Department of Landscape designs climate change garden for RHS Chatsworth Flower Show

The RHS Garden for a Changing Climate

The Department of Landscsape has designed a garden at the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show to illustrate key points from a recent report on the impacts of climate change on gardens and other green landscapes.

Designed by Ross Cameron and Andy Clayden, along with RHS scientist Eleanor Webster, ‘The RHS Garden for a Changing Climate’ illustrates key findings from the Royal Horticultural Society's (RHS) report 'Gardening in a Changing Climate', that was published in May.

The RHS commissioned chapters within the report with researchers at the Universities of Sheffield and Reading. Ross Cameron and Andy Clayden from the Department of Landscape at the University of Sheffield were responsible for translating knowledge about climate change into predictions for future garden design and management.

Following this, the RHS requested the University build an educational demonstration garden at the inaugural RHS Chatsworth Flower Show, with the aim of highlighting important messages about climate change and its likely impact on the landscape.

The RHS Garden for a Changing Climate The RHS Garden for a Changing Climate


The garden is designed to illustrate how contemporary garden features and plantings will alter with a changing climate. The design deals with the need to be more flexible with respect to extremes of weather – for example coping with excess rainfall at some periods and drought at other times.

Features include innovative ways to trap and store water, reduce the incidence of flooding and use excess run-off water to provide ponds to support wildlife. The design also includes plants specifically sited to protect our homes from excessive heat and reduce the reliance on artificial air conditioning. Indeed, sustainable use of resources in a low carbon economy is an additional element within the climate change theme.

Andy Clayden, who was responsible for the overall design of the garden, said: “This is a great opportunity to demonstrate how gardens can help alleviate some of the problems that will come with climate change, particularly in regulating water flow and supply across the urban matrix. It will also highlight how our lifestyles may change and how we may use the garden in a more dynamic, but also flexible manner to deal with alterations in the weather.”

The RHS Garden for a Changing Climate The RHS Garden for a Changing Climate
The RHS Garden for a Changing Climate The RHS Garden for a Changing Climate

Student involvement

The construction of the garden was the responsibility of the landscape contractor NT Killingley, and they have worked with students from the Department of Landscape to provide an attractive, but also educational garden. Students from the University will be on hand during the show to discuss the design and its underlying messages with the public.

Sally O'Halloran, who oversaw the students helping with the garden said: "I knew this would be a great opportunity for students, so with the help of the alumni I was able to make a rota of 50 students from all year groups to take part in the construction, planting, show days, and on completion will be involved in the breakdown of the garden. This hands on experience cannot be taught in the studio. In particular, the students involved in the 'build' saw first hand the trials of turning a design into reality having to work outdoors regardless of weather until the garden was complete."

Tom Crowe, a Landscape Architecture Masters student, who helped with the hard landscaping said: "I was excited to be a part of the build team at Chatsworth because seeing a design come to fruition is something we don’t often see during our studies. Working on the RHS Climate Change garden gave me an insight into the necessary, constant dialogue between designer and contractor in order for a project to be successful. I enjoyed the experience - despite the heat! - and I think the garden is an important precedent for adapting our own gardens and public spaces to make them more climate resilient.”

Bob Goodman, a Landscape Management Masters student at the University, added: “I am delighted to be involved. This brings together a range of skills that I have learned on the course; not least putting a lot of theory about climate change and sustainability into a tangible garden that people can relate to.”

The RHS Garden for a Changing Climate The RHS Garden for a Changing Climate

The garden features a number of innovative design details to help the gardener deal with less predictable weather, not least a canopy over the patio that is catches rainwater and re-directs it to a community water harvesting system. Gardeners of the future can also utilise mini-glasshouses that move to protect their ‘prize specimen’ plants from rain and hail.

Dr Ross Cameron who, based on the report, developed the brief for the garden, said: “The garden provides a vision of what our gardens might look like a hundred years from now and will highlight potential changes in gardening.”

For example:

  • The loss in some parts of the country of ‘traditional’ favourite garden plants, such as hybrid-tea roses (too humid) in the north and west and Japanese maples (too dry in summer) from the south and east.
  • Garden plants specifically bred for their resilience to cope with radically oscillating weather patterns, as well as for attractive flowers.
  • A trend for plants selected or bred to produce smaller flowers or to have repeat flowering traits, so as to cope better with rain and wind.
  • Greater pressure on garden plants from new pests and diseases associated with a warmer climate.
  • A radical change to garden tree management. Pollarding may be encouraged to allow a canopy of large leaves to develop. This will help trees shade the house and patio during hot periods, whilst also resisting wind damage during storms.
  • In the south and east particularly, the formal lawn may be replaced by steppe like meadows.

He added: "The Meteorological Office has particularly welcomed the RHS report and associated garden as an ‘ideal vehicle to convey the messages around climate change to a large audience, in an accessible clear manner’".

The RHS Garden for a Changing Climate The RHS Garden for a Changing Climate
The RHS Garden for a Changing Climate The RHS Garden for a Changing Climate

The Chatsworth Flower Show runs from 6-11 June 2017.

More photos from the build can be viewed here.