson - at the Royal Meterological Society’s 'WeatherLive' conference in London in November. This was a great opportunity to discuss the impact of changing weather patterns on UK gardeners and climate change research at the RHS with a wider audience.

Director of Science & Collections - Professor Alistair Griffiths - addressed the Horticultural Trades Association Garden Futures event on the subject of gardens and preventative natural healthcare in October and also spoke to students on a similar theme as part of Royal Holloway’s School of Biological Sciences seminar series. 

Alistair and Head of Plant Health - Dr Gerard Clover - also hosted Lord Gardiner - Lords Spokesman for DEFRA - on a tour around RHS Science facilities and collections at Wisley; discussing with him the importance of our scientific research.

RHS Science in the news

  • BBC Farming Today featured an interview with RHS Climate Scientist - Dr Eleanor Webster (starts at 21:20)
  • Various publications picked up on Principal Horticultural Advisor - Leigh Hunt’s - article on Car Park Plants
  • Sky News interviewed Entomologist - Dr Hayley Jones - about the reported decline in flying insects

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.