Talking horticulture and wildlife with Guy Barter

Earlier this month, we caught up with Guy Barter, RHS Chief Horticultural Advisor, about horticulture, wildlife, and his plans for 2017. Check out his interview below.

Our interview with Guy Barter

1. Why is wildlife so important to the horticultural industry?

Wildlife in the general sense of biodiversity is important to everyone as our existence is tied to that of other living things. However for the horticultural industry, in particular, there is a sort of invisible help from wildlife that acts to keep populations in check, so unbeknown to gardeners, pest and diseases are generally suppressed to manageable levels by their natural enemies. Without these, there would be much more pest and disease troubles.

Pollination is, of course, important as most garden plant seeds and virtually all fruit, broad and runner beans, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes and other fruiting vegetables require pollination by bees, and also although this may surprise people, by flies, beetles, moths and other insects.

2. What do you see are the biggest impacts on horticulture right now, positive and negative?

Costs are rising due to increased prices for imported materials from fertiliser to seeds. Ingenuity to get the best from these inputs will increasingly exercise gardening minds.

Pesticides are becoming less available. However, there are many new products to replace the withdrawn ones based on biological control or botanical materials. These almost certainly offer a low environmental impact resource but we are still finding out how to use them for best effect.

Unfortunately, the arrival of alien plants, pests and diseases is a very worrying trend that is affecting gardening, think of fuchsia gall mite for example, and also the environment. Gardeners can help by not importing plants or even seeds and ensuring garden plants stay in the garden and don’t end up in the wild.

3. What do you think is the future for horticulture and where do you see RHS developing?

Sustainable horticulture is what I think we all aspire to and this involves reducing the use of non-renewable resources such as peat and plastic for example, and re-using timber, and also recycling such using home-made compost to replace fertiliser. This is a challenge for commercial producers but for gardeners, it is much more feasible, and in fact enjoyable.

Wildlife friendly gardening is also very much a growing trend as people and especially children have the most available, closest and easiest experience of nature through their gardens.

Health and well-being are also increasingly recognised as a benefit of gardening be it a houseplant, window box or for fortunate people an outside space. Gardening is restorative to the psyche and also a valuable form of exercise that promotes physical health.

4. As Chief Horticulturist at RHS, what is your role in National Gardening Week that is approaching?

The nice thing about National Gardening Week is that it is not ‘owned’ by the RHS and is promoted as high point in the gardening year as the growing season begins to encourage others to generate activities around gardens and gardening. I have been helping prepare the activities and information resources, lists of top houseplants, for example, that will, I hope, encourage wider participation from all involved in horticulture.

5. What part of National Gardening Week do you enjoy the most and why/what are you looking forward to at this year’s campaign?

One prime aspect this year is helping people new to gardening get started. For example, there will be ‘Houseplant Hospitals’ at RHS gardens (13th April) where people can bring their ailing houseplants for some expert assessment. It sounds like a lot of fun. We hope this will inspire others to offer support to new gardeners.

6. Children today are always on their phones; how do you propose we encourage the younger generation to get out and into gardening or perhaps involved in campaigns such as these?

Phones are a wonderful way to access information so it is possible they could be using our website that is rich in gardening information; More realistically our Campaign for School Gardening ( has now signed up 31,000 schools and other educational institutions and is currently holding its annual School Gardener of the year.

Schools have an important part to play in our intention to ‘Green Grey Britain’ and wildlife friendly packs of wildflower seeds are being offered to schools.

7. What do you of think of the lack of gardening space in the inner city and what are your tips for people growing in the city?

Greening Grey Britain is very important to us and the greyest areas are often in the inner cities. We have a scheme called ‘It’s Your Neighbourhood’ which any group can join as long as it is volunteer led and does active gardening in the community. We have 1600 groups so far. I have been actively involved with a gardening group in Brixton, South London, where the local gardeners took some 10,000 plants left over after the Chelsea flower show to make a lovely naturalistic garden of beautiful perennials and trees in a rather neglected local square. It is very rewarding to see how the plot has been transformed and how it is appreciated by those involved. Interestingly even in Brixton, miles from the countryside, the flowers are heavily visited by bees.

8. What are your ideas for everybody coming together and supporting the environment and horticulture in the UK?

It might be easier to ask what we are not doing. Gardens and gardeners are so diverse that we necessarily have to promote gardening and its many benefits on a ‘broad front’ of activities. This is a challenge but I think we have a good balance of effort and resources that can truly make a difference. Highlights for me include gardening for ‘generation rent’ with support for growing indoor plants and container gardening. ‘Growing your own’ is a widely held aspiration amongst gardeners which we support with community allotments in our gardens and at RHS Hyde Hall we are distributing seeds from the giant pumpkins grown by Matthew Oliver our veg grower at Hyde Hall during National Gardening Week (Wednesday 12 April, from 10.30am).

9. What are your plans for any other campaigns and events during 2017?

It is all about plants for us here at the RHS; their ability to rejuvenate urban environments, enhance people’s well-being, increase biodiversity, cleanse air indoors and out and a campaign for bees in gardens to name but some. I am delighted to be using my expertise in plants and growing to develop these important areas.

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