AGM & Members Weekend – Harrogate 2017

Many thanks to our Yorkshire group for the wonderful 2017 AGM, based in Harrogate, with some excellent garden visits and talks.  Particular thanks go to Richard Laurence, Cathryn Denby, Dean Lockwood, Simon Crawford and Ruth Wood.

Plus many thanks to Pat Cooke from Floral Tours for organising the event.

The weekend kicked off with a very successful Plant Exchange, thanks to the incredible work of members and coordinators, and Lloyd Kenyon for pulling it all together. Despite the interesting additional factor of being on the first floor, plants came up safely in the lift from the car park loaded on some rather magnificent luggage trolleys! Plants in an array of trays and boxes made a fantastic display of over 1200 plants, many of which are rare and unusual enough to be considered for inclusion in the Plant Guardian scheme.

Also on Friday, members enjoyed a guided talk by Paul Cook, Curator of Harlow Carr on a beautiful sunny day.  Of particular note were the fabulous tulips, the stream and the colourful glasshouse.

That evening, members enjoyed a three-course buffet dinner followed by a talk from John Grimshaw about establishing his Yorkshire garden with his fabulous collection of plants.

Saturday morning started with a comprehensive talk from Robin Graham of Drointon Nurseries about being a Collection Holder in a commercial nursery and asking the question “Is there a conflict of interest?” To which the answer is overwhelmingly, no. He then went on to talk about types and classifications of Primula auricula. Drointon put on a charming and colourful display of their auriculas, using the traditional auricula theatre.


IMG_6740For the formal AGM there was a presentation from Chairman, Mike Buffin; followed by a presentation of the accounts by CEO Sarah Quarterman.  Next was a conservation update from Plant Conservation Officer, Sophie Leguil,  highlighting the  Collections review, the recent Collection Holders  conference and Plant Guardian updates,  followed a Q&A session.

The first visit on Saturday took members to a small nursery near York with a garden developed over time by Vanessa Cook, who at one time was the Chairman of the Yorkshire Group. The nursery provided ample opportunities for purchasing unusual plants and the garden was a patchwork of colours and borders.  Plus the cake was superb.

The second visit was to the private garden of George Smith MBE the famous flower arranger. He welcomed members personally, provided tea and biscuits and there was ample time to explore the 3 acre garden hidden within walls close to the University of York.  With a tremendous canopy of trees providing foliage, colour and form it was clear that there was an artist’s eye at work.  The planting was a combination of woodland and herbaceous with meandering paths between trees and ponds.

Saturday evening brought a talk from Martin Walker, former head gardener of York Gate Gardens and on Sunday morning, some members went on to enjoy a visit there, while others departed for the journey home.

 

 

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Rare plant of the month: May 2017

Phlox stolonifera ‘Violet Vere’

One of the reasons for writing this series is to demonstrate how incredibly varied the reasons are, for continuing to find and conserve plants cultivated in gardens across the British Isles.

Plants are often named specifically for a place or a person, Hidcote or E.A. Bowles for example, but just as often, are more closely linked to a garden and the people involved in it.

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Phlox stolonifera ‘Violet Vere’

Sarah Cook has grown Phlox stolonifera ‘Violet Vere’ for many years, and we have discovered the people behind this plant are some of the most iconic names in English gardening.

It was named at Sissinghurst in the 1990s by the then head gardeners – Sibylle Kreutzberger and Pam Schwerdt. We are very grateful to Sibylle, who tells us that ‘The Phlox in question was picked up by us in a London florist and, having failed to get it identified, was finally named after Pam Schwerdt’s mother who was at that time, president of The Wild Flower Society.’

In fact, Violet Vere (Schwerdt) MBE remained as president of the WFS for 28 years continuing the legacy from her sister and before them, their mother who founded the society in the 1890s.

The plant appears in ‘Extracts of Proceedings of the RHS (Vol 117) 1993 when it was exhibited to the Joint Rock Garden Committee:

‘Award of Merit: To Phlox stolonifera ‘Violet Vere’ as a hardy plant for flower on the rock garden (votes 12 for, 0 against), exhibited by the National Trust, Sissinghurst Castle, Cranbrook, Kent’.

The RHS Herbarium holds a Standard Specimen of the plant pictured below.

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Specimen of Phlox stolonifera ‘Violet Vere’ at Royal Horticultural Society Herbarium (WSY), WSY0004415 on JSTOR: plants.jstor.org 

Sibylle Kreutzberger and Pam Schwerdt worked as head gardeners for Vita Sackville-West from 1959 and after Vita died in 1962, they remained in post for a further 31 years with the National Trust and were both awarded the Victoria Medal of Honour, by the RHS in recognition of their work at Sissinghurst.

Sarah Cook registered ‘Violet Vere’ early on in the Plant Guardian scheme and has also offered it in the Plant Exchange continuously, so although there are no listed nurseries selling it, (last listed in RHS Plant Finder in 2012) it is hopefully doing well in gardens around the country.

Phlox stolonifera is a native of wooded areas and stream banks in the Appalachian Mountains in the SE USA. It is a creeping Phlox, forming a spreading ‘mat’ about 3 inches in height with flowers appearing above the leaves from April to July. Not a favourite of rabbits or deer it is also tolerant of drought and air pollution – two factors that make it very relevant in, and for, our changing climate.

Sarah grows it successfully in Suffolk, but suggests that it could probably do better in a region with higher rainfall. She tells us ‘Phlox stolonifera are excellent low growing plants, which we used to use at Sissinghurst to fill the spaces just under the shrub roses.  Not deep shade and plenty of light at this time of year when the roses are only just coming into leaf. They are woodlanders and a recommended for moist, humus rich soils.

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Phlox stolonifera ‘Mary Belle Frey’

Sarah also has Phlox stolonifera ‘Mary Belle Frey’ in the Plant Guardian scheme. We now know that Mary Belle Frey (1907-1940) was born in Indiana. It hasn’t been listed in RHS Plant Finder since 2011.

There isn’t currently a National Plant Collection of Phlox stolonifera and although a few are sent to the Plant Exchange, of the 18 cultivars listed in the Plant Finder, only 2 have more than one supplier.

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Sarah Cook (formerly Head Gardener at NT Sissinghurst) is National Plant Collection Holder of Iris (Sir Cedric Morris introductions), pictured here with her Gold Medal winning display at RHS Chelsea 2015

 

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Debut Daffodil Festival puts Scotland’s Backhouse Daffodils on the map

2017, the year of Scotland’s History, Heritage and Archaeology, was the perfect time to launch Scotland’s first Daffodil Festival. It was held on 15-16 April at Backhouse Rossie Estate in Fife. It was a great success with visitors enjoying woodland walks, an egg hunt, artisan stalls, talks, planting demonstrations, nine-hole putting and, of course, the beautifully set out and comprehensive National Plant Collection of Backhouse Daffodils. The weather on the Saturday was stunning, but a little chillier on Sunday.

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R & A Scamp put on a brilliant display of dozens of different varieties of daffodil and made many of them available for sale.

Caroline Thomson a direct descendant of the Backhouse family started the Collection of  the family Heritage Daffodils after her mother Lady Georgina Buchan-Hepburn  raised concerns that many of the daffodil cultivars bred by three generations of Caroline’s Backhouse forebears  from the mid 1800’s  to 1962, were disappearing. That’s quite a botanical heritage to conserve for future generations!

The Collection achieved National Plant Collection status in September 2016 and this month Caroline, her husband Andrew and son Hamish, opened the doors of Backhouse Rossie Estate to celebrate the importance of the Daffodil, past and present, to Scotland. Visitors enjoyed learning about the Backhouse family, who were Quakers, and their key daffodils, some of which changed daffodil breeding forever and caused quite a sensation in their day, all of which were flowering in the garden for the Festival weekend.

Information boards with QR codes about the daffodil breeding dynasty of the Backhouse family, funded by the Brother Bursary awarded by Plant Heritage.

Stephen Gethins MP for North East Fife launched the event on 11 April by sponsoring a motion in the Houses of Parliament recognising the importance of the work being carried out at Backhouse Rossie Estate.

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George Anderson MBE opening the festival with Lady Georgina’s scissors.

Beechgrove Garden presenter and President of the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society, George Anderson MBE, opened the festival using a pair of Caroline’s mother, Lady GE Buchan-Hepburn’s, sewing scissors, to cut the ribbon as it was she who first raised concerns about conserving the daffodils during the restoration of the walled garden at Rossie Estate. Sadly Lady Georgina was not well enough to attend but the scissors were her proxy!

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William Rennie MSP opening the new Backhouse Heritage and Education Centre, with Caroline Thompson.

William Rennie MSP and Head of the Scottish Liberal Party cut the ribbon to the new Backhouse Heritage and Education Centre on the Easter Sunday, to great applause. Three of the 290 Backhouse specimens from the Herbarium at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh were on display which visitors greatly enjoyed seeing and asked many questions about. The specimens will be on show until May.

The Grampian and Tayside group of Plant Heritage and in particular, Frances Tait, made a significant contribution to the organising of the Festival. Frances and National Plant Collection Holder, Madeleine Tinson, were on hand on both days to provide advice where needed, to respond to the many enquiries about Plant Heritage and to have a botanical blether with the many visitors to the stand. The G&T stand was situated next to the Brodie Castle stand, a National Trust of Scotland property which has the National Plant Collection of Brodie Daffodils. The Group even managed to arrange for Brodie property manager Malcolm to give a talk to the Group later in the year about the history of its daffodils.

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The Grampian & Tayside Group’s display.

So, all in all, a great day for the public, for the daffodils, for the Backhouse family descendants who opened the estate at their home Backhouse Rossie and quite definitely, for Plant Heritage.

Find out more about the National Plant Collection of Narcissus (Backhouse cvs.) and (Brodie cvs.) on the Plant Heritage website.

All images taken and supplied by Caroline’s son Hamish.

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Narcissus Workshop in Suffolk

Our Suffolk Group held a very successful Daffodil Study Day on April 2nd at the home of Collection Holders Jim Marshall and Sarah Cook. Here’s a little summary of the day (reproduced from the group website).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere were twenty two  Plant Heritage members in all at the event hosted at Hullwood Barn on Sunday 2nd of April.  Darren Andrews gave an introduction to the International Horticultural Classification system for Daffodils, explaining  which species had been used for breeding in each group, and how a knowledge of this is very relevant to the cultivation of Narcissus within each division.

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Neil Bradfield talked about aesthetic considerations when planting and growing Narcissus, which made everyone think about the plant associations in their own gardens!

Other topics covered on the day were: research and recording of Narcissus, pests and diseases, the British commercial cut flower and bulb production of Narcissus, which is worth £45 million.  The day was held at Jim Marshall  and Sarah Cook’s garden, which is packed full of Narcissus, and finished with a tour of Darren’s garden and large collection.

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Some comments from participants:

“I think the day was excellent, buckets of enthusiasm, train loads of knowledge and wonderfully imparted. I for one learnt so much. Really well done.”

“What a rewarding day we had yesterday! I’ll be inspecting my narcissus with increased interest from now on.”

“The Soup and Sandwich lunch made by Chairman Maggie Thorpe was excellent (yum!)”

The Suffolk Plant Heritage Group members have recently had their proposal accepted to hold a Dispersed National Collection of Narcissus bred by the Rev. Engleheart. Watch this space!

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Rare plant of the month: April 2017

Hepatica transsilvanica ‘Blumenstadt Erfurt’

Welcome to the second in our series of blogs about rare plants growing with Plant Guardians in gardens around the UK.

Plants in the genus Hepatica are found across the northern hemisphere from Central Europe to Asia, Japan, North America and Canada. They belong in the Ranunculaceae family. Flowering early, from February onwards (in the mountains as snows recede) continuing well into March and April, with beautiful cheerful flowers in colours from white through blues to pinks and dark purple. Growing in British gardens since the 18th C, in the wild they prefer sunny slopes in deciduous woodland, where they have protection from summer sun.

There are now around 12  Hepatica species  commonly accepted, the most widespread, H. nobilis growing across the full range. One European species however is indigenous only to the Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania, Romania – Hepatica transsilvanica.  A woodland flower, it is slightly taller than most other Hepatica species.

Plants often represent links between people and places, but sometimes the story represents a far bigger narrative. This plant, discovered by accident, is a telling example of how ephemeral life can be.

When Andreas Händel  was visiting his home town of Erfurt in Germany, he came across a group of beautiful little Transylvanian hepaticas growing, most unusually, in December! Andreas discovered a poignant and heartwarming story behind this early-flowering cultivar, now called Hepatica transsilvanica ‘Blumenstadt Erfurt’. The plant now lives on in Glenn Shapiro’s National Plant Collection of Hepatica and Razvan Chisu, who is himself from Transylvania, has registered it in the Plant Guardian scheme.

Hepatica transsilvanica 'Blumenstadt'

Hepatica transsilvanica ‘Blumenstadt Erfurt’

Published in GartenPraxis, 4, April 2012, p.55, Andreas described the astonishing history of the plant…

Once when visiting my home town of Erfurt, I spotted a group of flowering sky-blue Transylvanian hepaticas shining out in the distance in a small shady front garden – it was Christmas!

I rang the doorbell. A surly-looking woman appeared at a little window but didn’t even wait to hear me out. She slammed the window shut, saying “I’m giving none of it away!”

Two weeks later I stood at the door again, but this time with a box full of hepaticas, corydalis and aconites. It was all as before: a ring at the door, the little window opening, and an even surlier face, but before she could slam the window I held up the box. She was taken aback just enough this time for me to finish my question and to offer the box as compensation. The decisive factor in the window not being slammed again was probably the one word: Transylvania! She was suddenly very interested in how I knew where this plant came from.

She let me into the house and over a cup of tea told me the remarkable history of the plant. Her great-grandmother, who was born in Transylvania, had found it as a young woman during a new-year walk in the woods near Sibiu, at that time still called Hermannstadt, where the family lived. The whole wood, which was full of hepaticas later in the year, was still bare; this plant alone was in full bloom. It was taken and planted in the garden, and it soon became a family treasure. It was divided and planted out in several parts of the garden, and neighbours and passers-by all stopped in amazement to see it. Her grandmother then planted a 20-meter-long border on both sides of the path from garden gate to front door, and for many years it was a sensation known far and wide when in bloom.

Then came the end of the war and the expulsion of the Germans – the family could only load the absolute essentials on a handcart. She herself, ten years old at the time, was only allowed to take one toy, there wasn’t room for any more. But as they were leaving she ran back and grubbed up a piece of ‘grandma’s flower’, wrapped it up in an old cloth and hid it under the cart in a box. The plant survived over three weeks in flight, and three more moves in the following decades, but it was always well protected in memory of the family and the old birthplace. Now I could understand why the woman didn’t readily part with it! On my way off I was allowed, under her watchful eye, to cut out a small piece, which I have since propagated and named after my home town. A while ago I stood at the garden fence again, but both the surly woman and the hepatica were gone.

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Razvan Chisu & Glenn Shapiro with H. transsilvanica ‘Blumenstadt Erfurt’

Glenn Shapiro, writes: “Hepatica transsilvanica ‘Blumenstadt Erfurt’ now thrives in the National Plant Collection.

The surly-looking woman may have gone from Erfurt, but her great-grandmother’s Hepatica, which she valued above her toys while fleeing Transylvania as a small child, lives on.

A friend, John Wilkinson (NW Group) often works in Germany and reads Garten Praxis so he cut out the article and very kindly translated it for me.

Hepatica - first mention in Garten Praxis

GartenPraxis cutting from 2012

When Andreas Händel came to England he and brought some of his treasured hepaticas for my National Plant Collection. The one I have the strongest affection for is ‘Blumenstadt Erfurt’, because of this story, poignant to so many families in our very turbulent world. It came to me in 2013 as a small piece and only got large enough to split into three last autumn so Raz has one of the first divisions.

We all have plants evoking memories of family and friends; there must be a story about the origin of every garden cultivar, most lost in the mists of time. It is the job of our National Plant Collections to keep them all alive and well. With climate change it may soon be a different set of cultivars that best suit our gardens, and with the help of Plant Heritage and its members, older ones have a chance of still being around for us to return to.”

Glenn Shapiro is National Collection Holder of Hepatica and joint Collections Coordinator for Cumbria; Razvan Chisu, Plant Guardian & Collections Coordinator for Cheshire; John Wilkinson, Collections Coordinator for Lancashire, Vice-Chair NW Group.

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Rare plant of the month: March 2017

Welcome to the first of our new series of posts that will introduce you to some of the wonderful and intriguing rare plants that have been registered into the Plant Guardian scheme by Plant Heritage members. While the main aim of the scheme is to record the rare plants we have in our gardens, hopefully for them to become more widely grown and therefore better protected for the future, we have to admit that this will never be possible for every plant. However we can learn more about these plants and their origins.

The Plant Guardian scheme is by definition the perfect forum to appreciate how our garden plants are linked irrevocably to British gardens and gardeners. When Joseph Banks sailed home from Botany Bay in 1770, bringing with him extraordinary plants from the new world, who then could have imagined that some would still be growing in gardens in Britain nearly 250 years later.

Many are rarely grown here and one of these is Lambertia formosa.

Image: Lambertia formosa, mountain devil. © Ben Ram

Image: Lambertia formosa, mountain devil. © Ben Ram

Registered by Plant Guardian Robbie Blackhall-Miles, Lambertia formosa – the ‘Mountain Devil’ is an evergreen shrub in the Proteaceae family and a native of New South Wales, Australia. I t is the only species (of 11 in the genus) endemic to south eastern Australia. A small or medium shrub, with stiff sharply tipped, linear-shaped leaves, the red tubular-shaped flowers appear at the ends of the branches in clusters, flowering during the winter. The flowers contain nectar and are popular with honey eating birds and it is sometimes known as the ‘honey flower’. However it is the strange seed pods that develop devil-like horns which give it the name ‘Mountain Devil’.

Robbie tells us ‘Lambertia formosa has a very interesting history in UK cultivation. The Mountain Devil, was originally collected by Sir Joseph Banks (founder of the Royal Horticultural Society) in Botany Bay in 1770, and was one of the earliest introductions of Australian plants to cultivation in the UK, introduced by Lee and Kennedy’s nursery in Hammersmith. It first flowered not far from Hampton court in Stockwell in 1798’.

When it was first recorded it was originally thought to be a different plant altogether – Brabejum (a South African plant also in the Proteaceae family described far earlier in 1737), It would seem that when the plant flowered at Lee and Kennedy’s nursery (in 1798), botanist James Edward Smith recognised the new genus, naming it in recognition for his friend and fellow of the Linnaean Society the botanist Aylmer Lambert.

Listed in the International Plant Names Index (IPNI)

 

Proteaceae Lambertia formosa Sm. Trans. Linn. Soc. London 4: 223. 1798 [24 May 1798]

 

Sm. is an abbreviation which denotes the author of a botanical name, it is followed here by the official abbreviation for: Transactions of the Linnean Society of London, Botany 4 1798

The original herbarium specimen that Joseph Banks brought back from Botany Bay  is held in the Banks Collection at Natural History Museum.

Robbie with the original Joseph Banks specimen (BM000947188) in the Herbarium at the Natural History Museum © Robbie Blackhall-Miles Courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

Robbie with the original Joseph Banks specimen (BM000947188) in the Herbarium at the Natural History Museum © Robbie Blackhall-Miles Courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

The original 1770 Joseph Banks specimen in the Herbarium of the Natural History Museum ©JSTOR www.jstor.org

The original 1770 Joseph Banks specimen in the Herbarium of the Natural History Museum ©JSTOR http://www.jstor.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although Lambertia is not under threat in SE Australia, it is rarely grown in the UK, and having an example of a plant first sold commercially in 1798, registered with Plant Guardians, and being able to link it with the original 1770 Joseph Banks specimen brought from Botany Bay (and safely stored in the Natural History Museum), gives us a wonderful example of how deep the heritage of our garden plants can go.

Lambertia formosa will be shown in a display at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show under the ‘Plant Guardians’ scheme, as part of an exhibit highlighting the unique diversity of antipodean plants from the many National Plant Collections held by members of the Australasian Plant Society. Robbie is holder of the National Collection of Banksia (South East Australian spp.)

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London in bloom in February

A superb gold medal winning display was created by our Plant Heritage London Group, at the RHS Early Spring Plant Fair. The display illustrated a range of plants that are in flower or fruit now.  At first glance the display catches your eye with the wide variety of plants, but then you start looking at the details.  It’s a feast for the eye, and the nose, particularly at this time of year.  Visitors lingered along the display stopping at particular plants to simply enjoy them, and to wonder where they have come from and some took notes perhaps finding a particular Camellia they had not seen before.

Such a display is only possible with tremendous team work from the London Group: Gerald Goddard, Antonia Cannon, Angela Hepple, Fiona Crumley, Pat Huff, Peter and June Lloyd, Toby Vane and James Callicott with help from garden staff of Chiswick House.  Plus the volunteers who manned the stand during the Show.

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The generosity of the plant donors is an important part of this display, so thanks go to London members, and for the contributions from the gardens of  Buckingham Palace, Capel Manor, Chiswick House, Isabella Plantation, Marlborough House, Myddelton House and Regent’s Park, plus the invaluable skills and time given by the gardeners from all of these gardens in sorting and preparing the plant material.

Amongst others the plant that caught my eye was  Freylinia  lanceolata (Honey Bush),which is a tenderish evergreen from South Africa with panicles of fragrant flowers, and the Ilex aquifolium ‘Ferox Argentea’ known as Silver Hedgehog Holly.

The challenge and the beauty of this display is that the team never know what plants they will have until the day before the Show, so a gold medal is lovely reward for this display.

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