The Modern Garden Conference

Called ‘The Modern Garden’, the PlantNetwork Conference 2021 looks 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 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.

Explore the sessions in more detail using the session tabs below, and see the ‘Programme’ at the bottom of the page for further information.

More detail about the individual sessions:

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?

Session takes place 2-4pm.

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 experiment, 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.

David Knott, Curator of Living Collections at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Environmental sustainability at RBGE

The RBGE experience of reducing carbon emissions across its gardens.

Ben Beaumont, Andreas Stihl Limited

Stihl AP System & 36 V Battery Technology

A practical exploration of Stihl’s battery powered equipment.

Sustainable Gardens

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.

Session take place 5-7pm.

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 & 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:

Session takes place 2-4pm.

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

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?

Session takes place 5-7pm.

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 introduces his work in woodland management for the National Trust and joins 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

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.

Session takes place 2-4pm.

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

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.

Session takes place 5-7pm.

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.

Re-writing the Rules Workshop

Session takes place 2-4pm.

You are 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 have been 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!

Our six topics:

  • What and when to water: in an increasingly water scarce world, what is the best practice for watering plants from new plantings to issues of timing, methods, amounts…?
  • Weedy lawns: can perspectives of what makes an acceptable lawn change to include greater acceptance of ‘weeds’, longer grass and reduced mowing, miniature meadows etc.?
  • To dig or not to dig: is there still a role for double digging and how does this fit into soil management regimes that include green manures, mulching etc.?
  • Holistic plant health and the microbiome: do we need to reconsider what we mean by ‘plant health’ as we look to transition from treating pest and disease problems to preventing them by growing more resilient plants?
  • Growing media in a peat-free world: what makes a good substrate and how do you source this? Do we need to make our own substrates?
  • Re-interpreting the garden: are public gardens just about plants and plant placings or are they more than that? Are gardens gateways to greater environmental awareness such as climate change, food production, biodiversity, and sustainability? Do they tell more stories than simply what or where a plant is such history, diversity, inclusion etc.?

We will be joined by Dr Geoff Dixon and Doug Stewart who will help provide background to our practices and reflect on why we might need to enact changes to our horticultural approaches.

Gardening in 2046 – free session open to all

Session takes place 5-7pm.

The first hour includes a short series of Lightning Talks – five minutes long and showcasing a topic relevant to Gardening in 2046. Confirmed speakers are from the Sustainable Landscape Foundation, Silent Space, Young People in Horticulture Association, National Botanic Garden of Wales and Trewithen Gardens.

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).

Chair and panel:

Philip Turvil started gardening age five with gorgeous oaks trees. He’s since held practical roles at botanic, heritage and zoological gardens. Philip now specialises in public engagement and has won national awards for engaging millions of people with gardening. This includes roles at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. He a member of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture and Fellow of the Institute of Leadership. Philip currently holds two positions. He is Eco-Business Director at the UK’s leading outdoor education charity, the Field Studies Council, specialising in biodiversity training, publications, and fundraising. He is also a non-Executive Director and Trustee at Together TV, the UK’s social change broadcaster.

Mark Brent is curator at the UK’s oldest botanic garden, Oxford Botanic Garden, which is celebrating its 400th anniversary this year.

Cailean Iain Stewart has been living and breathing horticulture for a lifetime but has enjoyed a professional career over the past seven years. His younger years were spent as a bartender with a keen interest in gin botanicals and the science behind mixology. Cal is now an educator with the RHS at Harlow Carr. Having previously spent five years with the National Trust in North Yorkshire, his passion for ecological gardening was nurtured and is at the forefront of his delivery. Young people in horticulture want to be even greener and are crying out for that change to happen and it starts with the Why and How and not the What and When. Cal’s recently been handed the reins as the Northern Regional Organiser for the Young Horticulturist of the Year competition (YHOY). Having found previous success as a competitor and in this his final year (2021)  placed third in the national final hosted by Logan Botanic Gardens. The competition has been extremely motivational and has inspired his enthusiasm for horticultural education. He stresses the urgency for young people to join the industry and make their mark for the future and influence that which will follow.

Kirsty Wilson is Herbaceous Supervisor at RBGE, RHS Herbaceous Committee member and BBC Beechgrove TV presenter. Kirsty is also an award winning Garden designer, keen photographer and has contributed to BBC Radio 4 Gardener’s question time. Kirsty has recently been awarded the RHS 2021 Roy Lancaster Award – awarded to an individual under 35 who has achieved an exceptional contribution to the practice, science or promotion of horticulture. In 2019 Kirsty went on a plant collecting expedition to Yunnan, China and is responsible for the Chinese hillside at the botanics – which is perhaps one of the largest collections of Chinese plants cultivated outside China for conservation. Kirsty is keen to inspire people to grow and understand plants for a better future.

Recordings of this session are available via the Gardening in 2046 page.

Recordings of the conference sessions

Delegates can access the recordings using the passwords sent to you by email. If you believe you should have access to these recordings but have not been sent the password/s, please contact the PlantNetwork Coordinator.

To access the Gardening in 2046 recordings, please go to the Gardening in 2046 webpage. These recordings are freely available to all who wish to view them.

Session 1: Innovations in Horticulture

1.1: Smart Gardens of the Future with Candide
1.2: Weed Management with Nicola Cannon
1.3: Environmental Sustainability with RBGE
1.4: Stihl presentation

Session 2: Sustainable Gardens

2.1: Building an Organic Garden with Emma O’Neill
2.2: Circular Greenhouse Horticulture with Alexander Boedijn
2.3: Carbon Neutral Food with Duncan Farrington

Recordings of the conference sessions

Delegates can access the recordings using the passwords sent to you by email. If you believe you should have access to these recordings but have not been sent the password/s, please contact the PlantNetwork Coordinator.

To access the Gardening in 2046 recordings, please go to the Gardening in 2046 webpage. These recordings are freely available to all who wish to view them.

Session 3: Ecosystem Services & Multifunctionality

3.1: RBG Kew’s Landscape Ecology Programme at Wakehurst with Ed Ikin
3.2: Thrive with Damien Newman
3.3: Urban Biodiversity with Thomas Elmqvist

Session 4: Traditional Skills in Modern Gardens

4.1: Traditional Skills at Gunnebo with Joakim Seiler
4.2: Traditional Meadow Creation with Steve Coghill
4.3: Traditional Woodland Management with Guy Horwood
4.4: An Introduction by Neil Stevenson

Recordings of the conference sessions

Delegates can access the recordings using the passwords sent to you by email. If you believe you should have access to these recordings but have not been sent the password/s, please contact the PlantNetwork Coordinator.

To access the Gardening in 2046 recordings, please go to the Gardening in 2046 webpage. These recordings are freely available to all who wish to view them.

Session 5: Future of Plant Health

5.1: Citizen Science with Charles Lane
5.2: Mapping and Recording Pests with Jonathan Burton
5.3: Plant Healthy Accreditation with Alistair Yeomans

Session 6: Planting for a Changing Climate

6.1: Climate Change Alliance with Clare Hart and Tessa Kum
6.2: Design for a Changing Climate with Ross Cameron
6.3: Future Forestry with David White