Science behind perfect garden explored by researchers

  • Date

    Wed 15 Nov 23

Professor Tracy Lawson and Dr Amanda Cavanagh examine some plants

The science behind the perfect garden will be explored by researchers in Beth Chatto’s world-famous garden and plant nursery.

Science behind perfect garden explored by researchers

The home of the influential RHS Chelsea Flower Show winning pioneer is collaborating with University of Essex scientists as they investigate how to make the nation’s gardens more eco-friendly.

Two research projects at the Grade II-listed gardens will see how we can all use less water and capture carbon in our own homes.

Across the course of six months, the scientists from the University’s School of Life Sciences and School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering will be ensconced in the iconic Essex venue.

Working with the team at Beth Chatto's Plants and Gardens Ltd the researchers led by Professor Tracy Lawson are working to discover which perennial plants, and shrubs can help to battle climate change.

It is hoped the study will identify which popular vegetation can absorb the most harmful carbon dioxide through photosynthesis.

Professor Lawson is working with fellow biologist Dr Amanda Cavanagh and sociologist Professor Pam Cox on the study, which will focus on the plants propagated and sold at the centre.

And another team, guided by Dr John Ferguson, School of Life Sciences, will work to reduce the amount of water used at the nursery through a high-tech smart irrigation system.

This vital research will help guide the team at the gardens, near Elmstead Market, which were made famous by the late Beth Chatto.

The pioneering plantswoman, author and lecturer transformed British gardening with her sustainable ecological approach ‘right plant, right place’, winning ten consecutive Gold Medals at RHS Chelsea - and inspiring countless gardeners around the world.

Julia Boulton, Beth Chatto’s granddaughter and CEO of the gardens believes the University of Essex research will build on her family legacy and help protect gardens and planting schemes as the climate changes.

They said: “This project will allow us to see how different species of plants perform on a scientific level.

“Domestic gardens are underestimated and often overlooked in the environmental benefits that they provide, this research will go toward quantifying that and enabling all of us to refine our plant choices to positive effect.”

This exciting project builds on the University’s ground-breaking work to feed the world with the Plant Productivity Group.

The team of researchers from the School of Life is taking a whole organism approach to identify key genes and processes that determine how well plants cope in constantly changing environmental conditions – from severe drought to extremes of light and temperature.

Project leader Professor Lawson is excited to bring her expertise to bear at Beth Chatto's Plants and Gardens.

She said: “Collaborating with our neighbours at Beth Chatto and tapping into their wealth of gardening expertise has proven invaluable in our exploration of harnessing the carbon capture potential of perennial plants.

“As we collectively strive to achieve net zero emissions and reduce our carbon footprint, this project takes centre stage in both scientific discourse as well as potential examining individual behavioural choices and changes.

“Its relevance to society is unmistakable, and its potential for impact is exciting.”

A thought echoed by Dr Ferguson, who said: “I am excited to be able to impart our knowledge on plant water use and physiology to help the team at Beth Chatto to enhance the sustainability of their operations.

“The work we will do together has the potential to have a tangible impact and reach beyond the small scale we are starting at here.”

The work was funded by an Impact Acceleration Award (IAA) from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

"We are immensely grateful to the BBSRC IAA for their generous support in making our research collaborations possible.

"Their continued commitment to advancing knowledge and fostering innovation is instrumental in driving our research forward and creating a brighter future for all.

"This new and exciting partnership with Beth Chatto Gardens is a testament to the power of collaboration in the pursuit of meaningful high-impact discoveries," said Nikki Pockett, Knowledge Exchange Manager and BBSRC IAA Programme Manager.