Gardening Can Help Urbanites Reconnect with the Natural World

Saturday 12 November 2016

Royal Horticultural Society John MacLeod Lecture hears how the right blend of plants can make a big difference to the quality of life

A leading academic has argued that gardening is uniquely placed to help bridge the widening gap between modern, urban lives and the natural world, during the Royal Horticultural Society’s (RHS) annual John MacLeod Lecture on 10 November.

Dr Ross Cameron, a Senior Lecturer in Landscape Management, Ecology & Design at the Department of Landscape, University of Sheffield, believes that as urban populations increase, city dwellers are missing out on the emotional, physiological, and psychological benefits of engaging with the natural world, benefits that humans are hard-wired to respond to. He argued that this lack of connection contributes to a condition he calls Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD).

Although NDD is not a recognised medical condition, Dr Cameron believes there a number of ‘symptoms’ that come under the broad NDD banner, including a lack of awareness and appreciation of the natural world, and less empathy for the plight of flora and fauna. He also believes that increasingly sedentary lifestyles and the health implications of this, including rising obesity rates, can also be attributed to a disconnection with the natural world.

He thinks that any green environment - be it pot plants, or the weeds growing between paving stones, can play a part in healing the rift, by providing some green space that attracts wildlife and exposes people to the positive potential of the natural world.

He does however concede that some green spaces are better than others, and that our aim should be to understand the specific benefits certain plants bring and ‘engineer’ our green spaces in order to deliver a bigger green bang. For example, some trees, such as small-leaved conifers, e.g. Scots pine and Junipers, are more efficient at capturing aerial pollutant particles than others, so those varieties could be planted in combination with other trees, such as fast growing Paulownia and Catalpa, that can lock-up excess soil nitrates, thus providing an effective green anti-pollution barrier.

Dr Cameron added: “We are really just at the edge of understanding the specific values and properties of different plants and also how those plants interact with each other. In the natural world you have natural communities of plants, but in our modern, concrete world we have to replicate these communities, and that means getting the right blend of plants to provide the maximum benefit - just like a malt whiskey, you need to get the blend of different flavours just right.

“Not all green spaces may be as beneficial as others. It may be that poor, derelict green spaces are not as great as more imaginative, naturalistic ones. We’re still trying to understand the subtle components that make some better than others.”


Notes to editors

About the RHS
The Royal Horticultural Society was founded in 1804 by Sir Joseph Banks and John Wedgwood to inspire passion and excellence in the science, art and practice of horticulture. Our vision is to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener, healthier, happier and more beautiful place. We believe everyone in every village, town and city should benefit from growing plants to enhance lives, build stronger, healthier, happier communities and create better places to live.

We held our first flower shows in 1820, were granted a Royal Charter in 1861 and acquired RHS Garden Wisley, our flagship garden, in 1903. From our first meetings in a small room off London’s Piccadilly, we have grown to become the world’s largest gardening charity. At our gardens and shows and through our scientific research, publications, libraries and our education and community programmes we inspire a passion for gardening and growing plants, promote the value of gardens, demonstrate how gardening is good for us and explain the vital roles that plants undertake.

The RHS is committed to bring the joy of gardening to millions more people, inspire the next generation of gardeners and invest in the future to safeguard a £10.4 billion industry employing more than 300,000 people. We are entirely funded by our members, visitors and supporters. RHS membership is for anyone with an interest in gardening. Support the RHS and help us secure a healthy future for gardening. For more information call: 020 3176 5820, or visit

RHS Registered Charity No. 222879/SC038262

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About the RHS

The RHS believes that gardening improves the quality of life and that everyone should have access to great garden experiences. As a charity we help to bring gardening into people's lives and support gardeners of all levels and abilities; whether they are expert horticulturists or children who are planting seeds for the very first time.

RHS membership is for anyone with an interest in gardening. Support the RHS and secure a healthy future for gardening. For more information call: 0845 130 4646, or visit

RHS Registered Charity No. 222879/SC038262