Faculty of Biological Sciences

Research Bulletin

Leeds prepares to take 'bee-utiful' garden to world's most prestigious flower show

15th May 2012

The University will visit one of the world's most famous flower shows next week to show how simple changes can make a positive contribution to the planet.

The University's garden, designed by Chelsea gold medal-winning designer Martin Walker, resembles a 'typical' northern garden and brings to life research conducted by academics at two of the University's faculties, the Faculty of Environment and the Faculty of Biological Sciences.

Dr Rebecca Slack, of the University's Faculty of Environment, commented: "Chelsea Flower Show (21 - 26 May) is a fantastic event, every year it captures people's imagination and for a week or so, people who would never usually class themselves as gardeners, are talking about gardening.

"What we want to do is capture that enthusiasm and help people relate their garden to the wider environment. It is estimated that gardens take up between 20 - 35 per cent of space in UK cities, so what we do in them has a massive effect on the wider environment."

The team of academics working on the project includes: Dr Gordon Mitchell, Dr Slack, Professor Les Firbank and Professor Bill Kunin with support also given by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) which has funded much of the research into ecosystem services.

Dr Slack continued: "There are three themes running though the garden - pollination, water management and carbon management. We chose these themes because they reflect our research, but more importantly they have a very real impact on people's everyday lives and, crucially, they are things which people can really have an impact on.

"On the water front for example, we've just seen the wettest April on record even though some parts of the country are in drought. What people do in their garden affects how plants cope with such unpredictable conditions. Similarly, the fact bees are declining has also been well covered in the media, but we wanted to show that how individuals act in their gardens can really affect the local bee population as well as helping them to have a thriving garden."

The design of the University garden will show how easy it is for gardeners to adopt these themes:

  • Slow water is good water Rainfall that runs off fast doesn't absorb into the ground to bolster the water table and keep plants going in dry periods. In extreme cases it can cause flash flooding. Gardeners can control water flow by introducing permeable paths, which will allow water to soak in slowly; they can also store water by using water butts. Measures such as green roofs also help slow water flow.
  • Bees love the natural look This goes for everything from grass that is a little longer, to flowers which have been left to resemble their wild cousins. Bedding plants sold in garden centres and double flowers (where extra doubles replace the stamen) have been bred to such an extent that they tend to have very little pollen. Longer grass is bee-friendly because clover has the chance to flower, while rotting logs and sandy soil provide ideal nesting sites for solitary bees and other insects.
  • Compost not carbon Composting food waste and vegetable peelings is a great way to help turn your garden into a carbon sink. Reducing use of artificial fertilisers, growing vegetables and fruit, and planting green roofs and walls to insulate buildings also helps this process.

Dr Slack continued: "We're delighted with our garden, but we also wanted to extend our campaign beyond Chelsea Flower Show and reach people who aren't visiting the Show. Consequently we've launched a Facebook app called The Messy Garden where people can leave their favourite gardening tip and 'grow' plants and shrubs." For further details please visit the Facebook page: www.facebook.com/GardeningForChampions or visit the website: gardenchampions.leeds.ac.uk/

What does the garden look like?

The garden represents an average urban garden, the kind found on the fringe of any northern city. A path made of permeable material will allow visitors to walk through the garden. There is a green-roofed (planted with Sedum Grass) pagoda which houses information boards to explain the function of the garden. The path and pagoda divide the garden into three areas: the vegetable and fruit bed; the shady garden common in many north-facing gardens; the rain garden planted for areas of high rainfall or water run-off. A "bee-vision" camera and linked screen will allow visitors to see the garden from the perspective of a pollinating insect.


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