The Modern Garden Conference

Dates: 24 – 25 November and 01 – 02 December 2021, online with two sessions per day (14:00-16:00 and 17:00-19:00)

This year is the 25th anniversary of PlantNetwork. Since its formation in the mid-1990s, PlantNetwork has provided an opportunity for gardens to share ideas and information, provide peer-to-peer training and network horticulturists to ensure that the public gardens and plant collections of the UK and Ireland are maintained at the highest possible standard for conservation, education and enjoyment by the public. We very much hope to continue to offer this support but, as recent events have shown, it is unclear what the future holds. The PlantNetwork Conference in 2021 will explore what gardening in the 21st century currently looks like and what the future holds for horticulturists and the gardens they maintain – in a thoroughly modern online format.

The programme is available below. All sessions will be recorded and will be available to participants to ‘watch again’.

You can explore the conference in more detail below. Simply click on the tabs to find out more about the programme, sessions and speakers. You can also register for the conference at ‘Book your place’.

With two sessions per day, each running 2-4pm and 5-7pm GMT/UTC on every conference day, plus an informal daily break-out session (the Coffee Queue), this is a packed conference programme which promises full immersion in a range of topical horticultural issues.

Programme (subject to change):

The programme can also be downloaded:

Confirmed speakers include:

  • Dr Nicola Cannon, Royal Agricultural University
  • Emma O’Neill, Garden Organic
  • Duncan Farrington, ‘Zero Carbon Farm’ – Farrington Oils
  • Ed Ikin, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew
  • Damien Newman, Thrive
  • Dr Charles Lane, Fera Science Ltd
  • Dr Ross Cameron, University of Sheffield
  • Clare Hart and Peter Symes, Climate Change Alliance of Botanic Gardens
  • And many more…

Explore the session tabs below to find out more about the speakers.

Innovations in Horticulture

Chair: Kate Hughes, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh


Dominique Exmann – MD of Candide Gardens
Dr Waheed Arshad – Botanical Scientist for Hortis

Smart Gardens of the Future with Candide

What sets Candide apart is the application of technology combined with a huge, engaged community of plant enthusiasts. Candide, the company, have been based in central Bristol, since inception in 2017. Three years later, they are a large team of engineers, content writers and growth marketers germinating the first genuinely global gardening ecosystem.

Dr Nicola Cannon, Associate Professor of Agriculture, Royal Agricultural University:

Learning from the agricultural sector to improve weed management in amenity horticulture

Dr Nicola Cannon

Nicola Cannon is a dedicated educator and researcher.  As an agronomist she understands the challenges of arable cropping systems and the complex issues that impact on yield and quality of crops.  Nicola has a strong interest in crop management techniques which can enhance soil health, weed control, crop yield and therefore the sustainability of cropping systems. Through a series of field trials, including the establishment of the Quarry Field Trial, now registered as a recognised European long term field experimen, Nicola has developed a detailed knowledge of weed challenges, crop and weed interactions and investigated techniques for reducing reliance on chemical weed control which is applicable to other sectors including ornamental and amenity horticulture.

Find out more about Nicola’s research here.

Ben Beaumont, Andreas Stihl Limited

Stihl AP System & 36 V Battery Technology

A practical exploration of Stihl’s battery powered equipment.

Sustainable Gardens

Chair: Don Murray, Consultant, Sustainable Landscape Foundation


Emma O’Neill, Head Gardener, Garden Organic

Building an organic garden

Emma O’Neill

Emma has been gardening since 2000 when she left her job in banking to pursue a career in horticulture.  Emma has worked on large private estates, a national trust property, garden centre and private school, and has been the Head Gardener at Garden Organic since November 2015.  In that time, Garden Organic has moved site and now rent a space approximately 1 acre in size which Emma and her team designed and built.  Working alongside two colleagues and an array of dedicated volunteers as well as the wider Garden Organic team, Emma is continuously striving to find innovative ways to inspire people to go organic.

Find out more about Garden Organic and the new demonstration garden here.

Alexander Boedijn, Researcher in Energy and Greenhouse Climate, Wageningen University and Research

Towards circular greenhouse horticulture

Alexander Boedijn

Ir. Alexander Boedijn is a researcher in Greenhouse Technology at the Business Unit Greenhouse Horticulture of Wageningen University & Research. He has a background in Mechanical Engineering (BSc, Delft University of Technology) and Biosystems Engineering (MSc, Wageningen University & Research). His focus is on projects involving greenhouse climate- and energy systems as well as circular horticulture. Within the topics of circularity and sustainability, his applied research activities include data analysis and -visualisation, material flow analysis and cross-sector initiatives (e.g. aquaponic systems).

Duncan Farrington, Farmer and Founder of Farrington’s Mellow Yellow

Creating the world’s first carbon & plastic neutral food brand

Duncan Farrington

Duncan Farrington is a fourth generation farmer and founder of Farrington’s Mellow Yellow, becoming the UK’s first seed-to-bottle producer of cold pressed rapeseed oil in 2005. Farrington’s Mellow Yellow has grown to be a well-loved national brand, producing a range of cold pressed rapeseed oils and salad dressings. As a LEAF Marque grower and Demonstration farmer, Duncan is committed to sustainable farming practises from the wildlife habitats around field edges, to the health of the soils in fields. In 2020 Farrington Oils became the world’s first food business to be certified as both carbon and plastic neutral and, in 2021, were honoured to receive a Queen’s Award for Enterprise for Sustainable Development for their industry leading commitment to the environment. Farrington Oils is a UK case study for the AgricaptureCO₂ project, to help develop regenerative farming practices that will hopefully ultimately lead to a certified carbon trading initiative for sustainable agriculture.

Find out more about Farrington’s Mellow Yellow here and listen to Duncan talking about the Zero Carbon Farm on BBC Radio 4’s 39 Ways to Save the Planet.

Ecosystem Services and Multifunctionality

Chair: Dr Bruce Howard, Ecosystems Knowledge Network


Ed Ikin, Director of Wakehurst. Royal Botanic Gardens Kew

Researching the value of UK biodiversity: RBG Kew’s Landscape Ecology Programme at Wakehurst

Ed Ikin is Director of Wakehurst: leading Kew’s wild botanic garden and fostering research partnerships with Kew Science. Ed is interested in using ecological approaches to make horticulture more sustainable and using science to understand how landscapes function and unlock plant properties. He was previously chair of London Parks & Gardens Trust, General Manager of Morden Hall Park and Rainham Hall in London, Assistant Head Gardener at Chelsea Physic Garden, Head Gardener at Nymans (National Trust) and a Clore Fellow.

Damien Newman, Training Education and Consultancy Manager, Thrive

Health and wellbeing through gardening and the use of gardens for resilience and recovery

Damien Newman

Damien Newman has worked within Thrive’s training and education team for 12 years. He has developed curricula of Social and Therapeutic Horticulture accredited at Higher Education and provided 1000s of hours of teaching to health, social care and horticulture professionals in maximizing the benefits of gardening for health and wellbeing. In this presentation, Damien will explore how time in gardens and gardening can be supportive of health and wellbeing through different models. How gardening and other nature based activity can be part of everyday life and enable all to be resilient to physical and mental ill health and how through formulated programme be utilised to support recovery and rehabilitation.

Find out more about Thrive here.

Professor Thomas Elmqvist, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University

Urban biodiversity and climate change

Prof Thomas Elmqvist

Thomas Elmqvist, PhD, is a professor in Natural Resource Management at Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University. His research is focused on urbanisation, urban ecosystem services, land use change, natural disturbances and components of resilience including the role of social institutions. He has led the UN-initiated global project “Cities and Biodiversity Outlook” and more recently the Future Earth Project Urban Planet. He was awarded the Biodiversa 2018 prize for excellence in science and impact, and the Ecological Society of America 2019 prize for best paper in “Sustainability Science”.

Traditional Skills in Modern Gardens

Chair: Kate Nicoll, Erasmus Project: Craft Skills for Garden Conservation


Joakim Seiler, Gunnebo House and Gardens/University of Gothenburg

Is there a future without the past?

Joakim Seiler, PhD, is the Head Gardener at the 18th century estate Gunnebo House and Gardens since 2004 and an adjunct lecturer at the Department of Conservation, University of Gothenburg, Sweden. He is a researcher in the field of craft science and historic gardens. He has specialised in garden conservation and traditional craft with the thesis “Management regimes for lawns and hedges in historic gardens” which was successfully defended in 2020.

Steven Coghill, Head Gardener, King’s College, University of Cambridge

Only Fools and Horses

My career started in earnest working on a tree and shrub nursery at Castor near Peterborough for the Peterborough Development Corporation, before taking an HND in Amenity Hort at Writtle College before working for Norwich City Council Parks Department as a Trainee Technical assistant followed by time spent at Cambridge University Botanic Gardens before becoming the Head Gardener at Braxted Park in Essex, an imposing 18th and 19th century historic landscape. Having finished at Braxted, I became a horticultural lecturer at Otley College in Suffolk, eventually becoming the Head of Horticulture, and taking Post Grad, Qualifications again via Writtle College. After nearly 25 years, I decided to ‘walk the talk’ once again, taking on the post of Head Gardener at Glemham Hall in Suffolk, followed by the Head Gardener role at King’s College Cambridge.  I have recently received an Honorary Degree from Writtle College, for my services to the horticultural education and training sector of our profession, something I am still deeply committed to, having set up the delivery of RHS courses at King’s via Writtle College, and playing a key part in the establishment of a cross university garden apprenticeship scheme with the KEITS training organisation.

Ben Jones, Curator & Guy Horwood, Arborist, Harcourt Arboretum, University of Oxford Garden & Arboretum

Traditional woodland management in a modern arboretum

Biography tbc

Brian Williamson, West Country Coppice

Title and biography tbc

Neil Stevenson, Lead Ranger, Trelissick & North Helford, National Trust

Neil will introduce his work in woodland management for the National Trust and join the discussion as a panellist.

Born and raised on a plant nursery in central Scotland, qualified in Horticulture in the late 80s and then onto Arboriculture in the early 90s at Merrist Wood. Worked in tree surgery and forestry until joining the National Trust as a Warden/woodsmen in Surrey and for the past 22 years has been the Lead Ranger on the Trelissick and North Helford properties in Cornwall. Responsible for woodland and historic parkland management including traditional coppicing, pollarding and timber production. Much of our management is wildlife based using traditional techniques to produce habitat and encourage natural regeneration within our sessile oak woodlands. Projects at the moment are based around parkland restoration and woodland grazing, veteran tree and woodland management, wildlife meadows and arable wildflower conservation. We have a very strong woodland team at Trelissick and carry out all the work in house, using veteranization techniques to improve our woodland habitat and many other traditional management methods.

The Future of Plant Health

Chair: Julian Ives, Dragonfli Ltd.


Dr Charles Lane, RSB Senior Plant Health Professional, Fera Science Ltd

The role of citizen science in plant health surveillance

Charles has spent the past 20 years identifying fungal plant diseases both indigenous and alien to the UK. He leads Fera’s work on citizen science developing capability and capacity in stakeholders, NGOs and members of the public about plant health and biosecurity. He is a Royal Society Biology Senior Plant Health Professional and a member of the Arboricultural Association.

Jonathan Burton, Education Records and Science Manager, Yorkshire Arboretum – Tree Health Centre

Developing records and mapping of pests at the Yorkshire Arboretum

Jonathan Burton (& guests)

Having managed the 10ha woodland garden collection in Ray Wood at Castle Howard for the best part of a decade, Jonathan now oversees education, plant records and scientific collaboration for the Yorkshire Arboretum. He enjoys working with external researchers, plant health organisations and volunteers to encourage broader scientific use of the arboretum collection drawing on his training in Zoology (B.Sc), Ecology and Environmental Management (M.Res), and temperate forestry (PG Dip).

Alistair Yeomans, MICFor MCIHort, Plant Health Alliance

Plant Healthy Certification Scheme – a proactive approach to plant biosecurity

Industry concerns about the risks posed by Xylella led to focused efforts on improving plant health management across different sectors and along their supply chains. Industry, environmental NGOs and government formed a Plant Health Alliance to work together to develop the Plant Health Management Standard, published in 2019, and the associated Plant Healthy Certification Scheme, which was launched to the trade in February 2020. 

Planting for a Changing Climate

Chair: Professor Alistair Griffiths, Director of Science & Collections, Royal Horticultural Society


Clare Hart and Tessa Kum, Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria and the Climate Change Alliance of Botanic Gardens

The Future Garden – why we all need a Climate Change Alliance of Botanic Gardens

Tessa Kum provides specialized Horticulture Administration Support to the Horticulture Team of Melbourne Gardens, Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria (RBGV), Australia. Tessa is a newly fledged Horticulturist, having left the corporate world to retrain, and graduated from the Burnley Horticultural College, University of Melbourne in 2020. For this she was awarded the Tom and Effie Lothian Memorial Prize for all-round excellence in environmental horticulture. She has worked closely with Curator Horticulture (RBGV) on various projects – from microclimate monitoring to  plant collecting expedition preparation to biosecurity practices – and plays an active role in the secretariat of the Climate Change Alliance of Botanic Gardens. 

Clare Hart is the Manager Horticulture at the  Melbourne Gardens, Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria (RBGV), Australia. Clare is a Horticulturist who has been working in the industry for the past 25 years, in numerous roles and areas of horticulture and arboriculture including: Nursery Management, Garden Design, Botanic Gardens, Local Government and Horticulture media (radio) . Her experience extends to strategic and operational management of public open space, including large parks, botanic gardens, conservation areas and streetscapes. Clare has a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Advanced Certificate in Horticulture and a Graduate Certificate in Arboriculture and is an executive committee member of Botanic Gardens Australia and New Zealand (BGANZ) Victoria. Clare is a proud RBGV founding member of the Climate Change Alliance of Botanic Garden

Dr Ross Cameron, Department of Landscape Architecture, University of Sheffield

2046 – A Vintage Year for the Tumbleweed? Garden Design & Management in a Changing Climate

Ross Cameron is Director of Research at the Department of Landscape Architecture, University of Sheffield. Ross has a strong interest in garden landscapes and plants. His research covers the benefits associated with gardens/gardening, ornamental plant adaptability to stress and the impacts of climate change on our gardens. He was co-author of the RHS Report – Gardening in a Changing Climate. Ross has supervised a number of PhD students investigating the impacts of climate change on garden plants and published on aspects of sustainable garden management.

David White, Woodland & Climate Change Adaption Adviser, Forestry Commission

Challenges for the future forester

David White joined the Forestry Commission in 1990 and has worked in operational roles protecting the trees and woodlands on the public forest estate in Sussex, Sherwood, Scottish Borders and the Forest of Dean. Since 2007, David has worked within Forest Services delivering government policy to protect, improve and expand woodland in England. David has a strong interest in woodland creation and this has lead him to create one hectare of woodland on his family farm to investigate alternative species of trees and the challenges of tree establishment in the face of unparalleled climate change. David is a member of the Institute of Chartered Foresters.

Conference registration

Register for the full conference or for an individual day (days 1-3 only). All conference registrations include ‘Rewriting the Rules’ workshop and ‘Gardening in 2046’ session on Thursday 2nd December (day 4). The workshop is only available with conference registration. Please refer to the ‘Programme’ tab to ensure you make the correct booking. You will receive an invitation to ‘watch again’ all sessions included in your booking.

If you want to make the conference a fun team event for your staff, for example by streaming to a lecture theatre or big screen, we have group rates available to PlantNetwork organisational members. The group rates vary depending on the numbers of delegates participating, with special offers available for groups of, or multiples of, five. Each participant will benefit from ‘watch again’ access but only one login will be provided for the live event so you will need to be at the same venue to attend. Get in touch to find out more.

From 16 November 2021, standard delegate fees will come into effect: £60 full conference PlantNetwork member (£120 non-member); £30 full conference PlantNetwork student (£60 non-member student). Day tickets rates will be: £30 per day for PlantNetwork members (£60 non-member); £20 per day for PlantNetwork students (£40 non-member student). PlantNetwork members need to log in to access the member rates.

Full conference attendance registration:

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Day ticket: Wednesday 24 November 2021

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Day ticket: Thursday 25 November 2021

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Day ticket: Wednesday 01 December 2021

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For group attendance (one login for a group of people watching together), please get in touch with PlantNetwork:

Opportunities for conference involvement:

If you would like to support the PlantNetwork Conference 2021 – The Modern Garden Conference – please do get in touch!

There are various ways you can support the conference – here are a small selection:

  • Help with online conference facilitation – new experiences to add to your CV;
  • Chair a conference session – we would really like to hear from you if you have not chaired a meeting before and would like the opportunity;
  • Contribute to the ‘Re-writing the Rules’ workshop with topics, note taking or other roles to suit;
  • Submit a pre-recorded ‘lightning talk’ to Gardening in 2046: a five minute talk about something you are working on or doing in your garden/organisation/business to future proof your garden, ensure your garden is climate resilient or as part of a forward looking project;
  • Suggest another role where you can help….

We would very much like to hear from you if any of these opportunities is of interest – or perhaps more than one – so get in touch to find out more.

Called ‘The Modern Garden’, the PlantNetwork Conference 2021 will look at technological developments in horticulture, and new innovations and thinking as well as topics of growing importance such as climate change, sustainability, and plant health threats. It is also an opportunity to look at the role of traditional skills alongside technological advancements. Individual sessions will look at different topics that will have an impact on modern gardening, providing an opportunity to hear the latest research findings and practical interventions being trialled in horticulture.

The Modern Garden is an online conference and so will improve accessibility for horticulturists working across the country. Taking place at intervals across a two week period, it will be available live and will also provide a catch-up service for to watch again. There will be lots of discussion and break-out time to allow participants to meet and talk with other delegates – perhaps not as you would at an in-person conference, but still offering opportunities to network with other horticulturists without the need to travel or take too much time away from the garden.

Explore the sessions in more detail below, and see the ‘Programme’ and ‘Speakers’ tabs above for further information.

Innovations in Horticulture

Compare modern gardens with, for example, gardens of the late Victorian period and two things will be immediately noticeable: modern gardens have far fewer gardeners and much more machinery. In this session, we look at the latest innovations in gardening in the 21st century. The internal combustion engine revolutionised gardening in the 20th century, what will change our gardening practice this century?

Sustainable Gardens

In this session, we explore what is meant by sustainability in horticulture, specifically what needs to be considered when looking to create a sustainable garden. We will look at soil and water management, circular economy approaches to garden management and so much more. Lessons from commercial horticulture and agriculture will also be explored to discover how we can improve the sustainability of gardens.

Ecosystem Services & Multifunctionality

Natural capital and ecosystem services offer a new way of thinking – and potentially a new income stream – for gardens. The Office of National Statistics have estimated that there were 6,754 public gardens and parks in 2017 providing the majority functional green space (approx. 37,500 hectares) as well as a further 530,000 hectares of residential gardens and almost 8,000 hectares of allotments and community growing spaces, all of which offer services to society through the provision of flood protection, carbon sequestration, noise pollution mitigation, pollination services and health and wellbeing benefits (ONS, 2018). There are significant contributions that can be made to local communities, wider society and even the global battle against climate change through consideration of the ecosystem services and natural capital provided by gardens. In this session, we explore how gardens can make use of these concepts and provide a new way of thinking about gardens as multifunctional spaces with the potential to make significant social, economic and environmental impact.

ONS (2018). UK natural capital: ecosystem accounts for urban areas. Available at:

Traditional Skills in Modern Gardens

Traditional gardening skills – from growing and cultivating plants to garden landscaping – have huge potential in the Modern Garden as they often make use of what is available in the garden, contributing to more sustainable practices. Whether it is growing coppice for garden building materials and plant supports to learning techniques such as scything for meadow management, there are many different crafts and skills to be employed. In this session, we explore some of these approaches and crafts, and discuss their role alongside more technological developments. Scything alongside a robot mower perhaps?

The Future of Plant Health

With a changing climate, we can expect to see more plant pests and diseases becoming endemic to the UK. What might we expect to see in the next 20-30 years and what can we do to prevent large-scale loss to gardens and the wider environment? The session discusses biosecurity measures that can be put in place to prevent the spread of pests and diseases.

Planting for a Changing Climate

At our 2019 conference, we looked at what the impacts of climate change might be – changes to rainfall and temperature – and how we can better adapt to make our gardens more resilient through better soil and water management, etc. While planting was discussed, this session will explore further what our gardens might look like in the future as the impact of climate change influences what we can, and can’t, grow.

Re-writing the Rules Workshop

Regardless of how you attend the conference (for one day or the full conference) , you will be invited to participate in this workshop which will consider old, new and re-imagined horticultural practice. Why do we do certain activities in certain ways? Is it because we have always done it that way, have evidence that this is ‘good practice’ or simply a best guess? It is an opportunity to consider new approaches, new ways of doing things and/or the reasons behind traditional approaches.

Six topics will be selected for small group discussion, with the aim of creating a briefing note to help inform the development of new practices or principles in horticulture – or stimulate research/further discussion.

An excellent networking opportunity too!

Gardening in 2046

The closing session of the conference will also be a stand-alone event which will be open to anyone with an interest in horticulture and the future of gardens to attend. All conference delegates will be automatically registered to attend.

The first hour will provide an opportunity for delegates to submit a Lightning Talk – a live or pre-recorded short talk on a topic or issue centred on the future of gardens and horticulture. Talks must not last more than five minutes. An open call for submissions will be issued in early September but do get in touch if you are interested in contributing.

This will be followed by an hour-long panel discussion on what gardens in 2046 might be like. A panel of three with a chair will all discuss what they see as being the big issues of the future and what changes might be made to public gardens and gardening. Event participants will be asked to submit questions for the panel to discuss.

The session chair is Philip Turvil, Eco Business Director of the Field Studies Council and panelists are Mark Brent (Curator of Oxford Botanic Garden), Kirsty Wilson (of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and presenter on BBC’s The Beechgrove Garden) and Cailean Iain Stewart (from the Royal Horticultural Society).

We would like to thank all PlantNetwork sponsors for their support which includes sponsorship of The Modern Garden Conference:


We are pleased to announce Dragonfli as one of our 2021 sponsors: Dragonfli provides specialist advice and products for Biological pest control of insect pests. Products include beneficial insects, nematodes, trapping systems and bio stimulants.

British Sugar TOPSOIL

We are pleased that British Sugar TOPSOIL are continuing their support of PlantNetwork as Silver Sponsors. British Sugar TOPSOIL are the largest UK manufacturer and supplier of environmentally sustainable subsoil, topsoil and topdressing products to the landscaping, construction and sports turf/amenity sectors, supplying over 250,000 tonnes annually.


We are pleased to announce Candide as our Gold Sponsor. Candide is an app for all plant lovers – from amateur to professional alike.

IrisBG – returning to sponsor PlantNetwork

We are pleased that IrisBG will continue as bronze sponsors in 2022/23. IrisBG is a complete database and software solution to manage living and preserved botanical collections and operate the garden efficiently and productively.