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, with early-bird booking NOW OPEN for the must-attend horticultural event of the year.

If you would like more information, want to discuss opportunities for getting involved (from speaking to sponsorship to facilitating discussion – more information below), or would like to share your thoughts on what a Modern Garden might look like, please get in touch. You can explore the conference in more detail below.

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, this is a packed conference programme which promises full immersion in a range of topical horticultural issues.

Conference sessions are:

  • Innovations in Horticulture (Wednesday 24th November 2021, 14:00-16:00)
  • Sustainable Gardens (Wednesday 24th November 2021, 17:00-19:00)
  • Ecosystem Services and Multifunctionality (Thursday 25th November 2021, 14:00-16:00)
  • Traditional Skills in the Modern Garden (Thursday 25th November 2021, 17:00-19:00)
  • The Future of Plant Health (Wednesday 1st December 2021, 14:00-16:00)
  • Planting for a Changing Climate (Wednesday 1st December 2021, 17:00-19:00)
  • Plus – Re-writing the Rules Workshop & Gardening in 2046 (Thursday 2nd December 2021)

Programme (subject to change):

*This is a part of the conference but is also a stand-alone event available to those not attending the conference. All other sessions are only available to conference delegates, depending on ticket type.

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


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

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

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.

More speakers tbc

Sustainable Gardens

Chair: tbc


Emma O’Neill, Head Gardener, Garden Organic

Building an organic garden

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

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 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: Don Murray, Consultant


Ed Ikin, Director Of Wakehurst (from September 2021), 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 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.

Speaker tbc

Traditional Skills in Modern Gardens

Chair: Kate Nicoll


Joakim Seiler, Gunnebo House

Title and biography tbc

More speakers tbc

The Future of Plant Health

Chair: tbc


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

Developing records and mapping of pests at the Yorkshire Arboretum

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).

Speaker tbc

Planting for a Changing Climate

Chair: tbc


Clare Hart and Peter Symes, Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria and the Climate Change Alliance of Botanic Gardens

Climate Change Alliance of Botanic Gardens and the development of the Climate Risk Assessment Tool (title tbc)

Biography tbc

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

2046 – A vintage year for the tumbleweed? What does the climate roadmap say and implications for public garden design and management

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.

Speaker from the Forestry Commission

Title and biography tbc

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.

Early-bird ticket type (available until 31 October 2021)Cost (£)
Full conference – PlantNetwork member40
Full conference – PlantNetwork student member20
Full conference – standard non-member80
Full conference – student non-member*40
Day ticket – PlantNetwork member20
Day ticket – PlantNetwork student member10
Day ticket – standard non-member40
Day ticket – student non-member*20
*To qualify for the student rate, you must be in work-based training, undertaking an apprenticeship or studying at a FE college or similar provider for a minimum of one day per week.

Full conference registration provides full access to the four days of the conference at a cost equivalent to two day tickets. PlantNetwork members MUST login using their individual account to access the PlantNetwork discount. If you cannot access your account, please get in touch with the PlantNetwork Coordinator or find more detailed information on accessing your account at the ‘Maximise Your PlantNetwork Membership‘ blog post.

From 01 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).

Full conference attendance registration:

Day ticket: Wednesday 24 November 2021

Day ticket: Thursday 25 November 2021

Day ticket: Wednesday 01 December 2021

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.

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

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.

IrisBG – PlantNetwork’s latest sponsor

We are pleased to announce IrisBG have joined us as bronze sponsors in 2021/22. IrisBG is a complete database and software solution to manage living and preserved botanical collections and operate the garden efficiently and productively.