The Plant Exchange 2021 – allowing members to give and receive, rare and unusual garden plants in an uncertain year

When the Plant Heritage AGM in April 2020 went online and the Plant Exchange, which normally happens alongside the AGM, inevitably couldn’t go ahead, offers of plants were kept on hold in the hope of being back to normal and in Durham for the 2021 AGM.

As we know, circumstances didn’t allow for this, with the AGM weekend being on Zoom for a consecutive year. Instead of abandoning again, we decided, along with our Plant Exchange volunteer coordinators around the country, to continue regardless and to see what could be organised.

Before going further, some background about the Plant Exchange for those who are new(er) to Plant Heritage, or who haven’t yet been involved.

Every autumn, a request is sent to members for names of plants they could to offer into the Exchange, and for others – including National Plant Collection holders, their ‘wants’.

All plants offered into the Exchange will have less than 2 suppliers in the RHS Plant Finder ( online at The conservation team then double check that all plants offered qualify. The lists of offers and wants are collated, and a full list is put on the website after Christmas, and circulated via Plant Exchange coordinators, to all members who are invited to enter the ballot for plants they would like to receive.

The majority of plants are offered as individual specimens, and many bids can come in for a single plant – especially Galanthus! Sometimes plants that have been offered don’t make it to the Exchange particularly for example, after a long, cold winter. You won’t know if your bids are successful until after the Exchange itself.

So, back to Plant Exchange 2021 – it was going to be impossible for members from across the British Isles to come together for a short day to swap plants. Instead, through a mixture of local exchanges within regions, regional ‘hubs’, and one central location, a plan began to take shape.

Plants start arriving

There were 7 clear regions – South West, Three Counties with Shropshire, North West including Dumfries & Galloway, North East, Yorkshire with East Midlands, East Anglia and the South East. Coordinators across the regions organised collection and drop off points, combining plants to bring to a point somewhere in the middle of England.

Hill Close Gardens in Warwickshire generously offered their gardens as a central point for the main Exchange.  On 27th May 2021, the sun shone, exchange coordinators arrived with beautifully labelled plants, boxed by region and ready to go to new homes, and we had time to catch up with people we hadn’t seen for a year or more. Plants were sorted, tea, cake and picnics were had, we were then back on the road by 3pm, some plants being delivered on route to be taken on to further locations.

Plants have gone to National Collections, collections in development and members, from Galloway to Cornwall, Kent to Northumberland.

Sorting for redistribution

The Exchange is an invaluable event to find and record rare and unusual plants, many that can be registered in the Plant Guardian scheme.

Anyone receiving an eligible plant from the Plant Exchange is invited to record it as a Plant Guardian plant, and by becoming a Plant Guardian, play an active part in living plant conservation

In total, 963 plants were offered from 693 different plant types (taxa).

Of the 483 cultivars offered, 130 are recognised as Threatened in cultivation by our Threatened Plants Programme (TPP)

In order to make this Plant Exchange happen, some very determined and kind people all across the country worked together, deciding that things can still happen if you just find a way!

Next year, 2022, we all hope to be running the Plant Exchange as normal, with time to chat, visit gardens, and enjoy something refreshing with old and new friends – with a single a desire to support and promote the conservation of plants, sharing unusual and sometimes rare plants to ensure their futures.

To find out about becoming a Plant Guardian or to register your plant(s) follow this link:

Learn more about the Plant Exchange here:

Happy Plant Conservation!!

Phlox stolonifera ‘Mary Belle Frey’ cc.PH
Geranium phaeum ‘David Bromley’ cc. PH
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Dendrobium ‘Ellen’ – Plant Exchange 2021