Pearlfisher plastic awareness garden designer urges RHS to lead from the front

Posted by on May 23, 2018

This garden was awarded a Gold medal.

John Warland, designer of the Space to Grow garden, which is in partnership with NGO Plastic Oceans, says the RHS should lead from the front and ban plastic drink bottles from the show.


Warland said: “I think this garden should be a wake up call, drawing a line in the sand. Hopefully the RHS will now lead from the front with the demographic they have.”

The show has banned plastic straws but there were no restrictions on plastic bottles, cutlery, plates, coffee cups, packaging, and plant pots.

“Having a garden is generally a luxury and as is to come to Chelsea Flower Show.

“The people who can come and have a garden have the money in their pocket to make a practical choice.

“There is free water refills with Thames Water and no plastic straws but it would be good to lead from the front and take a little bit further. It would be nice if they couldn’t buy plastic drink bottles and in the next 12 months make every one a returnable bottle.”

“There is 100% of waste recycled at the recycler but I think is a feel good to make that choice at this point and not at the waste depot.

“People at the show would buy into that and be proud of it. It’s marginal gains but no plastic bottles you can buy in at the showground 2019 would be a win. It would be an easy win for RHS.

He said having seen Kew Temperate House re-open last month, he believes a plant polymer from Kew could win a Nobel prize for beinga  plastic substitute. “I’m sure it will be some naturally-based material.”

Prime Minster Theresa May visited the garden on 21 May. May has proposed plastic-free supermarket aisles, plus a ban on plastic straws, cotton buds and drinks stirrers. May also saw the Action Oak APHA garden and the Wuhan Water Garden at Chelsea. The RHS will visit Guangzho this year and is aiming for a Chelsea garden a year from 10 Chinese provinces, while a Chinese Chelsea remains a possibility.

UK participation at the Beijing International Horticultural Expo 2019 is being led by the RHS and has received the backing of the Prime Minister. 

Warland said when he entered the garden into Chelsea 12 months ago, plastic was not high on the agenda in horticulture.

But since then Blue Planet 2 on BBC had highlighted plastic pollution in oceans. The garden, made of aquatic tanks plus cacti, succulents and Tillandsia imitating underwater coral and algae, highlights “the irrevocable impact of plastic waste on our precious ecosystems and is a call to action to brands, businesses and designers to create sustainable lifecycles for products and packaging.”

Warland added that the garden industry is aware of the issue but in what is “often a business of narrow margins” only certain plants will be sold in non-plastic pots “not to say there shouldnt be that choice”.

The RHS has banned plastic straws at Chelsea and made moves to replace plastic with biodegradable materials at Wisley.

“The RHS supports the government’s intentions to drive down plastic waste and is committed to helping the UK’s 27million gardeners to reduce their environmental impact.

“In 2018, we made the decision to ban plastic straws at RHS Chelsea Flower Show (and all our main Shows – Cardiff, Chatsworth, Hampton and Tatton). Likewise, at RHS Wisley, our flagship garden, we have swapped plastic straws for paper and rolled out the use of biodegradable plates, cups and cutlery made from corn starch – a green alternative to polystyrene. We are now looking to do the same at the remainder of our gardens.

“We strongly encourage the recycling and reuse of plastic pots and trays across our gardens, retail centres and shows – with these available for free to the public.

“We are working to reduce our plastic packaging and have moved to buying products in bulk to reduce wrapping and reuse the packaging where we can. Our magazines and marketing material are currently sent to members in a lightweight recyclable plastic and we are currently exploring biodegradable alternatives.

“We use paper bags in the gift shops at our gardens and as these can split when wet we use recycled plastic bags in our plant centres. We also ask customers and visitors to bring their own bags for purchases made at our Shows and Gardens.

“To understand how we can do even better on our use of plastics we have launched an internal review. We hope to be able to share more details later in the year. We will also continue working with partners from the gardening industry – as part of the Ornamental Horticulture Roundtable Group – to help drive industry-wide change.

“We have also undertaken trials in our Gardens and funded research into alternatives to plastics but practical usability and production issues remain key stumbling blocks to their introduction and something that requires more research.”

Please share your thoughts...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.