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Food security theme for show garden

by Rhiannon James

Genetic garden header

Sisters Tessa and Caitlin McLaughlin are creating The Genetic Conservation Garden

A garden promoting the conservation of the wild relatives of major food crops to ensure future food security is in need of sponsorship.

The Genetic Conservation Garden, which has been designed by sisters Tessa, 21, and Caitlin, 24, McLaughlin to highlight the need to preserve the beneficial genetic traits locked in these native plants, known as UK Crop Wild Relatives (CWRs), is to be exhibited at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival in May.

These wild plants have developed important attributes such as drought tolerance and resistance to pests and diseases, which can help the crops we rely on to survive challenges such as climate change. But as they are traditionally viewed as weeds, they are in need of protection.

“Caitlin is a plant scientist passionate about Crop Wild Relatives and conservation, and has always found the lack of science within a show garden setting strange considering plant sciences and garden design should go hand in hand,” says Tessa. “CWRs are so important for the future of food security and have so much potential within plant sciences but are overlooked and in need of conservation.”

The garden, designed to highlight some key CWRs and the need to conserve them in genetic reserves, will feature soft planting mixed with concrete hard landscaping. The sisters will be using an unusual new product in the garden – ‘seeded’ concrete – in the form of pillars. As the seeds grow, the concrete breaks down and eventually decomposes into soil.

Amongst the planting, the McLaughlin sisters will be using wild garlic species, Allium vineale and Allium ursinum, relatives of onions and garlic, which have a leaf structure that makes them resistant to herbicides. “This chemical resistance trait may prove highly important in the future of plant breeding,” says Tessa.

The two sisters, who have no formal design or horticultural qualifications – Tessa is a secondary school teacher preparing to start Teach First in the summer while Caitlin currently works at the Natural History Museum – are raising money for their garden on Kickstarter (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1044715637/the-genetic-conservation-garden) until 2nd February and then will be accepting donations via their website (https://ourrhsjourney.wordpress.com). They need to raise £4,000, the Royal Horticultural Society having already contributed £3,000 to the cost of the garden.

The Malvern Spring Festival runs from 7th – 10th May, www.rhs.org.uk/shows-events/malvern-spring-festival

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                                                                         Design for The Genetic Conservation Garden

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