Placed, not plonked

Eucalyptus vista

Towering Eucalyptus trees are better than a SatNav in finding the way to Meon Orchard, home of Doug and Linda Smith and their three National Plant Collections of Antipodean rarities; Araliaceae and Podocarpus as well as the aforementioned giants.
Sparsholt College is featuring these genera in their display at the 2016 Chelsea Flower Show and with little more than a month before the show opens, Doug had invited the students along to select suitable plants for the garden.

Chris Bird and Doug Smith

Chris Bird and Doug Smith

Students have been working in four teams on the different aspects of the garden; Plants, Construction, Water Feature and Graphics.  Since the autumn they have been selecting and growing plants, designing and constructing the  hard landscape items, creating the water feature and developing the leaflet and other display material needed for the stand.

The Plan

The Plan

Taking the dimensions from the plan, the relevant area was laid out on the lawn and pots were moved into place.

Measuring the bed

As they were laid out tutor Chris Bird talked them through the concepts of designing in 3 dimensional triangles, making sure that the garden looks good at all levels – remember the wheelchair view and the techniques such as chocking the pots to raise them to the same height.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As the design started to come together the students were told to ‘snake the Podocarpus through the gaps’ or put in ‘a canoodling of the yellow variant at the front’.

Chris points it out

And so we go from ‘plonked’ plants to a layout which will work in the final design. Sight lines through to other parts of the garden, contrasting foliage combinations and interest at all levels.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The plants are putting on new growth, so will be different again by the end of May.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Then the challenge of recording the positioning of the plants so that the design can be recreated at the show.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

What better way to spend a warm sunny early spring day?

The team

The team


Posted in Events | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A weekend in Worcestershire

Last weekend I had the chance to visit Malvern in Worcestershire before hosting the Plant Heritage Members’ day at Bodenham Aboretum and we chanced upon Picton Garden at Old Court Nurseries who keep a National Collection of Michealmas Daisies.  The Gardens are beautiful but the main attraction at this time of the year are the Asters and  Symphyotrichum novi-belgii in so many forms and colours.

Old Court Nurseries was established by Ernest Ballard in 1906 and he was one of the first nurserymen to specialise in breeding Asters, devoting 50 years to doing so. His work was carried on by Percy Picton, who purchased the nursery in 1956 and since then this has been a family  business with 3 generations of Pictons involved.

The Picton garden wase also bursting with colour and showed helpful planting combinations for Asters and more.

The nursery has over 400 different varieties of Michalemas Daisy which are like jewels in a the autumn border at this time of year.  The range is extraordinary.

The following day I joined the Plant Heritage tour of Bodenham Arboretum, near Kiddiminster whether there was stunning colour once again.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Bodenham is also a family run affair, having been founded by David Binnian family in 1973. The Arboretum and attached farm are now run by his son James, who gave us a guided tour whilst James’s son Sam runs the visitor centre.

After the tour we enjoyed hot soup and hot farm-raised turkey baguettes in the visitor centre beside the lake followed by a fascinating talk by John Grimshaw about the Yorkshire Arborteum, which holds National Colections of Picea and Abies.  October is a great month to visit Arboretums and we have a number of National Collections of trees so why not take a trip next weekend?

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments


Bristol Zoo is still in a unique position in that it holds the only dispersed National Plant Collection.  Their Collection of Calendula is held in locations all over the city – schools, community groups and residential centres and this dispersal over many sites is advantageous for keeping distinct the different cultivars and species in the Collection.  Seed for the cultivars were from Thompson and Morgan and the species came from various Botanic Gardens and the Millennium Seed Bank

The zoo exhibited at Hampton Court Palace Flower show in July this year and were awarded a silver medal for their display.  It was very popular with the public who were able to listen to the community growers talking about their experience on an interactive Ipad app.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The zoo held a reception to bring the communities together at the end of the season.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 Activities for the younger guests

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

and questions answered by Matthew Bufton, Gardens Manager

Matthew Bufton Gardens Manager

The gardens were looking lovely in the late afternoon sun.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Well done, Emma, Eddy and all the groups involved in this exciting project.

Emma, Eddy, Gillian

Emma, Eddy, Gillian




Posted in National Collections | Tagged , , ,

Plant Heritage at Borde Hill Gardens

The sun shone on our first national Plant Heritage event this year, held at Borde Hill Gardens, near Haywards Heath in Sussex, described as  ‘One of the country’s truly great gardens’ by Country Life magazine. Huge thanks to the generous Eleni Stephenson-Clarke of Borde Hill Gardens, our hostess, to our Sussex Group committee, and for the support from NFU Mutual and Griffin Glasshouses .  It was simply lovely to see our members and their guests from across the country meeting up again, and to meet new members as well.IMG_5484

IMG_5360Head Gardener, Andy Stevens, led the garden tour showing some of the hidden areas of this beautiful and historic garden.  At Borde Hill it’s worth taking the time to explore all the paths, and secluded corners to find unusual gems, and different vistas.  Indeed looking into the distance it is just possible to see the Ouse Valley viaduct.

IMG_5471Guests also had the opportunity of a fascinating house tour before a delicious lunch.  Roy Lancaster spoke passionately about plant hunting,  how this has always been important to him, illustrating his talk with selected unusual plants.

To end the day there was a formal planting ceremony of an Acer sinense donated by the International Dendrology Society. The ground prepared by Andy, the Head Gardener,  the planting completed by Jim Gardiner, overseen by Roy Lancaster and John Stevenson-Clarke.


Our thanks go to all those Collection holders and specialist nurseries who very kindly donated such interesting plants for our auction, and to all donations from the Sussex area.  See pictures below, as well as Sarah Quarterman helping to set up the auction. We hope the winners are enjoying their new plants.

A couple of trees spotted at Borde Hill:

Magnolia obovata

Magnolia obovata

Liriodendron chinensis   Chinese Tulip Tree

Liriodendron chinensis Chinese Tulip Tree

Our next national event is at Dutton Hall, near Ribchester, Lancashire on Wednesday 17 June; followed by our autumn event at Bodenham Arboretum, Kidderminster, Worcestershire on Saturday 3rd October 2015.  Please ring 01483 447540 for tickets.

Posted in Uncategorized

Mighty oaks from little acorns grow

The children of Wicor primary school in Hampshire are Plant Guardians for Canna ‘Chou Chou’, presented to them by James Wong at Hampton court Palace Flower Show last year and as such they are eligible to attend our educational workshops.  Last year we also worked with the RHS seed department who offered to put on a session for us on seed collection and storage and Wicor school jumped at the chance of attending.


Louise, Amais, Archie, Dylan, Grace, Amanda

Archie, Dylan, Grace and Amais arrived with Louis and Amanda and were met by Heather and Lucy of the RHS seed team and taken to their HQ in the heart of the garden.  Lucy had laid out a selection of different seeds, including the giant cone of  Pinus coulteri  also known as the widow maker due to the drastic consequences of one falling on your head.

IMG_6271Other gentler ways of seed dispersal were discussed; sticky burrs which catch on animal fur, berries eaten by birds, cyclamen seed taken by ants to their nests, and  explosive capsules such as Geranium and Alstroemeria.



Examining the poppy ‘pepper pot’ mechanism for seed dispersal

It was a perfect day to collect seeds – dry and sunny.

Packing the kit bag

Packing the kit bag

Wearing gloves the children collected seeds of the winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) into plastic bags recording the name, date and location onto a tag which will stay with the seeds as their unique identifier.

Down to the beds around the glasshouse to collect seeds of  Trachycarpus fortunei


and into the Arid Zone where a large seed head of Puya mirabilis produced an avalanche of tiny seeds


and again the seeds are labelled.

Back at the office, the children were shown how to deal with berries which are kept in the fridge over the winter to break up the flesh.IMG_6382

Once the seeds have been cleaned using sieves of different sizes and grades

and dried if necessary in drying racks,


they are stored in a cold store


before being packed and despatched to members, or used in propagation in the garden.

If you have ever collected seed yourself you will know that a lot of puff is needed to get rid of the chaff – the team here at Wisley use an aspirator which does the job by blowing the lighter material up a central tube retaining the heavier seeds in the capsule at the bottom.

Before leaving the children were given some seeds for the school garden.


The afternoon group was a little more mature, with gardeners from Exeter University, (NC of Azara) Collection holders of Geranium and Albuca and a Plant Guardian.

In response to a question on viability Heather explained that seeds are generally kept for three years.  They are only taken when ripe from a variety of healthy plants.  The efficient cleaning removes as many pests as possible and then storage in dry, dark, cool (10 degrees) conditions maintains the dormancy.

The RHS have started doing some germination tests trying to replicate normal members’ conditions. Seeds such as Acantholimon which only stays viable for a few weeks have been taken off the list  and many plants in the Tropical Zone have recalcitrant seeds –  oily – so they can’t be dried out, so they aren’t offered.  Some seed is better sown fresh , but can be put into dormancy which then needs to be broken with periods of cold.

Some of the sorting is still done by hand, using blotting paper, tweezers and magnifying glass.  Comparison trays are used as a final check.  The online Seed Site was suggested by one of the participants as a useful resource.

The RHS is part of Index Seminum which offers seeds to botanical institutions in UK and EU but seed is not sent outside this area because of the stringent requirements for cleanliness and the  need for a phytosanitary certificate.

At the end of the seed despatch period the team do a stock check to see what is popular –   anything marked with a red spot.  Cut flowers are very popular at the moment and they ran out of Cosmos and Erodium and Thalictrum.  The residual seeds are given to fundraising groups, including Plant Heritage’s Seed Shop at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.


Thank you Heather and Lucy – two workshops in a day is a tall order, and I am sure that the children in particular will be inspired to pass on their knowledge at school and see what they can collect from their own garden.







Posted in Events | Tagged , , , , ,

Shy bairns get nowt

A snowdrop being offered in the Plant Exchange.
Sure to be oversubscribed.
But you never know, everyone might think that.

So went my thought process this time last year when I was delving into the list of offers.  In the past I’ve had geraniums, asters and daylilies from the Exchange and I regularly offer a dahlia salvaged from Tatton Park by a PH member.  But a snowdrop?

IMG_5999But I was lucky and this is that snowdrop, photographed last week, received by me last May at the national AGM – thank you Dorset member who donated it to the Exchange.  It is Galanthus plicatus ‘Trymposter’, which according to ‘A gardener’s guide to Snowdrops’ by Freda Cox is a

‘vigorous, shorter seedling of G. ‘Trym’, beautifully shaped flowers, erect scape.  Leaves erect, broad, grey-blue.  Outer segments wide, paddle shaped, splayed, inverted green ‘V’ at the apex.  Inner segments shorter, upright, inverted green ‘V’ at apex.  RHS Preliminary Commendation 2011.  Height 16cm.’

The parent G. ‘Trym’ (found in Jane Gibb’s garden, Westbury on Trym, Bristol c 1987 and named by Chris Brickell) is described in ‘Snowdrops’ by Matt Bishop et al. thus;

‘as the flowers open, the segments of the outer whorl reflex to resemble the eaves of a Chinese Pagoda.  For 20 years this flower type gave the plant a unique position in the genus and a cult reputation among galanthophiles.  Only slightly diminished by the appearance of recent hybrids such as ‘Green of Hearts’ ‘Trumps’ and ‘South Hayes’.  ‘Trym’ is known to pass on its main characteristics to at least a proportion of its seedlings, so there is every reason to suspect that it is an ancestor of the above.

And this is G. ‘Trumps’ acquired from Matt Bishop himself a couple of years ago at Myddelton House and I am registered under the Plant Guardian scheme for this cultivar.

IMG_1842 Galanthus plicatus 'Trumps' cfor blog (640x426)

So if it lives up to its reputation, look out for G. ‘Trymposter’ in the Plant Exchange in a couple of years time when it has bulked up.


In the meantime, have a look at the Plant Exchange list, on our website, or usually available at local group meetings, and see what gems you can request.  Bids for plants must be with your local coordinator by the end of February.

Posted in Events | Tagged , , , , , ,

Reading at Reading

Thank you MSc Plant Diversity at Reading, Global Plant Biodiversity and Conservation module, for giving UK & Irish threatened garden cultivars a hearing on Friday.

These snaps are from our late morning session, investigating Fuchsia cultivars threatened in cultivation – starting with Reading Herbarium specimens, of course. Hello @RNGherb !

And what were we reading? Typing, print, handwriting, websites, and of course photographs, drawings and real (if dead) plants. Ah, a variety of sources.

comparing sources

Alastair, Michael and Jordan on the Plant Finder 2014 and herbarium specimens from the 1970s&80s

Excitingly (aren’t we modern), Sara (not pictured) and Jan were (only for the second time) remoting in to the class via Skype. They were very much part of the team, simultaneously checking UK nursery website descriptions from the only remaining supplier, Clay Lane Nursery, and the International Cultivar Registration Authority’s notes from America against the threatened list online.

students via Skype

keeping an eye on each other

RHS colour chart pinks

Toral and Phoebe doing a quick fan dance with RHS colour charts (Sara, on screen) after we’d all been comparing colour descriptions for some time

So what happened?

First uncovered was Fuchsia boliviana var. puberulenta cultivar ‘Alba’. Not in either list: was it an even rarer unknown cultivar? The name made me nervous, as so many “alba”s become demoted to varieties rather than cultivars. But as someone pointed out, it was already a variety, the alba couldn’t be a variety too? We checked the RHS horticultural database online: 5 answers for the search on keywords fuchsia+boliviana+alba. It was a synonym; now the white Bolivian fuchsia is indeed a variety. What was interesting was the last record returned – one of its parents was a cultivar which seemed to be the opposite cross of another specimen revealed in the lab (working through all the species and subspecies names). Thank goodness people don’t commonly swap sexes and have another child!

We looked up a cultivar ‘Versicolor’ – again, some different versions of the name, but not threatened.

We found ‘Mary’, with arrestingly intense red flowers, despite being made more than 25 years ago. It was not one of the numerous Mary Somethings on the threatened list, but it was on the long list as not threatened. Nothing to worry about? However, our remote students reported the ICRA listed it as white/pale pink flowers and bred/registered in 1997. Was ours an original, extinct ‘Mary’ whose name had since been reused? More than one person believed it had really been Mary Something mis-transcribed. Or, someone else suggested, had different ones been independently named in the UK and America? There shouldn’t be by now… I’ve just checked the RHS and their photo looks like the Reading specimen. Not threatened – it’s even got an Award of Garden Merit. It’s also interesting that we’ve got many on the UK “all known” list, even just in the Marys, that haven’t made it into the ICRA database yet. Hmm.

looking at a herbarium specimen

‘Mary’, Phoebe and Toral

‘Deben Petite’ provided another mystery. Currently Threatened in cultivation, its UK breeder was in no doubt, although the spelling and date varied between sources. And the mounted specimen had a disclaimer…

plant identity in doubt

Or is it?

I had brought Wagtails Book of Fuchsias from the Plant Heritage bookshelf (our office is the size of a portakabin, so I hesitate to call it a library) These friendly volumes were hand-drawn and written by the nursery over many years of devotion. One of the students found both ‘Deben Petite’ and three different renditions of F. paniculata to compare.

description of cultivar in book

Fig. 1,019. “Easy to grow, but can outgrow its welcome in a small greenhouse”

I hope everyone enjoyed their glimpse of the project and the idea of cultivar conservation! Don’t forget Threatened Plants are now on Twitter as @SaveTheCvs

university teddybears

The only silent ones today

And just think, back in 1771 there was only one fuchsia species known…

but one species

but one species


Millers, MDCCLXXI, from the Reading herbarium

Posted in Threatened Plants Project | Tagged , | 3 Comments