Issue 2, Winter 2019

The RHS - teaching us the nurturing power of plants, 200 years on!

New homes, food waste and career opportunities – how a British institution wants to transform our view of gardening

By Kate Ford  |  26 Aug 2019  | 

Guy Barter is looking to change people’s perception of the 200-year-old Royal Horticultural Society. As its Chief Horticulturist, he is keen for everyone to see that the RHS is more than just the Chelsea Flower Show. From qualifications for people wanting a career change, to highlighting the effects of modern house building, the RHS reaches into many aspects of daily life. Its schools programme is aimed at fostering a love of plants and nature in the young so that they grow ‘skills for life’.

“The process of growing plants and having them around has many environmental benefits and is therapeutic. It is a skill worth passing onto children,” says Guy. Enriching everyone’s life through plants is a key aim of the Society and the charity now has half a million members. “The more members we have the more charitable work we can undertake.”

High density housing concerns 

But there are challenges and a key issue for Guy is new housing. “The model we’ve got is not good from the point of view of gardening and greenery,” he says, citing the small-sized gardens which dominate modern home designs. “Part of planning policy is to pack high density housing around transport nodes. To move away from that is obviously not easy. It comes round to pointing out the health and environmental benefits.”

Offering a wealth of free advice

The work of the RHS is surprisingly widespread. It organises the renowned Britain in Bloom competition and has a research team looking at everything from plant diseases to the well-being benefits of growing. Its website offers an enormous wealth of free advice and information.

Training for the future

The Society also trains horticulturists, but Guy believes there is a lack of awareness within school careers teams so young people are often not informed about the opportunities. “People who might perhaps enjoy and be good at a career in horticulture may be unaware, which is why we have the apprenticeship and studentship schemes and qualifications,” he says, adding that the RHS trains about 60 apprentices and students in its gardens each year.

Inspire, involve and inform

Growing an array of vegetables in limited space

Science reviews by the RHS reveal that trees help reduce home and office heating costs. In addition, plants soak up pollution and lawns can help to reduce flood risk. “Plants purify the air indoors, they have been proven to have good effects on health and well-being, in terms of physical and mental health. Research shows the benefits of greenery, being outdoors, and physical activity. Gardens are perhaps one of the most accessible ways of getting all of those things.”

New investment

And as part of its investment in the future, the RHS is creating a new garden in Salford, near Manchester which will feature a schools learning centre. Due to open next year, it will create more than 140 jobs and is aimed at connecting to the local community through partnerships with health and education providers.

We can’t have too many plants, they are good for the environment and they are good for people.

Read the full article in the print edition of Grow Inspirit Magazine. Buy HERE

Get involved
RHS membership brings:
Free access to its gardens and partner gardens.
A monthly subscription to ‘The Garden’ magazine.
Exclusive access to shows and events.
Personalised gardening advice

Other options include a heavily subsidised student membership for just £10 a year.

Visit for more information including how to find community gardening groups in your area. Follow the RHS on social media Twitter @The_RHS and Facebook/rhshome

Dig For Victory
One of the Society’s many events and exhibitions celebrates the role the RHS played in the war effort. As well as being heavily involved in food production and the establishment of allotments during the First World War, it also played a key role in the campaign to get the nation growing its own fruit and vegetables during the Second World War.

Featuring original material, the ‘Dig for Victory’ display at Lindley Library in London from 12th August to 15th November marks the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of WW2. Advice on how to supplement ration-book diets was distributed across the country with many making use of limited resources.

Employees at the Wolsey Motors in Birmingham, for example, made plant covers out of scrap car windscreens for their workplace allotment. Photographs of wartime vegetable plots from members of the public will also be featured in ‘Dig for Victory’ displays at the RHS gardens at Wisley, Surrey, Rosemoor in Devon, Hyde Hall, Essex and Harlow Carr in Yorkshire from 14th October to 17th November, 2019.

You can read the full RHS feature in the print edition of Grow Inspirit Magazine. Simply Subscribe HERE
to get the magazine delivered straight to you door.