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Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?

Forget silver bells. According to new research by the Royal Horticultural Society in Britain, the way to a green thumb is through a silver tongue - especially when it belongs to a woman.

In a month-long experiment, the RHS found that tomato plants grew up to two inches taller when subjected to the sound of a female voice, rather than a male's.

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As part of its ongoing "Grow Your Own" campaign, designed to inspire Britons to start their own fruit and vegetable gardens, the RHS held open auditions for people to have their voices recorded.

Five men and five women were selected and asked to read from Darwin's On the Origin of the Species, Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, or The Day of the Triffids, a science-fiction novel by British writer John Wyndham, in which carnivorous plants attempt to take over the world.

The recordings were looped and uploaded onto MP3 players and headphones were attached to the pots of 10 tomato plants, each plant listening to a constant stream of a different voice. Two plants were left without any sound as a control group.

The RHS found that the tomato plants that listened to the female voices grew an average of an inch more than the ones listening to the male voices. Some of the men's tomatoes did so poorly that they grew more slowly than the soundless group.

Fittingly, the fastest-growing plant belonged to Sarah Darwin, a great-great-granddaughter of Charles Darwin, who read a passage from his famous treatise.

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