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Britain’s crop wild relatives will feature in the first scientific garden to show at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Malvern Spring Festival.
The concept garden was dreamed up by Museum plant data specialist Caitlin McLaughlin and her sister Tessa. It will feature plants that are related to commercial crops but grow wild in Britain, such as wild carrot and hazel.
These crop wild relatives can carry potentially useful genes that could be transferred to commercial crops. Features such as disease resistance or drought tolerance found in wild species could be invaluable in the face of changing climates and evolving pest populations.
‘They are important for food security, but most people have never heard of them,’ said Caitlin. ‘They are not given the protection they need, and we could be wasting the most important genetic traits.’
Caitlin was inspired by her work at the Museum helping to research crop wild relatives in South America, the home of the potato and tomato. For the show garden though, she wanted to bring the message closer to home.
‘We want our garden to raise awareness, and to represent a possible nature reserve. We want to present a plausible option for people to preserve and enjoy our native crop wild relatives,’ she said.
Crop wild relative plants for the show garden will be grown in collaboration with the Museum’s Wildlife Garden. After the show, they will return to the Museum grounds in a new permanent plot explaining their scientific benefit.
The show garden – which will start to be built at Malvern from mid-April ready for the show’s opening in May – will feature crop relatives in their wildest form interspersed with ornamental plant varieties.
Through partnerships with various organisations there will also be some innovative design elements that reflect the fact that many of these plants are currently considered weeds. These include plants growing through paving slabs and several pillars constructed out of ‘seeded concrete’ that will sprout plants that eventually break them down and convert them to soil.
The McLaughlin sisters are excited that their garden was chosen by the judging panel for a slot in the show. It’s the first scientific garden to be shown, and the sisters are the youngest exhibitors in their category, as well as being the only team with no previous design experience.