Held in Trust

Dipping down to deepest Devon for the day, I was proud to represent Plant Heritage at the official opening of the National Trust’s new Plant Conservation Centre, a hospital, nursery, bank, research and education provider – as we were told – all in one!

Guests from Kew, the RHS, Millennium Seed Bank and Head Gardeners of more than twenty National Trust properties were also there, to celebrate the Trust’s investment in rare and special plant conservation.

Carefully scrubbing our footwear and donning green over-bootees, we were allowed in to marvel. Firstly at the considerate construction: making good use of previous glasshouse parts, recycled concrete, ex-telegraph poles, and even surplus motorway crash barriers, accessorised by all-peat-free compost last seen as commercial green waste. And then, at the far-reaching array of plants…

Fencepost made from recycled motorway central reservation barriers
Reincarnated building material, standing sentry
Entrance to nursery
Come inside
Plants on benches
Even this many people can’t outnumber the plants
Small plants in pots
Propagating rare native coastal wild asparagus, Asparagus prostratus

From miniscule rhododendron explants (just disease-free tips in special-recipe jelly, they take eight years to graduate to 6L air-pots), to genetic material from stately lime trees (planted in the open ground, but kept eternally young by coppicing).

Micropropagated rhododendrons
The smallest rhodies you’ve ever seen, dwarfed by normal plant pots
Lime coppice stools
English lime or linden (Tilia) coppiced clones from different properties – choose from 17 types to tailor your new avenues

12 rare cultivars identified by Plant Heritage’s Threatened Plants Project are already being conserved by the National Trust’s Plant Conservation Programme, and 127 plants in total across NT properties – including many of the walnuts at Wimpole Hall, a National Plant Collection of Juglans. More gardens data for me to search is expected in a couple of months, and I’ll be looking for even more genera by then, so we should find many more.

Roy Lancaster, a longstanding supporter of both the NT and Plant Heritage, was there to enthuse us all with “a few words”. He even flashed his Vasculum at us! Not a lunchbox, but a tin construction as round as an overgrown glasses-case, a metal courier bag which preceded “and still outclassed” plastic bags for plant hunters.

In good company

And as all good gardeners love to share, I went home with a Fuchsia ‘Overbecks Ruby’ grown by the Plant Conservation Programme, and bonus ‘Green Zebra’, ‘Christmas Grape’ and ‘Golden Sun’ – surplus heritage tomato plants, from Knightshayes Court’s luscious-sounding walled garden. The others in National Office will hopefully help grow them, and I look forward to continued collaboration with the Plant Collections Curator, Franklyn Tancock, Plant Conservation Centre Manager, Chris Trimmer, and the dedicated volunteer team, in their well-deserved new premises.

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