RHS mobilises the biggest gardening army since WW2

Dig for Victory! (And to save the planet): RHS mobilises the biggest gardening army since WW2 asking Brits to channel wartime spirit and help climate war effort by planting trees and making compost

  • Royal Horticultural Society urging gardeners to help stop global warming
  • The charity is now launching a major campaign to prevent climate disaster
  • RHS says small actions in the garden could help cut greenhouse gas emissions 
  • Comes more than 70 years after the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign during WW2

During the Second World War, the British Ministry of Agriculture called on millions across the nation to ‘dig for victory’ and help keep the country fed by planting vegetables in their gardens.

The campaign saw domestic gardens and public spaces transformed into allotments as the country faced harsh rationing and the ongoing threat of Nazi invasion.  

The move, which came at a time when two-thirds of British food was imported by ship, rapidly caught on and sent the number of allotments alone in the UK from 740,000 to 1.4 million.   

Now, more than 70 years later, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is hoping to mobilise the biggest gardening army since the wartime effort by encouraging the UK’s 30 million gardeners to take to the nation’s outdoor spaces once more.

The move is hoped to help tackle the climate crisis by cutting greenhouse gas emissions and boosting wildlife.

Volunteers plant and sort potatoes in 1945 as part of the Dig for Victory campaign during the Second World War 


A woman tends to her vegetables on her allotment in 1941 (left) and and a sailor gives a helping hand in the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign in Finsbury Park, London (right)

The British Ministry of Agriculture called on millions across the nation to ‘dig for victory’ to help keep the country fed during the Second World War

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is now encouraging the UK’s 30 million gardeners to take to the nation’s outdoor spaces once more

Gardeners are being encouraged to take planet-friendly actions such as plant trees, use rainwater to water plants, go peat-free, plant blooms for pollinators, make their own compost and pull up a paving slab to create more space for growing perennials.     

The RHS said its research shows that if every gardener planted a medium-sized tree and nurtured it to maturity, it would store the carbon equivalent of driving 11 million times round the planet.

What does ‘Dig for Victory’ mean?

The ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign was set up during WWII by the British Ministry of Agriculture.

Men and women across the country were encouraged to grow their own food in times of harsh rationing. 

Open spaces everywhere were transformed into allotments, from domestic gardens to public parks – even the lawns outside the Tower of London were turned into vegetable patches. 

Leaflets were part of a massive propaganda campaign aiming both to ensure that people had enough to eat, and that morale was kept high.  

RHS said its research shows that if every gardener planted a medium-sized tree and nurtured it to maturity, it would store the carbon equivalent of driving 11 million times round the planet.

They also said that if all green-fingered householders made an average of 190kg of compost a year – the amount that gardeners who do compost make on average – it would save the equivalent carbon to heating half a million homes, compared to the manufacture and transport of shop-bought compost.

Other eco-friendly actions include using a water butt and growing flowers to help bees. 

The RHS is also calling for Government support for research and development in horticultural science, as well as financially supporting community gardens in schools, NHS trusts and public spaces to help gardening make a difference.

The RHS is launching the planet-friendly gardening campaign as part of its own sustainability strategy, which includes measures to be climate positive – capturing more emissions than it puts out – by 2030.

It also aims to eliminate all single use plastic, ensure all packaging is 100 per cent reusable, recyclable or compostable, and be water neutral at RHS gardens, shows and sites by 2030.

RHS director general Sue Biggs said: ‘The RHS is committed to using its own community outreach work to help Britain’s 30 million gardeners make a positive contribution towards the climate and biodiversity crisis.

‘But we can’t harness this potential alone.

‘If we are to mobilise the biggest gardening army across the nation since Dig for Victory we need government support for planet-friendly gardens.

‘This includes funding all research and development in horticultural science as well as financially supporting community gardens in schools, NHS Trusts and public spaces.’

Professor Alistair Griffiths, of the RHS, said: ‘Collectively, the actions of each and every one of our nation’s 30million gardeners can create positive change and help us adapt to and mitigate against the climate crisis.

‘It is something we can all do – either on a window sill, in our own gardens or with a community gardening group.’    

Television presenter and gardener Alan Titchmarsh told The Times: ‘The problem with things like Cop26 [the UN Climate Change conference to be held in November] is that it’s so big and between governments that people think they can’t make a difference.’

Nurses dig the soil after the Doncaster Public Assistance Institution is called up to helped assist in the Dig for Victory campaign in 1940

A group of young boys plant fruits and vegetables in London’s East End in April 1943

A group of people dig and plant vegetables in Clapham Common, London, amid the Second World War


Advice was distributed via pamphlets, leaflets and exhibition packs that toured towns and villages across the country

He added:  ‘We can all make a difference and it’s incumbent upon us all to act . . . in a way that is environmentally friendly.’ 

The Dig for Victory campaign was set up in September 1940 by the British Ministry of Agriculture in an effort to encouraging householders to grow their own fruits and vegetables amid fears of food shortages.

Open spaces everywhere were transformed into allotments, from domestic gardens to public parks and even the lawns outside the Tower of London were turned into vegetable patches.

The Royal Horticultural Society began working with the Ministry of Agriculture on the campaign when war broke out in 1939, having already begun making detailed plans in preparation for war in 1938.

Advice was distributed via pamphlets, leaflets and exhibition packs that toured towns and villages across the country. 

And by 1943 it was estimated that around 55 per cent of households were growing fruit and vegetables, and their efforts made an important contribution to the nation’s health. 

According to War Cabinet records, annual food imports halved to 14.65million tons by 1941. 

The new campaign comes as a YouGov poll for the charity found less than a fifth (19 per cent) of UK gardeners say they have specifically adopted sustainable gardening principles such as saving water, making their own compost or reducing fossil fuels.

Separate research found nearly 40 per cent of gardeners still use garden tools such as lawnmowers that are powered by fossil fuels.

And while pledges for the RHS’s water saving mains2rains campaign will save 6.6 million litres, or 82,385 baths of tap water, the charity says there is more to be done.

It is developing a planet-friendly sustainability calculator, an online-tool to empower gardeners to make the best sustainable plant and gardening choices. 

What was the World War II Dig for Victory campaign and was it successful?

During the Second World War, millions of people across Britain ‘dug for victory’, planting vegetables in their gardens to feed their families. 

The campaign was set up by the British ministry of agriculture and encouraged men and women across the country to grow their own food in times of harsh rationing.

At the time two-thirds of British food was imported by ship, meaning supplies were at risk from enemy action at sea.

The campaign rapidly caught on, sending the number of allotments alone in the UK from 740,000 to 1.4 million. 

During the Second World War, millions of people across Britain ‘dug for victory’, planting vegetables in their gardens to feed their families. This image shows part of a poster used between 1939 and 1946 promoting the benefits of growing your own

Open spaces everywhere were transformed into allotments, from domestic gardens to public parks – even the lawns outside the Tower of London were turned into vegetable patches.

Leaflets were part of a massive propaganda campaign aiming both to ensure that people had enough to eat, and that morale was kept high.  

The efforts of volunteers made an important contribution to the nation’s health. The Girl Guides mean to play their part in the campaign and acquired an allotment on the ground surrounding Martin Way Methodist Church in Merton, a suburb of London (pictured)

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) wants to gather photographs of the wartime fruit and veg patches and allotments to plug a gap in our historical knowledge. Women members of the Richmond Athletic Ground First Aid Post are making use of their spare time by digging up part of the Athletic Ground to grow vegetables. Here they are seen at work on March 12, 1941

The ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign was set up during WWII by the British Ministry of Agriculture. Leaflets (pictured) were part of a massive propaganda campaign aiming both to ensure that people had enough to eat, and that morale was kept high. By 1943 it was estimated that around 55 per cent of households were growing fruit and vegetables

Advice was distributed via pamphlets, leaflets and exhibition packs that toured towns and villages across the country.

Some vegetable plots were created in unlikely places. For example, employees at the Wolsey Motors in Birmingham made cloches out of scrap car windscreens for their workplace allotment.

By 1943 it was estimated that around 55 per cent of households were growing fruit and vegetables, and their efforts made an important contribution to the nation’s health.

According to War Cabinet records, annual food imports halved to 14.65million tonnes by 1941.

The pictures gathered will be used in an exhibition to mark the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the war and the beginning of the Dig For Victory campaign.


Posters were also part of the campaign. Pictured: a photographic image of a booted leg poised to drive a spade into a bed of earth, circa 1942 (left). Rear view of a small boy wearing a white hat, white shorts and white shirt. He is holding a spade in his right hand and a hoe in his left. The ground appears to be dry and cracked, circa 1942 (right)

Soldiers help to clear the debris of Bank Underground Station, in front of The Royal Exchange, London, the morning after receiving a direct hit during the Blitz. The slogan ‘Dig for Victory’ adorns the Exchange

The campaign rapidly caught on, sending the number of allotments alone in the UK from 740,000 to 1.4 million. Dig For Victory allotments at Dulwich

At the time two-thirds of British food was imported by ship, meaning supplies were at risk from enemy action at sea. Wounded soldiers recuperate by digging the grounds of a Surrey hospital, as part of the Dig For Victory scheme, on May 10, 1941

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