Plants for bugs

Wednesday 19 March 2014

Lead scientists share insights into unique experiment

As part of National Science & Engineering Week the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) and Wildlife Gardening Forum held a conference to share early discoveries from the much anticipated Plants for Bugs research project.

The four-year study, which is comparing the effects of native and non-native plants on garden biodiversity, is the first field research project designed to find out if native or non-native garden plants are best at supporting wildlife – the term ‘native plants’ refers to those species which arrived in Britain after the ice age without the assistance of humans. As most gardens in the UK contain many more non-native than native plants, it is important to know what role these introduced plants have in gardens.

Provisional analysis of the data indicates that all garden plant combinations (native and non-native) support abundant and diverse invertebrate wildlife.

Speaking about the research RHS entomologist Andrew Salisbury says: “Analysis is at a very early stage and the data needs to be investigated in greater detail before firm conclusions and advice can be provided to wildlife gardeners.

“The experiment is beginning to provide answers to the question of whether only native plants can provide the conditions and food sources invertebrates need to survive and breed in gardens. Initial analysis shows this is not the case.”

RHS Plants for Bugs Project Manager Helen Bostock says: “Work is underway on the first of a series of papers covering aspects of Plants for Bugs, beginning with the effect on pollinating insects. Online bulletins outlining key findings will be made available as each paper is published. Ultimately we’ll be producing a guide on the optimum way gardeners can to help wildlife by using native and non-native plants in gardens.”

Dr Stephen Head, Coordinator of the Wildlife Gardening Forum, which conceived the project says: “This project is unique in the world for its careful experimental design, scale and duration and represents a milestone in our understanding of how garden plants work with wildlife. I look forward to the succession of scientific papers the team will produce, and to translating them into simple guidance and advice for wildlife gardeners.”

Spanning two 27x14 metre plots subdivided into 3x3 metre sub-plots, the Plants for Bugs experiment, which is open to the public at RHS Garden Wisley, has been planted with *native, near native and exotic plants in separate replicated sub-plots. Each sub-plot has been designed to reproduce a domestic garden border.

Over the four years of the project RHS scientists have recorded approximately 80,000 invertebrates, from pollinators to predators, herbivores and even soil fauna.


Notes to editors

Wildlife Gardening Forum Conference
The special Wildlife Gardening Forum Conference held in conjunction with the RHS took place on 17th March and featured presentations on the design, plant choice, management, data collection and early analysis of the experiment.

*The RHS Plants for Bugs project builds on the work carried out by the University of Sheffield between 1999 and 2007. BUGS (Biodiversity in Urban Gardens) indicated that domestic gardens, in which on average 70% of plants are non-native, are a rich habitat for biodiversity.

• Native plants are plants that are native to Britain.
• Near-natives are not British natives but are closely related botanically, mostly from the Northern Hemisphere.
• Exotic plants are entirely unrelated botanically to British natives and are largely from the Southern Hemisphere.

About the RHS
The Royal Horticultural Society was founded in 1804 by Sir Joseph Banks and John Wedgwood for the encouragement and improvement of the science, art and practice of horticulture. 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.

Today the RHS is committed to providing a voice for all gardeners. We are driven by a simple love of plants and a belief that gardeners make the world a better place. 210 years on we continue to safeguard and advance the science, art and practice of horticulture, creating displays that inspire people to garden. In all aspects of our work we help gardeners develop by sharing our knowledge of plants, gardens and the environment.

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
The RHS Lindley Library houses and cares for the finest collection of horticultural literature in the world, including a comprehensive collection of 19thc books on the ‘Language of Flowers’. Researchers can consult these books by appointment. For more information call: 0207 8213050 or visit

RHS Registered Charity No. 222879/SC038262

Latest press releases

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