Faculty of Biological Sciences

Research Bulletin

Gold standard at Chelsea

22nd May 2012

University of Leeds takes Gold at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show with its first exhibit at the prestigious event

Gold standard at Chelseatitle=The garden, designed by Martin Walker, brings to life research carried out by leading academics and shows how simple changes to urban gardens can make a positive contribution to the planet.

The University's garden, which received the award for its exhibit in the Environment category, was designed to echo a 'typical' northern garden and is based on research into ecosystem services carried out by the Faculty of Environment and the Faculty of Biological Sciences.

Called Gardening for Champions!, the exhibit encourages individuals to make small changes to the way they garden, as Dr Rebecca Slack of the University's Faculty of Environment, explains: "As a University we decided to take part in Chelsea because we wanted to show how easy it was for people to become ecosystem champions; that is make a real, positive difference to their local environment."

"Of course we are absolutely delighted to have come away from our first experience of Chelsea with a medal. It's a real accolade for the whole team, but more importantly it's a great way to draw attention to the science behind the garden.

"It is estimated that gardens take up between 20-35% of space in urban areas so if we can help gardeners to make a few simple changes to their gardens, it will improve the environment for literally millions of people in the UK."

The University of Leeds Vice Chancellor, Prof Michael Arthur, added: "I'm delighted at the success of our first entry at the Chelsea Flower Show. This has been a fantastic opportunity for the University of Leeds to showcase the talent and creativity of its researchers and really shows how what we do can impact many aspects of people's lives. It has clearly been a real team effort."

The garden shows practical steps which anyone can take to look after water resources, encourage pollinators or create carbon sinks to help guard against global warming:

  • 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.

Working alongside Dr Slack are Professor Les Firbank, Professor Bill Kunin and Dr Gordon Mitchell, with support also given by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) which has funded much of the research into ecosystem services.

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 allows visitors to see the garden from the perspective of a pollinating insect.


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