Institute of Genetics and Cancer

Genetics Garden wins Silver Medal at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Professor Wendy Bickmore and fellow members of the Genetics Society have proudly brought home a prestigious award by taking genetics to the general public at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

DNA Double Helix

As one of the world’s oldest learned societies, the Genetics Society celebrates its centenary this year. During the early 1900s one of its founders, William Bateson, translated the works of Mendel into English and presented them at a meeting of the Royal Horticultural Society, contributing enormously to our understanding of Mendel’s laws of inheritance.

Inspired by its history, the Society saw no better opportunity to celebrate its 100th year than to create a Centenary Garden at the world-renowned Royal Horticultural Society event, the Chelsea Flower Show.

Led by Professor Wendy Bickmore - former President of the Genetics Society and Director of the MRC Human Genetics Unit at the University of Edinburgh - the exhibit showcased plants which have been studied by geneticists throughout history. Peas, snapdragons, petunias, lilies and strawberries told the story of genetics and why its study is fundamental to our understanding of health and disease. 

Professor Pea with Mendel at the Chelsea Flower Show

Visitors of the Show were welcomed to the garden by Mendel himself (Dr Jonathan Pettitt, University of Aberdeen) and Professor Pea (Professor Wendy Bickmore). They then had the opportunity to watch the genome of a plant being sequenced live in front of them - demonstrated with a portable MinION by Professor Martin Taylor, MRC Human Genetics Unit.

The focal point of the exhibit was a hybrid zone of snapdragons, in colours ranging from yellow through to red, and there was a stunning DNA double helix sculpture made by the John Innes Centre which represented Mendel's work with peas and pyloric snapdragons.

The Centenary Garden, named ‘The Flowering of Genetics’, was awarded a Silver Medal by the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2019 and was on display 21-25 May 2019.


This was one of the most rewarding public engagement events I have ever taken part in. Over the course of the week we engaged with many hundreds of interested gardeners, plant breeders and the general public and were able to show them how the principles of genetics apply to all living things including flowering plants and humans.

Professor Wendy BickmoreDirector,  MRC Human Genetics Unit

Members of the Centenary Garden Committee were:

  • Professor Wendy Bickmore, University of Edinburgh and Past President, Genetics Society
  • Dr Cristina Fonseca, Genetics Society Centenary Project Manager
  • Dr Alex Twyfford, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
  • David Knott, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
  • Professor Anne Donaldson, University of Aberdeen
  • Professor Enrico Coen, John Innes Centre and Past President, Genetics Society


Photographs courtesy of the Genetics Society