Marsh Horticultural Science Award

This Award recognises a horticultural science PhD student who has made exceptional progress in their studies. The Award aims to enable the student to undertake an activity which will help with their career development.

Before 2011, the Award recognised an individual for undertaking important research in the field of horticulture, but it was felt that the Award would have more of an impact if it was focused on postgraduate horticultural scientists.

Nominations are submitted by the Royal Horticultural Society Science Committee and judged in partnership with the MCT. The Award is presented at the John MacLeod Annual Lecture in November

Anna Platoni and Andrew Gladman 2020

Anna Platoni

‘Virus-induced changes in plant-insect interactions in the genus Solanum’ 

Anna’s project has an aim to further understand the interactions between plants, insects and plant viruses in order to inform and benefit both amateur gardeners and the horticultural industry. For the first time under field conditions, fieldwork at RHS Garden Wisley was used to test the hypothesis that interactions between plants and associated insects are complex and often mediated by volatile chemicals. Her work has important implications for understanding the co-evaluation of plants, plant viruses and pollinators. This work is being prepared for submission to Nature Plants and has also yielded important insights into the cues that pollinator use in choosing flowers, which is likely to result in techniques to improve pollination efficiency in horticulture.

Anna has been awarded talks at the International Congress of Entomology in Helsinki to present the findings of this project. She has previously been awarded talks and successfully presented her work at the European Congress of Entomology 2018 in Naples and the British Society of Plant Pathology conference 2019 in Bristol. In 2016, Anna was awarded with a highly competitive BBSRC-iCASE studentship for the University of Cambridge to join the laboratory at the Department of Plant Sciences. Within the University of Cambridge, Anna won the 1st year seminar prize and a 3rd year poster commendation and took part in outreach events including the University of Cambridge Science Week and Insect Week at RHS Garden Wisley.

Andrew Karl Gladman

‘Integrating biopesticides and partial host-plant resistance for the management of aphid pests in Brassica crops’

The focus of Andrew’s project is the development of a management strategy to control aphids among crops, whilst growers still aim to reduce their use of pesticides and to find its long-term viability. The hypothesis Andrew is testing is that host plant resistance will reduce aphid population development but may also increase the susceptibility of individuals to infection by increasing the time between moults. Future deployment of this strategy would include sales to professional growers and be extended to amateur gardeners.

Andrew maintains two allotments during his spare time in Leamington Spa, where he is working with Plant Heritage to establish National Collections of the species Kniphofia and Echinops he is growing. Andrew has already made significant breakthroughs in his PhD and upon completion, he wishes to find a role as a botanist to combine his academic experience and training alongside his personal interest. Andrew is helping the UK horticultural science community to push forward with a new way of doing crop protection which will help UK farmers provide fresh produce in ways that do not damage the natural environment. He is also studying for an RHS Level 3 Certificate in the Principles of Plant Growth, Health and Applied Propagation.

Previous Winners

Tomos Jones and Jordan Bilsborrow

Tomos Jones

Ornamental plants: a threat to the natural environment due to climate change?

Ornamental plants can be important in supporting native animal diversity, especially in urban areas. However, some plants can escape gardens and become noxious weeds, including the Japanese knotweed and giant hogweed. There is concern that climate change might cause some species that are currently benign to become noxious, and there are already records of this happening in some cases.

In his PhD, Tomos combines species distribution modelling of climatic suitability for ornamental plants with a strong and key element of public survey of gardeners and botanists to gain knowledge from their experiences, linking real evidence to model predications. His results will inform gardeners, the horticultural industry and legislators of which species should be of concern and will help avoid future species invasions. Tomos would use the Award to support his participation in international conferences so that he can present his work.

Jordan Bilsborrow

Towards a reliable and reproducible system for daffodil cultivar identification.

Jordan has been developing a means of identifying daffodil cultivar outside of the growing season, with a success rate of over 80%, and has explored next-generation techniques, such as molecular tools, to allow a 100% success rate. He hopes that his work will develop a toolkit that will allow rapid, reliable and reproducible identification of cultivars at any point during their growth cycle. He has now published the first annotated Narcissus plastome, which gained widespread news coverage and allowed him to connect with more people in the industry.

Jordan eventually wishes to expand his work to other species of plants, and so would use the Award to develop the key skills required for research and develop his personal skills as he looks to work in the field of horticultural taxonomy after his PhD.

Roberto Padovani and Kirstie Hetherington

Roberto Padovani

Roberto’s project is entitled ‘The accumulation of regional diversity during the Anthropocene: insects on introduced plants.’ His research addresses the question as to the impact on native biodiversity arising from the introduction of non-native plants in gardens. In particular, the potential for non-native plants to provide new habitats and niches for both native and non-native insects, and to create new communities as a result. Using the long-term plots at Wisley, as well as the RHS’s extensive database of records of insects on garden plants and other national databases, he is testing whether those non-native plants that have been in Britain for longer have increased insect diversity and whether non-native plants growing with native plants, outside the garden environment, acquire a larger number of insects.

In addition to his research Roberto has promoted his work through presentations at meetings, posters, and blogs as well as actively engaging with the public through outreach events through schools and the University of York. He has also founded a group to encourage the eating of insects as a sustainable alternative.

Kirstie Hetherington

Kirstie’s project is entitled ‘Genotyping and phenotyping of the common pea and its wild relatives’. The pea is a rich source of protein and fixes nitrogen in its roots, so reducing the need for fertiliser. A major achievement of Kirstie’s work is the assembly of the entire pea genome which has been freely released for other researchers to make use of. Using the extensive pea seedbank at the John Innes Centre she has surveyed the genetic diversity of pea varieties and linked the molecular markers to morphological features of the pea varieties. This will be a valuable tool to help conserve crop diversity. She has taken this further to create an image analysis tool to measure plant parts (leaves, seeds and pods) which is available to a wide range of users.

Kirstie’s work underpins conservation of crop diversity and hence our food security, and involves cutting edge science through to public engagement. She has been invited to present on her work at two international meetings which is valuable recognition at her stage in her career. But her heart is in sharing her knowledge with others, particularly in encouraging people to come into science.

Donald Fraser

Donald’s project is entitled ‘A trick of the light: UV-B treatments for potted herbs’. In the project he explores a potential solution to the weak appearance of potted plants which is caused by them competing for limited light. Many plants resort to elongation to combat this problem however this can have detrimental effects to the structure and architecture of the plants eventually.

Donald’s findings demonstrate that this elongation can be suppressed with the addition of UV-B to the light conditions that the plants are growing in. UV-B is a component of direct sunlight and so the plants are able to use the UV-B as a signal that they are growing in direct sunlight and no longer need to elongate to escape the shade. Donald has explored the most effective ways, both for cost and health and safety, that these treatments can be used and his work may also be of interest to ornamental plant growers, as specific light treatments could be used to supplant chemical growth inhibitors.

Visit Cabot Institute Blog for more information on Donald’s work.

Oliver Ellingham and Lauren Edwards

Oliver Ellingham

Oliver’s project is entitled “The development of novel DNA regions for the identification of UK powdery mildews (Ascomysota, Erysiphales)”. He aims to develop an increasingly reliable method for the identification of the 900 powdery mildew species, 150 of which can already be found in British gardens, as currently they are hard to distinguish when simply looked at under a microscope.

Oliver has already been successful in identifying new regions of DNA which have proven to be unique to individual powdery mildew species and will enable future unambiguous identifications. These techniques should prove to be a vital tool for plant quarantine, particularly for greater movement in the plants and plant products via trade within the UK and from overseas.

Oliver writes a blog to keep interested parties up to date with his project and further outreach has included participation in RHS Flower Shows at Chelsea and Hampton Court.

Lauren Edwards

Lauren’s project is entitled “Can we use beneficial microbes to improve sustainable growing media?”. She aims to help reduce peat use in commercial plant production as well as home gardens by improving the quality and consistency of plants grown in non-peat growing media. This is because the unsustainable and destructive nature of peat extraction requires a suitable alternative to be found. While currently, plants grown in non-peat media are often smaller and more varied in size, Lauren hopes to prove that this can be improved by adding beneficial soil fungi.

Lauren has presented the data she has collected so far at the Royal Holloway Postgraduate Symposium and the RHS PhD Symposium, as well as to the Vitacress Herb Company. She has also communicated her ideas to a non-peer audience at Science Open Days at Royal Holloway for prospective students and their parents to see what research goes on in the department.

Maria Christodoulou and Thomas Passey

Maria Christodoulou

Maria has been awarded for her innovative PhD project on the extent to which apple varieties can be identified by their appearance. Using digitalised photographs of fruit, Maria has produced numerical descriptions which allow a computer programme to identify any fruit from the apple cultivars with a high degree of accuracy. The success of Maria’s research will ensure that producers are growing what they think, supermarkets can be sure they have the right variety at the right price and consumer expectations are fulfilled when they buy apples.

Maria’s project also has great implication for horticultural science. The cultivation of particular apple varieties can require special knowledge regarding the right soils to use, the best environment, and how often they produce fruit. This understanding can be derived from the correct cultivar identification and so is essential to the success of the grower, whether at the scale of a commercial orchard or someone planting in their back garden. Maria’s work is highly original, addresses the specific problem of apple cultivar identification, and has the potential to set a trend for wider developments in this field.

Thomas Passey

Tom has been recognised for his project on the population genetics of apple scab, the most important disease in apples worldwide. Annual epidemics of apple scab can cause huge losses to producers who have the added costs of using fungicides to fight the disease.

Tom’s project focuses on the population genetics and epidemiology of apple scab in mixed cultivar orchards. Findings have suggested that mixed orchards are more resistant to apple scab and that this could be a sustainable solution for reducing the prevalence of the disease. Tom’s project assesses which cultivars might make an effective mixed orchard to reduce apple scab by comparing the genetics of populations of scab on different cultivars. He has displayed a range of skills in his research so far, showing great enthusiasm and ambition in his learning.

James Hourston and Michelle Hulin

James Hourston

James Hourston has been awarded for his project which researches natural organisms that can be used as a much-needed new approach to fight vine weevil, a pest which attacks a wide variety of plants and fruits. His project has focused on the presence of naturally occurring mycorrhizal fungi and how this can change how attractive certain plants are to natural pests.

James has applied his research to potted raspberries and has shown that the vine weevil pest performs poorer with particular fungi combinations. Despite the complexity of the system, he has mastered the problems of working with these organisms extremely well and has displayed a remarkable ability to come up with innovative ideas.

Michelle Hulin
Michelle was recognised for her research project on the bacteria plant, Pseudomonas Syringae, which infects over 180 plant species, including many economically valuable crops such as tomato, wheat and bean. Her work focuses on host specificity, an understanding of which has become more important in recent years when emerging diseases have become a major threat to crops and forests worldwide.

Despite decades of research on Pseudomonas Syringae, many questions about host specificity remain. Michelle is currently researching diverse groups of Pseudomonas Syringae and has developed a range of tests and has carried out an enormous amount of high quality work in this area. Her findings could be used to inform management strategies to prevent host jumps and allow the prediction of potential future hosts of important plant pathogens.

Maria Madalena Vaz Monteiro and Rachel Warmington

Maria Madalena Vaz Monteiro

Madalena is a 3rd year PhD student at the University of Reading and has been awarded for her project entitled ‘The role of leaf traits in regulation of canopy temperature and their impact on local energy balance.’ The project focuses on understanding how different plant canopies influence the overall thermal performance of green spaces, such as green roofs. Madalena’s work helps provide a stronger rationale for greater plant choice on green roofs, which are currently dictated purely by ecological forces. She demonstrates that the employment of horticultural factors may significantly improve the ecosystem service provision of the roof.

Madalena has an enthusiastic and proactive approach to her work, uses novel scientific techniques and has developed a concept which has great implications for urban sustainability.

Rachel Warmington

Rachel is a 2nd year PhD student at the University of Warwick and has been recognised for her research project on Sclerotinia disease, which affects a variety of vegetable crops including lettuce, carrots, beans, peas and occasionally potatoes. Rachel’s work identifies potential new soil treatments which could control Sclerotinia disease and investigates the diversity, causes and patterns of the disease in the UK.

Through this project, Rachel has demonstrated her ability to design and carry out experiments which address both fundamental science questions as well as more practical solutions for the industry and crop growers. She has developed novel systems to carry out her assessments and has shown great dedication to her work throughout the process.

Kálmán Könyves and James Cotterill

Kálmán Könyves

Kálmán’s research focuses on the identification of hoop-petticoat daffodils, a highly important horticultural crop in the UK, USA, Australia and New Zealand and throughout European countries, as it is grown in bulk for both the bulb trade and the cut-flower market. With over 30,000 types registered, this is a challenging task and breeding programmes are burdened by a lack of identification tools. Through his research, Kálmán is developing techniques that will offer a rapid and cost-effective way of identifying hoop-petticoat daffodils.

James Cotterill

James is conducting a PhD at the University of Reading on the addition of biochars to composts, emphasising particularly on how this enhances the composting of green waste and influences greenhouse gas production and emissions. His research looks at how composts with biochars can be used in horticulture and farming, and how they can help retain key nutrients that are lost during composting – which would have vast ecological implications as it reduces the need for fertilisers. During a visit to the biochar research programme at Cornell University, James hopes to absorb the latest techniques, approaches and theories developing within this area of research, as well as promote the work of the RHS to a wider range of researchers and improve opportunities for research links with the USA.

Lionel Smith and Dr Rosemary Collier

Lionel Smith

Lionel Smith has been recognised for his novel work on the development of flowering lawns. He is taking a radical look at what is grown in and on lawns, with the eventual aim of providing more colourful, wildlife-friendly and less intensively managed lawns in comparison to the conventional lawn.

Lionel has been studying for a PhD at the University of Reading since 2010 and said: “I am so pleased to receive this award. There was some strong competition I believe so it is good that my work is being recognised like this. I feel that flowering lawns will be an exciting option for gardeners in the future and this award will really help me to develop my research work and spread the word.”

Dr Rosemary Collier

Rosemary Collier has made extensive contributions to the field of Horticulture throughout her career.   Rosemary ‘s main interests are modelling interactions between insects and the environment, the host-plant finding behaviour of phytophagous insects and the development of Integrated Pest Management systems for the pests of field vegetable and bulb crops. Rosemary has developed weather-based forecasts of the timing of attack of several pests of field crops; four of which have been used commercially for a number of years.

Rosemary is a former convenor of the International Organisation for Biological Control Working Group on Integrated Protection of Field Vegetables. She talks regularly to grower groups and writes topical articles for HDC News and similar publications.

Professor Paul Hadley

Paul Hadley has been a leading light in horticultural research and a driving force in ensuring its continuation. During his 33 years at the University of Reading, much of his work has focused on research relating to fruit and vegetable production and his studies have led to the development of mathematical models that have helped growers predict the responses of crops to their environment.

Paul has also been recognised by his contemporaries for his enthusiasm, energy and efforts in horticultural education as well as research. He has managed to maintain the University of Reading as a centre for horticultural education and research, while many other horticultural degrees at other universities have closed, and is now Director of Centre for Horticulture and Landscape within the School of Biological Sciences.

Dr David Astley

David has been Head of the Vegetable Gene Bank since its foundation in 1981, helping the organisation to establish itself as a World Class gene bank. Early in his leadership, David established the high working standards and rigorous protocols for seed storage and regeneration and cataloguing and has maintained them ever since.

David is internationally recognised and highly regarded within the Plant Genetic Resources field and is chair of the European Cooperative Programme’s Vegetable Section, which coordinates European efforts in plant genetic resource coordination. Now semi-retired, he continues to provide advice and mentoring to a new generation of genetic conservation researchers.

Dr Timothy Elliott

Dr Tim Elliott has carried out pioneering studies on the genetics and breeding of the cultivated mushroom. His influential discoveries underpin mushroom strain improvement programmes worldwide and he has developed strategies for breeding, using classical genetic techniques.

David Johnson

David has worked at the Postharvest Research Department at East Malling Research Station since 1972 and became Head of the Department in 1991. He has been active in technology transfer and was the driving force behind the production of Best Practice Guides for apples and pears, including Crop Production, Protection and Storage matter. These guides have been distributed to all top fruit growers and advisors.

In addition, David has been a major contributor to the Quality Fruit Group, advising the industry each year on the appropriate time for harvesting each of the main apple and pear cultivars.

Brian Smith

Brian has done extensive work to develop hybrid leeks, sweet tasting onions and carrots with resistance to carrot fly and cavity spot. Although he worked in a research establishment at the National Vegetable Research Station, his work has always been relevant to the real needs of commercial horticulture and he is greatly respected in the industry.