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.

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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