Rare plant of the month – February 2018

Galanthus ‘Aunt Agnes’

February is the month of the snowdrop and with huge numbers of beautiful rare species and varieties it would be impossible to choose just two to write about. I was really pleased therefore to be told about Olive Mason and her introduction to snowdrops.

It doesn’t matter where our interests and passions in horticulture begin, but sometimes the story behind a plant takes us to an important person in our lives. When that introduction to the plant world ignites a lifelong passion for a particular genus, being able to remember a person by naming a flower for them is incredibly special.

Olive Mason has long been an established and recognised snowdrop grower, and her wonderful garden, Dial Park, has appeared in many articles and the media in relation to the snowdrop.

She told us that it was her Aunt Agnes, then living in the farmhouse at Dial Park who introduced her to the flowers, writing that ‘without my Aunt I may never have grown snowdrops’.

Many years later, a chance seedling arose in the Mason’s garden,  Olive recognising it as ‘the best seedling’ she had found. In honour and memory of her aunt, she chose to name it G. ‘Aunt Agnes’.

In normal circumstances, Olive would grow on seedlings before they are ‘deemed to be worthy of a name’, but Galanthus ‘Aunt Agnes’ was distinct enough from it’s parent (G. ‘Trym’) to deserve recognition.

As a seedling of G. plicatus ‘Trym’, Aunt Agnes shares many features of the parent. The outer and inner segments of the flower are nearly the same length, with broad, slightly undulating and arching leaves up to 10cms long.

Another beautiful and vigorous snowdrop was found by Olive Mason in a Worcestershire churchyard. Elmley Lovett is a small village and having seen an excellent seedling in the churchyard there,  Olive was able to ask for, and was granted permission to take just five bulbs. It proved to be ‘a strong and reliable variety, which increases well’ and all plants currently in circulation come from repeated division of those original 5 bulbs. Olive subsequently named it for the village – Galanthus from Elmley Lovett.

This seedling arose from a G. elwesii parent, Olive naming it G. elwesii from Elmley Lovett (it now appears listed also as G. ‘Elmley Lovett’). It has recognisable snowdrop flowers with green markings on the inner segment. As all G. elwesii varieties, the leaves can be up to 30cms long, lush green and broad (3.5cms).

Like many, Galanthus ‘Aunt Agnes’ and ‘Elmley Lovett’ are well known and recognised, but both are rare, so eligible for the Plant Guardian scheme. The beauty of this story is that the fact that Olive Mason has shared plants of these varieties over the years (‘Aunt Agnes’ has only ever been given away) and although neither is freely available, both are known to be growing in gardens around the country.

When Olive Mason’s Aunt Agnes shared her knowledge to a niece, she wouldn’t have imagined the lifelong passion that introduction to snowdrops ignited, and the knowledge and plants that have been shared and conserved for the future.

Our thanks to Olive Mason for her story. She is Vice-President of the Worcestershire Group of Plant Heritage and previously served as vice -chair of the Group and as Collections Coordinator.

Grateful thanks to John and Janet of Judy’s Snowdrops, for allowing us to use their photos. www.judyssnowdrops.co.uk

As ever I was delighted and grateful to be told of another special plant story, my thanks to Margaret Stone, Brockamin Plants, for an accidental conversation.


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Rare plant of the month – October

If you want to save a plant, share a plant. We know many great plants are out there somewhere and once found, sharing and recording them is so important in conserving them. Talking to National Collection Holder, Judy Barker, about the plants for this blog, she described what we do as plant hunting in reverse ‘difficult at times, then you hit gold’.

Chrysanthemum ’Sunshine’

Caroline Stone received plants with a request for help, to ensure the perpetuation of a plant that had been grown by a family since before 1896. Caroline wrote in the Devon Group PH newsletter (Autumn 2016):

‘I recently received a phone call from Mrs Sally Mulford who is looking for someone to take on growing a chrysanthemum with a long family heritage. I was told it is a late flowering single yellow which she calls ‘Sunshine’ because the flowers look rather like suns. Could I help find someone interested in carrying on with the plant because she was concerned to ensure its future? ‘ Knowing how precarious it can become to keep un-fashionable plants from disappearing, Caroline also sent 3 plants to Judy Barker,  National Collection Holder of Chrysanthemum (Dispersed Collection)

Chrysanthemum ‘Sunshine’ is a late flowering single type (section 17 Chrysanthemum) and although the plant is hardy enough to survive outside, its November flowering needs a glasshouse and therefore does not fit into Judy’s hardy collection, however  ‘the  Dispersed Collection arrangement works beautifully as Hill Close has a display glasshouse so they have taken two of the three plants’.

Producing large flowers, it is good for flower arranging, but is a tall straggly plant and needs supporting and to be brought undercover in winter.

The story goes back a long way – the photograph dated 1896, is of Sally’s mother Mary sitting next to the plants, where they lived at Fingrinhoe Hall, near Colchester in Essex. Her Aunt Margaret (Mary’s youngest sister) grew the plant for years and gave plants to Sally and her sister Betsy. Margaret died in 2015, aged 101, Betsy a few years earlier. Although her niece has the plant, propagation has not been very successful. Sally is now concerned it will be lost and with more than a century of provenance hoped to find a way to keep it going.

PH kiku0003

Chrysanthemum ‘Sunshine’ with the young Mary in 1896. Photo courtesy of S. Mulford

Additional information from the National Chrysanthemum Society Register is not forthcoming as the Register only began listing from 1919. However, the picture has underneath the word KIKU, the Japanese for Chrysanthemum.  Plants were coming over from Japan with plant hunters like Wilson and Forrest between the 1850s and 1880s, so this could be from one of those early introductions.  Woolmans, possibly one of the oldest growers of Chrysantheum began trading in 1881, with some varieties advertised as growing to 6 or 8 feet tall. By 1896:

‘adverts in Amateur gardening were offering 25 varieties for 2s. 6d.’

Web extract taken from History of Woolmans, Woolmans.com

Two further examples of very rare cultivars that Judy Barker has been given are, Chrysanthemum ‘Elspeth’ and ‘Lady in Pink’.


‘Elspeth came from a plant at Osborne House in the early 2000s, but although we know it was registered by William Craig in 1911 there is no known record of Chrysanthemum ‘Elspeth’ having been for sale commercially, It appears in the RHS Database simply as ‘unchecked name’. Toby Beasley, Head Gardener at Osbourne, has told us they no longer grow these old chrysanthemum types in the gardens.

Under the Plant Heritage, Threatened Plants Project (TPP) criteria, it is classified as ‘Threatened in cultivation’.

Like Chrysanthemum ‘Sunshine’, ‘Elspeth’ is tough so Judy does keep stock but does not have the facilities to flower them well.

She was also sent one from Great Dixter to try to name – ‘a very sturdy version of C. ‘Lady in Pink’ (Pink Progression, Pink Procession) joy it is still around in good health’.

The National Dispersed Collection of Chrysanthemum is held by Judy Barker, Hill Close Gardens and Andrew Ward at Norwell Nurseries

Caroline Stone is a Plant Guardian and holds the National Collection of Double Primroses: Primula vulgaris and hybrid cultivars



Posted in Uncategorized

Rare plant of the month – August

Dahlia ‘Little Beeswing’

The plants featured on this blog so far have been truly fascinating, however Dahlia ‘Little Beeswing’ has taken us on a quite a journey and has demonstrated the value of the conservation work that Plant Heritage volunteers are quietly working on through the Plant Exchange and Plant Guardians schemes.

Dahlia ‘Little Beeswing’, has been offered in the Plant Exchange for several years by a National Collection Holder in Cambridgeshire, he having obtained his original plants from Scott Kunst of Old House Gardens in Michigan. Because this bright Dahlia was flowering so beautifully in perfect time for the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show, and the plants given were of such lovely quality, it became a the star of the show in the Plant Guardian display.

This is a wonderful example of how a single flower can create a timeline of connections across continents. Former National Collection holder and Dahlia expert David Brown sent a message to say:

I have known Dahlia ‘Little Beeswing’ most my life, my father grew it in his nursery when I was a boy, in those days it was a top Pompom for exhibiting, no longer a Pompom for exhibiting but still around, I found it during my first trip to the USA in 2012,
‘Little Beeswing’ was raised by a UK nursery called Keynes in 1909, registered as a Pompom and received the old Award of Merit in 1909 when on trial, not sure in those days where trials were held, could have been at Dyffryn, in Wales, where Reginald Cory lived, he was President of the National Dahlia Society from 1913 to 1934.’

Like very many Dahlia varieties, even the best ones can disappear over time. Anne Barnard at Rose Cottage Plants often finds delicious new cultivars, that very quickly stop being grown by nurseries who have to follow commercial trends. Plants such as ‘Little Beeswing’ end up only being grown by a few specialist nurseries, which is precisely why it became eligible for the Plant Guardian scheme.

Little Beeswing, Pompon, Keynes 1909 David Brown 2

Photos courtesy of David Brown

‘Little Beeswing’ grows to 3ft, a good cut flower, popular with bees and insects and copes well with dry conditions. It has been shown to tolerate very high summer temperatures in the USA. A member of the Dahlia Society of Georgia (US) wrote that he found ‘Little Beeswing’ to be ‘one of the most heat tolerant dahlias’ – the State of Georgia has a sub-tropical climate, with average summer temperatures of 32 – 33 °C. It has been grown in America for a long time and although raised here, was listed by JK Alexander, Massachusetts in 1938, probably the date of introduction into America.

Dahlia ‘Little Beeswing’ was registered in 1909 by Keynes, Williams and co. of Salisbury, and listed in The Tentative Classified list and International register of Dahlia names 1969, p. 161:

“8c Little Beeswing (Keynes) K-Will 1909 O-R Bic, A.M 1909”

(Keynes) = the raiser

K-Will = Keynes-Williams, the introducer.

1909 = date of introduction or the earliest date which can be attributed to the plant.

O-R Bic = colour classification as an Orange and Red bi-coloured.

A.M. 1909 = Award of Merit granted from the RHS

You’re probably thinking what we thought – why is it classified as 8c (a Cactus Dahlia), isn’t it a Pompom? Sharon McDonald from the RHS International Registrar of Dahlias, explains: ‘The classification in the Register was correct in 1909, when pompom dahlias where Group 8. However, the classification for ‘Little Beeswing’ should have been changed to 7 in 1969 when the Register was published.’ Pompom dahlias are today classified in Group 7.

Keynes, Williams and Co., were exhibiting Dahlias towards the end of the 19th C. winning first prize at the International Horticultural Exhibition at Earls Court in 1892

Extract from the Times of London, Sept 10th 1892:

‘The show of autumn flowers which opened at the International Horticultural Exhibition, Earl’s Court, yesterday, is remarkable for the fine collection of dahlias which have been brought together, the principal interest centring in class S, collection of dahlias of any type, arranged for effect, open to nurserymen. The first prize was awarded to Messrs. Keynes, Williams, and Co. of Salisbury, for an exhibit comprising 2,000 blooms of 100 different varieties and admirably illustrating the object of the competition how easily dahlias may be arranged for decorative effect. Messrs. J.Cheat and Sons, of Crawley, took the second prize, also with a large exhibit……..’

1892 was the year that Buffalo Bill brought his show to Earls Court and there was considerable horticultural interest from America in London by then. John Keynes was a sponsor of the 1866 Exhibition, and judge of the Rose classes, there were no exhibition classes for dahlias at that time.

Around 15 years ago Scott Kunst, at Old House Gardens – Ann Arbor, Michigan, asked in the American Dahlia Society bulletin, if anyone had plants of Dahlia ‘Little Beeswing’. Only one person replied sending his entire stock and a note saying: “in recognition of your efforts to preserve old dahlias their survival now rests in your hand”. (Old House Garden website) This being the provenance of the plant returned to the UK.  The following listings from the American Dahlia Society (ADS) website:

  • Little Beeswing [SK note: no “s” at end of name], 455, B SC Bi O/R, Alx, 1938, AM 1909, probably the pom Little Beeswings
  • Little Beeswings, 552, P Fl, Alx, 1865, brt. scarlet on y. ground, 1.5 x 1.25 inches, 3 feet.

(Alx = JK Alexander of East Bridgewater, Massachusetts)

The International Dahlia Register lists Dahlia ’Little Beeswings’ as:  ‘a synonym of ‘Little Beeswing’, as in the American Dahlia Society Classified List, it is listed as the Keynes cultivar. ‘ (MacDonald)

Scott Kunst wrote to us that ‘1865 is almost 50 years earlier than any other “Alx” dahlia in the Weland (ADS) list, which makes me think it’s a mistake. Maybe it’s a typo for 1965? I’m pretty sure ‘Little Beeswings’ was still offered in US dahlia catalogs in 1965’.

JK Alexander ceased working with Dahlias, following a second fire at their warehouse in 1943 which resulted in the destruction of many tons of dahlia tubers ready for shipment, preferring to move into production of blueberries, (Recollecting Nemasket).

For 1865 to be correct there would have to have been a grower registering varieties at the end of the American civil war.

This from Recollecting Nemasket:  ‘Following the Civil War (1865), Middleborough (Mass.) developed an active horticultural industry [sic ] florists and nurserymen establishing themselves to sell plants and flowers to local residents. Among the plants that these growers raised were dahlias, a flower for which Middleborough would become particularly known…’

Is there a much older Dahlia from a distant grower, brought to England for one of the International Horticultural Exhibitions? We’ll probably never know.


Our thanks go to:

Miriam Jacob for suggesting we use ‘Little Beeswing’ as our rare plant of the month and Alan Briggs and Alan Shipp for kindly sending us details about the plants that came to the Plant Exchange.

Scott Kunst, Founder & Ambassador for Heirlooms – www.oldhousegardens.com

Sharon McDonald, RHS International Registrar (Dahlias & Conifers)

RHS Lindley Library, Wisley (Reference) for sending me the extract from the ‘Tentative Classified list and International register of Dahlia names 1969

Anne and Jack Barnard of Rose Cottage Gardens, for information about the Dahlia and asking David Brown about Little Beeswing on our behalf: www.rosecottageplants.co.uk

Many thanks to David Brown for sharing his knowledge and some of his pictures of ‘Little Beeswing’ to use in our blog

The information about Middleborough, Mass was found at: http://nemasket.blogspot.co.uk/2009/04/dahlias.html

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Rare plant of the month: June 2017

Lathyrus belinensis

belinensis (2) COMPRESSED

Lathyrus belinensis Copyright: R Parsons

In this instalment of our series, which looks at reasons why we need to be aware of the importance of conserving the rare plants that grow in our gardens in the UK and Ireland, we explore Lathyrus belinensis, a plant with a significant history of discovery, loss and an important place in plant breeding.

Lathyrus belinensis is a yellow and orange-flowered species which may hold the key to the holy grail of the plant breeding world – a truly yellow sweet pea. You may recognise it from the cover of the 2016 Plant Heritage Directory.

The discovery of the plant, in a graveyard close to the village of Belin, led to it being recognised as a new species and subsequently named Lathyrus belinensis (Maxted & Goyder 1988).

CWR_Issue_8 (4)_Page44_Image1

Original site of L. belinensis growing on hillside. Copyright N Maxted

Closely related to L. odoratus (sweet pea), L. belinensis was found in 1987, in the Turkish province of Antalya, by Ayse Kitiki (Aegean Agricultural Research Institute), Bob Allkin (RBG, Kew) and Nigel Maxted (University of Birmingham) during a research trip, involving locating significant crop wild relative (CWR) species. Dr Maxted was then based at the University of Southampton which housed the Vicieae database project and seedbank.

The single population was found growing alongside a new road, but upon returning to the site in 2010, Nigel found that the original location had been completely destroyed  and although some plants were still found in the area, the richest area within the site had been lost.

Nigel Maxted wrote:

Police station and excavated hillside

Police station and excavated hillside. Copyright N Maxted

The type population was found over an area of only 2 km2 and although the species was published in 1988, no further populations have been reported. The only known population is found adjacent to a new main road that carries holiday traffic along the coast in an area ripe for tourism development and is in an area that was being planted with conifers at the time of original collection. On returning to the site in 2010 it was found that the original type location had been completely destroyed by earthworks associated with the building of a new police station. Although some plants were still found in the area and seed is held ex situ, the richest area within the site had been lost. In part to draw attention to the need for active in situ conservation of L belinensis it has been recently assessed using the IUCN Red List Criteria and found to be Critically Endangered – the most highly threatened category. The species has real economic potential as a CWR donor yet it is near extinction in the wild. (Maxted 2012)

Small remaining population COMPRESSED

Remaining population of 30 plants. Copyright N Maxted

Nigel returned to Belin in May this year (2017) to find a small group of only 30 plants still in situ, near the police station and widened road.

Crop wild relatives are the wild ‘cousins’ of our cultivated plants and crops. They are important because they contain useful genetic diversity, some of which is not present in cultivated crops and therefore may have significant resistance to disease and other pathogens. According to Poulter et al (2003), an unexpected benefit from L. belinensis, is that hybrid material has been found to resist Powdery Mildew a problem disease for Sweet Pea growers in hot, dry conditions.

In 1993, Roger Parsons, National Collection Holder of Lathyrus, received seed collected in Belin from the University of Southampton seedbank and passed the species to former National Collection Holder, the late Sylvia Norton. Although the seed is listed in several seed catalogues, it no longer appears in the RHS Plant Finder, the true species having been last listed in 1998.

‘Goldmine’ is a cultivar name used in the trade for L. belinensis. However it is currently wrongly listed as L. odoratus ‘Goldmine’ in some catalogues, demonstrating how unregulated commercial naming of plants, that are not food crops, can create confusion in the industry.

Roger Parsons writes:

What makes this species so special is that it is very closely related to the Sweet Pea, L. odoratus, and has genes for yellow flower pigment. Producing a yellow Sweet Pea has long been one of the holy grails for plant breeders. Lathyrus species very rarely hybridise and the few successes have involved techniques such as stylar amputation and embryo rescue. A team in New Zealand were able to successfully cross the old-fashioned Sweet Pea ‘Mrs Collier’ with the Belin Pea (Hammett et al 1994) and the F1 hybrid has been described as L. x hammettii. Although self-sterile, this hybrid produced pollen which was back-crossed and later crossed with other Sweet Peas. Over a period of time, a succession of crosses using hybrid material has resulted in new cultivars of Sweet Pea with interesting or novel characters (Edwards 2014). The elusive yellow is still awaited but a pure yellow cultivar with L. belinensis form is one step in that direction.

Deviation from L. belinensis_7877 COMPRESSED

Deviation from L. belinensis. Copyright R Parsons

L. belinensis has real economic potential as a parent plant and having been assessed as critically endangered using IUCN Red List Criteria, it is expressly important that it’s being safely held in National Plant Collections, such as Roger Parson’s. National Plant Collections are valuable resources for protecting species and cultivars that hold genetically diverse material for plant breeding. Plants which are valuable for economic or ‘utilitarian’ reasons, for example, those with the ability to produce offspring with ground-breaking characteristics, or that can significantly combat disease and climate change, or which contain useful chemicals or are super attractive to a particular insect.


N. Maxted & D.J. Goyder 1988 A new species of Lathyrus sect. Lathyrus from Turkey. Kew Bulletin 43(4): 711-713

R. Poulter, L. Harvey & D.J. Burritt 2003 Qualitative resistance to powdery mildew in hybrid sweet peas. Euphytica 133: 349-358

N. Maxted 2012 Lathyrus belinensis: a CWR discovered and almost lost. Crop Wild Relative 8: 44

K.R.W. Hammett, B.G. Murray, K.R. Markham & I.C. Hallett 1994 Interspecific hybrization between Lathyrus odoratus and L. belinensis. Int.J.Plant Sci. 155(6): 763-771

D. Edwards 2014 Developing a yellow Sweet Pea. New Plantsman 13(4):252-4

Posted in Uncategorized

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.



Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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.


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.


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.

Phlox 'Mary Belle Frey' P1010001sarah cook

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.


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


Posted in Uncategorized

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.


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.


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!


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.


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.

Posted in Uncategorized