Garden writers gang up on GM

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THEY HAVE advised us on the herbaceous border, told us which flowers are "in", and which are definitely out. They have convinced us that a back yard is really a "town garden" and now they have found a new cause.

Britain's top gardening writers have discovered genetically modified crops - and they do not like them.

A Who's Who of the gardening literati has joined forces to warn that new technology will devastate the gardens of millions of households.

They include the veterans Beth Chatto and Penelope Hobhouse, garden architect John Brookes, organic gardening expert the Marchioness of Salisbury, Valerie Finnis, Monty Don, Sue Phillips and The Independent's gardening expert Anna Pavord.

They believe cross-pollination from genetically modified wheat and oilseed rape poses as grave a threat to popular garden plants, such as roses and carnations, as they do to other crops and wildlife.

The writers, who have called themselves the Gardeners GMO Group, are also concerned that genetic modification of common garden plants and shrubs - to produce unusual colours and increase growth - will dramatically reduce consumer choice and ultimately raise prices.

They argue the countryside and gardens are so interwoven that it will be impossible for GM crops to be grown in isolation. They are worried that many species of garden plants, such as wallflowers, may easily cross- pollinate with GM crops while genetically modified grass seeds for the back garden which are lemon scented or herbicide resistant, will prove just as destructive.

"We want the trials of GM crops halted and taken back to the laboratory," said Nori Pope, who runs the Hadspen Gardens in Dorset. "These trials won't just affect fields around where they take place but local gardens as well.

"There are plenty of plants which will cross-pollinate very nicely indeed with oilseed rape and once it's happened there will be no stopping it."

Penelope Hobhouse, the gardening writer and designer, feels more information about GM products must be known before they could be used in the garden. "Like many people I'm not well qualified to be certain. I'd be unhappy about such products being used before we know more about them."

Anna Pavord first raised concerns about the implications of genetic engineering for gardeners nine years ago.

She said: "I don't think gardeners in this country need to have anything to do with genetic modification. On the gardening front it is clear there is no need for it."

Mr Pope said the horticultural market is worth around pounds 1bn a year and the GM companies would be linked to every variety of plant where they thought they could get a cut. "That means a reduction in choice," he said.

Ms Pavord agrees. "This is dangerous. We don't know what sort of creatures this is going to create. We already know that some butterflies are dying because of something in the nectar of GM crops.

"Once the butterflies are taken out of the chain something else will get out of kilter. In the 1960s these companies went berserk with breeding dud roses that couldn't stand up by themselves without needing supplements."