A Garden of Experiments

Botanic gardens are often set up to ask ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘how’ questions: what is this plant, where does it grow, how can we protect it? As the climate changes and new technologies become available, our focus is on ‘what if’ questions: what if a plant grows in a new location, what if the climate changes the ways plants evolve, what if new relationships emerge between plants and other organisms?

St Andrews Botanic Garden is at the start of a journey that addresses some of the most pressing challenges of our time: whilst many areas of the garden continue the spirit and purpose of the original plantings, we are setting out new spaces that allow for experimentation. These include large-scale constructed habitats such as coastal grasslands, sand dunes, experimental brownfield sites, and a climbing garden, and longer-term habitat transitions from dense shrubberies to non-native saum grasslands and from lawns to meadows.

These experiments will help us to develop new research methods, gain insights into the ways that ecology and evolution interact in the plant kingdom, and help put better evidence in the hands of landscape managers, designers and gardeners.

We undertake a range of experiments at a range of scales from the leaf or a root to the functioning of the whole plant and up to plant assemblages and inter-kingdom dynamics. To this end, we are committed to long term biodiversity monitoring and experimentation at the landscape scale, providing baselines for projects and hypothesis-driven research that can be undertaken by undergraduates, apprentices, post-graduates and industry partners.

Common to all experiments is an interest in how disturbance and stress interact in different scenarios: understanding how these dynamics play out over multiple plant generations is critical to a positive pathway out of the Anthropocene.