RHS to build a na­tional cen­tre

RHS to build new na­tional cen­tre for hor­ti­cul­ture

Amateur Gardening - - Con­tent -

“What we are do­ing is unique in the world”

THE Royal Hor­ti­cul­tural So­ci­ety is mov­ing into brand-new ter­ri­tory – and mo­bil­is­ing an army of gar­den­ers to help it on its way. The so­ci­ety, which was formed more than 100 years ago, is com­bin­ing its decades of gar­den­ing and sci­en­tific ex­per­tise to be­come a world leader in the fight against cli­mate change and help re­duce the global im­pact of men­tal and phys­i­cal ill­ness.

It is de­vel­op­ing a multi-mil­lion-pound, world-beat­ing Na­tional Cen­tre for Hor­ti­cul­tural Science and Learn­ing at its flag­ship gar­den RHS Wis­ley in Sur­rey, The cen­tre will open in 2020.

In­stead of be­ing a top-se­cret re­search lab­o­ra­tory staffed by un­worldly, stuffy boffins, the cen­tre and its trio of new gar­dens will wel­come the pub­lic to watch the sci­en­tists at work and be in­spired to do their bit back home.

RHS di­rec­tor gen­eral Sue Biggs said: “What we are do­ing is in­cred­i­ble and won­der­ful and ex­tremely ex­cit­ing.

“As far as I know it is unique in the world. There are places do­ing agri­cul­tural and botan­i­cal re­search, but noth­ing for hor­ti­cul­ture, which is a shame when you think there are 27 mil­lion gar­dens in this coun­try.”

By ‘gar­den’, Sue doesn’t just mean a size­able patch of Sur­rey coun­try­side. The RHS wants ev­ery­one, whether they have a few me­tres of land or an in­nercity bal­cony, to do their bit.

“It isn’t just about hav­ing a de­cent plot of land,” she said.

“You can make a dif­fer­ence if you have a bal­cony in a tower block, are part of an ur­ban ar­chi­tec­ture scheme or have your own com­mu­nity space.

“If there was ever a need to use the peo­ple and the plants to com­bat cli­mate change, men­tal-health is­sues and other prob­lems, it’s now.”

Sue joined the RHS as di­rec­tor gen­eral eight years ago, hav­ing been the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of travel giants Kuoni and Thomas Cook. She calls her cur­rent po­si­tion her ‘dream job’, hav­ing been bit­ten by the gar­den­ing bug when she was just seven years old.

She is de­ter­mined to lead the so­ci­ety onto new ground and in­spire its 485,000 mem­bers to cre­ate a greener fu­ture for the whole planet.

Sue con­tin­ued: “The pol­li­na­tors are suf­fer­ing, there’s cli­mate change and we want to en­cour­age ama­teur gar­den­ers to do more to com­bat these prob­lems.

“There’s an army of gar­den­ers out there – in­di­vid­u­als, clubs and so­ci­eties – and a lot you can do to com­bat the threat of a warm­ing world. For a start, I know there’s a short­age of park­ing, but leav­ing your house frontage as a gar­den, rather than con­cret­ing over it to make a car park, helps al­le­vi­ate the risk of ur­ban flood­ing.

“Plant­ing trees helps re­duce the tem­per­a­ture in ci­ties, and grow­ing climbers up a house wall pro­vides ex­tra in­su­la­tion to keep it warmer in win­ter

“I don’t want to imag­ine a coun­try with­out gar­dens”

and cooler in sum­mer, re­duc­ing the need for heat­ing and air con­di­tion­ing.

“Gar­den­ing also helps our well­be­ing. It’s good for men­tal health, it is a form of ex­er­cise, which helps the obe­sity prob­lem, and peo­ple talk to their neigh­bours, which re­duces lone­li­ness.”

The im­proved fa­cil­i­ties at Wis­ley will also have a knock-on ef­fect for the other RHS gar­dens at Rose­moor, Har­low Carr, Hyde Hall and Bridge­wa­ter.

The new Learn­ing Cen­tre will be at Wis­ley’s Hill­top and will in­clude an ex­panded herbar­ium, an ar­chive, li­brary, study area and three new gar­dens. There is also a new atrium and gath­er­ing space for talks, art ex­hi­bi­tions and ac­tiv­i­ties, a restau­rant and a bar. The car park has also been ex­panded.

Vis­i­tors can see the sci­en­tists work­ing, use the ar­chives and li­brary, apart from the rare-book room, and watch the work of pre­serv­ing plant sam­ples in the herbar­ium.

The holis­tic ap­proach link­ing gar­den­ing and science to global and per­sonal well­be­ing is echoed in the Na­tional Cen­tre’s trio of new gar­dens that fo­cus on wildlife, well­be­ing and diet.

Cre­ated by de­sign­ers Ann-Marie Pow­ell and Matt Keight­ley, they will be ‘liv­ing lab­o­ra­to­ries’, where vis­i­tors can see how hor­ti­cul­tural science im­pacts on ev­ery­day life.

Tim Up­son, di­rec­tor of hor­ti­cul­ture with the RHS, added: “The gar­dens are a per­fect demon­stra­tion of our com­mit­ment to in­spir­ing ev­ery­one to grow for a bet­ter, greener fu­ture. They will act as a liv­ing em­bod­i­ment of our new science cen­tre, shar­ing the many ben­e­fits of gar­den­ing.”

So where does Sue see RHS Wis­ley be­ing in a decade’s time?

“I think that up un­til now peo­ple have been scared by the science bit of gar­den­ing,” she said. “We want to de­mys­tify it and cel­e­brate the im­por­tance of gar­den­ing and what we can do to­gether to help so­ci­ety.

“Peo­ple ask, ‘Why are you spend­ing all this money just on Wis­ley?’ But it isn’t just on Wis­ley, it’s for the coun­try. Can you imag­ine a coun­try, a world, with­out gar­dens? I can’t – and I cer­tainly don’t want to.”

AG Edi­tor Garry Cow­ard-Wil­liams said: “We ap­plaud this ini­tia­tive and be­lieve that ev­ery­one should sup­port it.”

Pro­posed new main en­trance of the Na­tional Cen­tre, via the Well­be­ing Gar­den

RHS di­rec­tor gen­eral Sue Biggs

Artist’s im­pres­sion of the new Well­be­ing Gar­den at RHS Wis­ley

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