2 Apr 2013
March saw three important events. It started with the Agri-Food hub meeting, Waste Not Want Not: Agri-Food Waste Solutions for a Hungry World on 5 March. The papers for this meeting can be viewed here. This was followed by our visit to Eccleston Square gardens and the Royal College of Physicians medicinal garden, 'Ceanothus and Medicinal Plants' in London on 15 March. Reports on these two visits follow below.
March also saw the launch of the new Horticulture Innovation Partnership which is taking over from the National Horticultural Forum. Professor Geoff Dixon attended the launch on our behalf and his report is also included below.
Finally we joined the Professional Horticulture Group South West for a three-day visit to Devon and Cornwall looking at horticultural polythene, cut flower production and two more traditional gardens at Ince Castle and Cotehele.
This event was marred by a tragic accident on the first day when one of the party, Oliver Menhinick MBE, was killed when his car left the road in a torrential downpour outside Plymouth. Oliver was Head of Horticulture at Lackham College for 35 years and more recently known for his work with the Horticultural Correspondence College where he was Senior Tutor Emeritus.
This month we will again be joining the Professional Horticulture Group South West on 16 April to visit Branstons Ltd, potato packers and marketers, followed by a visit to the Somerset Wetlands Centre to see willow growing and weaving. Details
Also of interest is the Cambridgeshire and Great Eastern Group visit to Cambridge Botanic Garden on 25 April. Details
Eccleston Square, London, forms part of the same development as Belgrave Square created by Thomas Cubitt in the early nineteenth century. Like much of the area west of Westminster Bridge it was originally swamp, but was drained in the 17th century to create willow beds and the gardens were finally laid out in 1835, although the houses were not built until 1855.
By the 1970s the gardens had become neglected and proposals had been put forward to replace them with a garage. This galvanised the residents who, after a lengthy war of attrition with the owners, eventually succeeded in purchasing the land for £35,000 - not bad for three acres in central London.
Redevelopment started in 1984 but the Great Storm of October 1987 set back these plans. However in some ways it proved a blessing in disguise as the storm brought down a number of the 150 year old plane trees creating more open space and varied plant habitats. It also allowed the addition of a more varied selection of trees.
We were shown round by author, Roger Phillips (far right), well known for his superbly illustrated books on trees, shrubs, roses and mushrooms. Roger is the garden manager and is aided by gardener, Neville Capil, and some volunteers.
Although the garden contains a wide selection of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants they have concentrated on collections of Camelia, Ceanothus and some of the more tender climbing and rambling roses. While our visit had been arranged to coincide with the normal flowering period of the first two of these collections, this year's cold spring has delayed flowering. As a result the main species in flower were Mimosas (Acacia dealbata and A. pravissima) and a few early Camelias.
Surrounded by the warmth of London and with the added protection of the tall houses and mature plane trees, the square enjoys a particularly mild microclimate enabling a number of tender species to be grown. The spectacular Echium pininiana, a native of the Canary Islands cloud forests, grows well and seeds prolifically around the garden. Rosa ecae, from Afghanistan with its bright golden yellow flowers is another tender species that adorns the gardens. They also have a collection of tree peonies (Paeonia delavii and others) and specimens of tree dahlia (Dahlia imperialis).
The frost protection the garden offers is ideal for flowering Camelia species (pictured right) whose flowers are so often damaged by late frost in other parts of the UK. Likewise both hardy and tender Ceanothus thrive and the gardens boast around 70 species and cultivars in a National Collection. Both genera flower and seed prolifically in the garden and new hybrids spring up regularly.
Organic waste from falling leaves, pruned herbaceous plants etc is all collected and composted in a small recycling area. This is all returned to the garden with added chicken manure to improve the soil and nourish the plants.
The gardens are there to serve the community so, as well as providing a relaxing and decorative area to walk around, there is also a well-used tennis court, a children's play area and an area for summer barbecues and general relaxation.
The gardens are private and local residents pay an annual subscription to help with their upkeep. In return they get the all-important key giving them access. However, apart from allowing groups like ourselves to visit, they open the gardens to the general public on a couple of occasions each year. They open under the National Garden Scheme on 12 May and the Open Garden Squares Weekend on June 8 - 9 (Sunday afternoon only).
The Royal College of Physicians' Medicinal Garden
Founded in 1518, the Royal College of Physicians has occupied its present building on the east side of Regents Park, London, since 1964. As well as the relatively new main building the college also owns an adjacent terrace of houses designed by John Nash with their small front gardens enclosed in wrought iron railings.
Our host for this visit was the College's Garden Fellow, Dr Henry Oakley (pictured on the right). He described the origins of physicians' relationship with plants. 'They had no concept of illness or of chemistry or biochemistry. They believed all plants had been put on the earth by the creator for mankind's use. So if the plant had a particular shape, it indicated that the creator had put it on the planet for a particular use.'
Up to a century ago all treatments for illness and disease were plant-based and although we now rely more on synthetic medicines many of these have their origins in plant-derived molecules. It is not surprising that medicinal gardens have been a feature of the London landscape for centuries or that the College should have one.
The College building is surrounded by landscaping beds and borders which have been planted with a selection of around 600 plant species set out in geographic associations. In addition the gardens of the Nash terrace have also been incorporated.
Much early medicine was based on restoring the bodies 'balance' between the 'elements' of earth, air, fire and water. Illness was ascribed to an excess of one of these elements and plants were used to counteract this excess. The choice of plant had nothing to do with any known curative value and more to do with the shape or colouration of the plant.
Thus the spotted leaves of Pulmonaria (lungwort) were seen to resemble diseased and ulcerated lungs so were deemed to be capable of curing lung disease. The root nodules of celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) look like haemorrhoids so were deemed to be a cure. Hepatica (liverwort) with its three lobed leaves was association with the three lobes of the liver and so on.
Amongst these plants that had little benefit beyond a placebo effect there were plenty that have proved the source of valuable medicines, for example; Digitalis (foxglove) gave digitoxin for heart disease; Taxus brevifolia (Pacific Yew) was the source of Paclitaxel (Taxol), a chemotherapy drug given to treat ovarian, breast and non-small cell lung cancer; Papaver somniferum as well as giving the drug opium is the source of morphine, codeine and other alkaloids.
Plants produce these chemicals to protect themselves from being eaten by herbivorous creatures. Different species have adopted different strategies to deter their attackers. Some are bitter, for example, while others are poisonous. The collection therefore includes a number of familiar poisonous species not because they are poisonous but because these poisons can be beneficial in small doses. Thus deadly nightshade (Belladonna) and its relative mandrake (Mandragora) are a source of atropine, scopolamine and hyoscyamine.
Our tour ended in a sheltered south-facing area of the garden where the tenderest species were grown including a fruiting lemon tree (Citrus limon pictured right) made famous by James Lind as the cure for the scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) that plagued long distance sea voyages.
Henry Oakley leads tours of the garden at 2pm on the first Wednesday of every month between March and November for those who missed this fascinating tour. Details
Launch of the Horticultural Innovation Partnership
The National Horticulture Forum (NHF) was formed as a response to a Report written by the late Sir Colin Spedding of the University of Reading. This highlighted the lack of a clear single organisation which could communicate with government in order that the erosion of research and development capacities might be stemmed. Since 2006 the SCI Horticulture Group has been a member of NHF and contributed £1,000 annually towards its operational costs.
The NHF has achieved Spedding's objective and provided means by which the need for research and development have been highlighted gaining credibility within Whitehall departments and Parliament.
Changing systems for funding agricultural and horticultural research and development which have moved the emphasis from Defra (Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) towards the Department of Business, Innovation and Science (BIS) highlighted deficiencies in the structure of NHF. Regrettably it represented only the producer segment of the supply chain failing to gather support from its other elements most noticeably the retailers.
Direct negotiations with the Government's Chief Scientist, Sir John Beddington, have encouraged the formation of the Horticulture Innovation Partnership (HIP) as a replacement for the NHF. Accordingly the NHF has been wound up with a final meeting on 7 March 2013.
A launch for HIP took place later on the same day at Defra's Nobel House, Smith Square. The aim in establishing a UK Horticulture Innovation Partnership (HIP) is to provide strategic leadership and a forum for engagement for all industry sectors. These include all elements of the horticulture supply chain (growers, packers, processors, suppliers, retailers, consumers), innovation and research funders, and research and technology providers. The HIP will establish a Funders Group, a Providers Group and a Supply Chain Group which will co-ordinate the exploitation of funding opportunities to expand innovation and profitability within the industry.
Motivation for establishing the HIP has been derived in part from the Jamieson Report (2008) A Review of the Provision of Horticultural R&D; the National Horticultural Forum (2011) A New Vision for Horticulture R&D; and further supported through the work of the Horticulture Round Table under the chairmanship of Sir John Beddington, Chief Scientific Advisor to the Government.
The HIP will develop and articulate the challenges faced by the UK horticulture industry, outlined in these reports. It aims to ensure that the horticulture sector is both well-organised and well-positioned to be able to participate effectively in current initiatives, such as Feeding the Future: Innovation Priorities for Primary Food Production in the UK to 2030, to be able to contribute to addressing the outcomes of the recent consultation on the BIS Agri-Tech Strategy and be in a strong position to respond to relevant calls from the Technology Strategy Board. The Research Providers group aims to provide a more coherent approach towards gaining funding from the EU and Horizon 2020.
So far key achievements have been in finding a chairman, Mary Boseley, who has substantial experience of the retail sector and developing links with the retailers' Technical Leaders Forum chaired by Judith Bachelor of Sainsbury's. This Forum has representatives of all the large retailers, it can only deal with non-competitive issues since doing otherwise would lead to accusations of developing cartels. Each of the public funding organisations: BBSRC, NERC, TSB and Defra are included. Defra has provided some start-up funding of £50,000.
At the launch, attended by some 170 people, Sir John Beddington emphasised his and the Government's interest in the security of food supplies for the UK. There appears to have been some recognition that, in the interests of securing food supplies, an indigenous industry needs safeguards. One of these is adequate investment in R&D. Sir John seemed well briefed on this issue and expressed keenness that the HIP should succeed. He does of course retire shortly and will be replace by Sir Mark Walport from the Wellcome Trust.
That should mean he is receptive towards the need for a supply of nutritionally fit food in the interests of improving diets and reducing diet-related diseases. Mary Bosely emphasised that HIP is 'here to make a difference', her helmsmanship could make that happen. Lord de Mauley, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Resource Management, the Local Environment and Environmental Science, read a well-scripted delivery covering government interests in climate change, the need for producer participation in the research base (identifying that 'HIP places horticulture ahead of the game'), GM crops and the EU's failure at exploiting their potential.
Notably he mentioned the importance of 'producer organisations'. In Europe these have been major engines for success in collaborative processes, but in the UK there has been a notable failure in this respect.
Issues highlighted include the need for increased knowledge and skills, the
key value of genetics, lacks in communication and connection, requirements
for complete collaboration across the supply chain and the ability of innovation
to drive productivity and growth.
The main functions of HIP (as defined in a document of 1 September 2012) are:
- Develop a shared vision of the future of UK horticulture;
- Facilitate greater alignment, collaboration and information sharing between partners;
- Share and disseminate knowledge about innovation opportunities and facilitate their exploitation by partners;
- Identify barriers to innovation and the uptake of new technology, improve understanding of how such barriers might be overcome and facilitate industry efforts to do so;
- Monitor and evaluate industry needs/priorities for science and engineering;
- Inform the thinking and decision-making of UK and EU policy makers;
- Use information provided by partners to monitor progress;
- Establish working groups to tackle particular objectives;
- Inform the wider industry of HIP activities and achievements.
Professor Geoff Dixon
Plant of the Month
Ceanothus arboreus, Californian lilac, feltleaf ceanothus, Rhamnaceae
This species, which was seen growing in Eccleston Square Garden on the recent visit by the Horticulture Group, is a large shrub or small tree endemic to California (in particular the Channel Islands off the mainland coast). The undersides of the large leaves are downy, hence the common name of feltleaf ceanothus. The leaves of all Ceanothus species have three prominent parallel veins running from the base of the leaf to the leaf margin. The panicles of flowers open blue and slightly fragrant through Spring and Summer and the cultivar 'Trewithen Blue' has been given an Award of Garden Merit by the RHS. This cultivar has particularly deep blue flowers.
There are approximately 55, mainly evergreen, species in the genus Ceanothus which comes only from North America, with the majority originating in California - hence the common name of Californian lilac. These plants are important constituents of chaparral ecosystems and have nitrogen-fixing actinomycete bacteria in their roots, thus enabling them to thrive where other species would struggle.
A plant for well drained soil in full sun, but should survive in relatively poor soils with the help of those actinomycetes!
Oxford Botanic Garden
Medicinal Plant of the Month
Camptotheca acuminata, happy tree, Cornaceae (Nyssaceae)
Camptotheca acuminata is a deciduous tree native to China and Tibet (pictured right). It is known locally as the happy tree or tree of joy and has been extensively used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It was one of the thousands of plants sampled and tested along with Taxus brevifolia at the National Cancer Institute in the 1950s and led to the isolation of camptothecin in 1958.
Camptothecin was found to be a potent anti-tumour agent but trials were later suspended due to severe and unpredictable toxicity. When the mechanism of action was unravelled in the 1980s interest in the drug was revived and several pharmaceutical companies began to develop their own analogues. Topotecan and irinotecan are two camptothecin derivatives on the market today. They are both Topoisomerase I inhibitors.
Although the initial supplies for drug development used camptothecin derived from Camptotheca acuminata in the Cornaceae, clinical supplies are now derived from another sub- tropical tree - Nothapodytes foetida in the unrelated Icacinaceae. This tree is grown on plantations in Sri Lanka, Brazil and Okinawa, Japan. One tonne of the harvested leaves and twigs yields 1kg of camptothecin. (0.1%). An estimated 100 kg of camptothecin is required
Oxford Botanic Garden
News from our Associates
National Horticultural Forum
The National Horticultural Forum was formally wound up on 7 March and its assets and responsibilities transferred to the new Horticultural Innovation Partnership. It is proposed that SCI Horticulture Group's support for the NHF should be transferred to the new HIP.
This will be discussed at our next Committee meeting on 9 April. Please send any views to the Committee.
Society of Biology
The Society has published its response to the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee on Government Open Access Policy. A summary of its response can be read here.
UK Plant Science Federation
The Federation is preparing for its Annual Meeting to be held in Dundee on 16-17 April.
The programme for the conference can be viewed here.
Horticulture Industry News
Uncertain future for Horti Fair
It is unlikely that the Horti Fair will be organised this year and some say that the Dutch horticultural fair, which attracted around 60,000 visitors in its glory day, may even close its doors forever. The problems of the Horti Fair began in 2010, when another fair - the IFTF - started in Vijfhuizen. Nearly all the plant breeders, a key group of exhibitors, moved from the Horti Fair to this fair. A second blow was the move of the fair to the FloraHolland location in Aalsmeer where exhibitors were not happy to be placed in outdoor marquees. More
A team of scientists from the UK and the US have identified the power-generating mechanism used by well-known marine bacteria. The bacterium Shewanella oneidensis, which occurs globally in rivers and seas, had been seen influencing levels of minerals in lakes and seas but no-one really knew how it did it. It was noticed that iron and manganese levels in the lake changed with the seasons, and happened in co-ordination with the bacteria's growth patterns, although it was not known how they brought about these changes in mineral concentrations.
To understand the bacteria's activity, researchers made a synthetic version of the bacterium and discovered that the organism generated a charge, and effected a chemical change, when in direct contact with the mineral surface. Understanding the mechanism has given scientists a chance to harness it and use it as a power source in places, and for devices and processes, in inaccessible or hostile environments. More
Testing heat tolerance in the field
Global climate change and localised human impact will continue to have an effect on the world's flora, both natural and agricultural. Predicting this effect can be difficult, but if land managers and farmers know which species will cope well with change, they will be better able to make a decision about the species which will struggle under certain conditions. An Austrian group has now devised an apparatus that has successfully tested the response of two alpine dwarf shrub species Vaccinium gaultherioides and Loiseleuria procumbens, showing that heat tolerance of both species was more than 10% lower in the field than in lab conditions. More
KAR UK acquires Evenproducts Ltd
Manchester-based KAR UK, one of the UK's leading suppliers of irrigation equipment and products, has acquired the internationally recognised pioneer in the design and manufacture of water storage and irrigation systems, Evenproducts Ltd. The move comes as part of the company's strategy to expand into new markets, with a view to targeting rapid, sustained growth in 2013.
the deal, KAR UK will acquire the business and assets of the company, including
its integrated design and research facilities, production line and operating
headquarters in Evesham. Under the terms of the agreement, KAR UK will support
and expand the international emergency aid programme operated by Evenproducts,
providing water and sanitation equipment for fast-response emergency humanitarian
aid to major agencies and non-governmental organisations worldwide. The present
intention is for employees to remain in their current locations in Evesham. More
Root microbes could save energy
Some air purifying technology originally developed by NASA could eventually purify the air in buildings so much that it would drastically reduce the need to replace air, which in turn would result in big energy savings. NASA was researching how plants purify air because of its interest in long-term habitat in outer space.
They found that carbon-eating microbes around a plant's root system digest impurities in air. If they grew plants in porous soil and put an induction fan below the filter, they could get 100 times more polluted air down to the microbes. By leveraging the microbes around the plant, they found these plant purifiers were taking just about every contaminant out of the air. The soil around the plant acts as a filter bed through which indoor air passes and pollutants are trapped, and the filter never needs replacing. More
Parasitic plants can be good
Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus) is a hemiparasitic annual found in permanent pastures. Its roots attach to the roots of grasses and other herbs depriving them of water and minerals. It has now been found that it drops leaves that are full of nutrients, whereas normally plants withdraw the nutrients before they release the leaves. This means that Rhinanthus produces very nutrient-rich litter that improves nutrient cycling in the soil and encourages a greater variety of life by suppressing grasses and promoting herbaceous flowering plants. More
Insects drop to avoid being eaten
Insects are ubiquitous on plants consumed by mammalian herbivores and are thus likely to face the danger of being incidentally ingested by a grazing mammal. A few studies have shown that some herbivorous hemipterans are able to avoid this peril by dropping to the ground upon detecting the heat and humidity on the mammal's breath. Other insects that share this habitat might be expected to develop similar escape mechanisms.
Researchers assessed the ability of three species (adults and larvae) of coccinellid beetles, important aphid predators, to avoid incidental ingestion. They found that both larvae and adults were able to avoid ingestion by goats by dropping to the ground. Remarkably, all adult beetles escaped by dropping off the plant and none used their functional wings to fly away. The most important component of mammalian herbivore breath in inducing adult beetles and larvae to drop was the combination of heat and humidity. More
Plants let chloroplasts know the time
Plant cells contain an internal clock (the circadian clock), which is able to regulate cellular processes so that they occur at the optimal time of day, causing a big increase in plant productivity. As chloroplasts are the site of photosynthesis, their function is highly dependent on the daily changes in light environment. Essential parts of this machinery are 'sigma factors' encoded by the cell's nuclear DNA. The researchers were able to show that the production of sigma factors is controlled by the plant's clock. This enables the nuclear DNA to regulate the activity of chloroplast genes, and ensure that the production of proteins essential for photosynthesis is co-ordinated with daylight. More
Honeybees prefer a caffeine fix
Some plants improve their chances of being pollinated by honeybees by lacing their nectar with caffeine. That is the conclusion of the latest study. It seems that when honeybees drink this caffeinated nectar, they are three times as likely to remember the flower's scent and location. Caffeine occurs naturally in the nectar of coffee and citrus flowers, but until now scientists weren't sure why. This is the first evidence that plants enhance pollinators' memories with drugs to increase their own reproductive success. More
SCI Horticulture Group events are listed here
Other Events of Interest
& Hortech, Ukraine
9 - 11 Apr, BTO Exhibitions
16 - 17 Apr, UK Plant Science Federation
Spring conference 2013: Securing the Future Supply of Food
17 Apr, Institute of Food Science and Technology
Physiology and Biotechnology
21 - 26 Apr, International Society for Horticultural Science
24 - 28 Apr, Messe Stuttgart
Discovery and Development
of Innovative Strategies for Post-harvest Disease Management
29 Apr - 2 May, International Society for Horticultural Science
Control in Citrus Fruit Crops
7 - 9 May, International Organization for Biological and Integrated Control of Noxious Animals and Plants
a Better Future: Responsible Innovation and Environmental Protection
12 - 16 May, Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry
13 - 14 May, Global Engage
13 - 16 May, University of Rennes
Diet for Sustainability - Eat, Drink, Be Ready
16 May, Association of Applied Biologists
Introduction to Opportunities in Plant Synthetic Biology
21 - 22 May, Warwick University
on Almonds and Pistachios
27 - 31 May, International Society for Horticultural Science
Vitro Culture and Horticultural Breeding
2 - 7 Jun, International Society for Horticultural Science
2 - 7 Jun, International Society for Horticultural Science
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
3 - 6 Jun, University of Edinburgh
3 - 7 Jun, European Commission
Controlled and Modified
3 - 7 Jun, International Society for Horticultural Science
3 - 7 Jun, International Society for Horticultural Science
on Elderberry (Sambucus)
9 - 14 Jun, International Society for Horticultural Science
resistance in plants against insects and diseases
10 - 13 Jun, INRA
Plants and Natural Products
17 - 19 Jun, International Society for Horticultural Science
17 - 20 Jun, International Society for Horticultural Science
Growing Media and
17 - 21 Jun, International Society for Horticultural Science
Leiden, The Netherlands
23 - 27 Jun, International Society for Horticultural Science
stress and cell death in plants
26 - 28 Jun, Society of Experimental Biology
Association for Potato Research and Eucarpia Potato Congress
30 Jun - 4 July, James Hutton Institute
Tomato Diseases: Economically, Environmentally, and Socially Sustainable Tomato Disease Management
24 - 27 Jun, International Society for Horticultural Science
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Horticulture Group Contact Details
For submitting ideas or to volunteer to be part of a committee or a group, please contact:
Chairman - Peter Grimbly
Meetings Secretary - Alison Foster
Minutes Secretary - Margaret Waddy
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