Rare plant of the month: April 2017

Hepatica transsilvanica ‘Blumenstadt Erfurt’

Welcome to the second in our series of blogs about rare plants growing with Plant Guardians in gardens around the UK.

Plants in the genus Hepatica are found across the northern hemisphere from Central Europe to Asia, Japan, North America and Canada. They belong in the Ranunculaceae family. Flowering early, from February onwards (in the mountains as snows recede) continuing well into March and April, with beautiful cheerful flowers in colours from white through blues to pinks and dark purple. Growing in British gardens since the 18th C, in the wild they prefer sunny slopes in deciduous woodland, where they have protection from summer sun.

There are now around 12  Hepatica species  commonly accepted, the most widespread, H. nobilis growing across the full range. One European species however is indigenous only to the Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania, Romania – Hepatica transsilvanica.  A woodland flower, it is slightly taller than most other Hepatica species.

Plants often represent links between people and places, but sometimes the story represents a far bigger narrative. This plant, discovered by accident, is a telling example of how ephemeral life can be.

When Andreas Händel  was visiting his home town of Erfurt in Germany, he came across a group of beautiful little Transylvanian hepaticas growing, most unusually, in December! Andreas discovered a poignant and heartwarming story behind this early-flowering cultivar, now called Hepatica transsilvanica ‘Blumenstadt Erfurt’. The plant now lives on in Glenn Shapiro’s National Plant Collection of Hepatica and Razvan Chisu, who is himself from Transylvania, has registered it in the Plant Guardian scheme.

Hepatica transsilvanica 'Blumenstadt'

Hepatica transsilvanica ‘Blumenstadt Erfurt’

Published in GartenPraxis, 4, April 2012, p.55, Andreas described the astonishing history of the plant…

Once when visiting my home town of Erfurt, I spotted a group of flowering sky-blue Transylvanian hepaticas shining out in the distance in a small shady front garden – it was Christmas!

I rang the doorbell. A surly-looking woman appeared at a little window but didn’t even wait to hear me out. She slammed the window shut, saying “I’m giving none of it away!”

Two weeks later I stood at the door again, but this time with a box full of hepaticas, corydalis and aconites. It was all as before: a ring at the door, the little window opening, and an even surlier face, but before she could slam the window I held up the box. She was taken aback just enough this time for me to finish my question and to offer the box as compensation. The decisive factor in the window not being slammed again was probably the one word: Transylvania! She was suddenly very interested in how I knew where this plant came from.

She let me into the house and over a cup of tea told me the remarkable history of the plant. Her great-grandmother, who was born in Transylvania, had found it as a young woman during a new-year walk in the woods near Sibiu, at that time still called Hermannstadt, where the family lived. The whole wood, which was full of hepaticas later in the year, was still bare; this plant alone was in full bloom. It was taken and planted in the garden, and it soon became a family treasure. It was divided and planted out in several parts of the garden, and neighbours and passers-by all stopped in amazement to see it. Her grandmother then planted a 20-meter-long border on both sides of the path from garden gate to front door, and for many years it was a sensation known far and wide when in bloom.

Then came the end of the war and the expulsion of the Germans – the family could only load the absolute essentials on a handcart. She herself, ten years old at the time, was only allowed to take one toy, there wasn’t room for any more. But as they were leaving she ran back and grubbed up a piece of ‘grandma’s flower’, wrapped it up in an old cloth and hid it under the cart in a box. The plant survived over three weeks in flight, and three more moves in the following decades, but it was always well protected in memory of the family and the old birthplace. Now I could understand why the woman didn’t readily part with it! On my way off I was allowed, under her watchful eye, to cut out a small piece, which I have since propagated and named after my home town. A while ago I stood at the garden fence again, but both the surly woman and the hepatica were gone.

Glenn Raz Hepatica transsilvanica 'Blumenstadt' 4

Razvan Chisu & Glenn Shapiro with H. transsilvanica ‘Blumenstadt Erfurt’

Glenn Shapiro, writes: “Hepatica transsilvanica ‘Blumenstadt Erfurt’ now thrives in the National Plant Collection.

The surly-looking woman may have gone from Erfurt, but her great-grandmother’s Hepatica, which she valued above her toys while fleeing Transylvania as a small child, lives on.

A friend, John Wilkinson (NW Group) often works in Germany and reads Garten Praxis so he cut out the article and very kindly translated it for me.

Hepatica - first mention in Garten Praxis

GartenPraxis cutting from 2012

When Andreas Händel came to England he and brought some of his treasured hepaticas for my National Plant Collection. The one I have the strongest affection for is ‘Blumenstadt Erfurt’, because of this story, poignant to so many families in our very turbulent world. It came to me in 2013 as a small piece and only got large enough to split into three last autumn so Raz has one of the first divisions.

We all have plants evoking memories of family and friends; there must be a story about the origin of every garden cultivar, most lost in the mists of time. It is the job of our National Plant Collections to keep them all alive and well. With climate change it may soon be a different set of cultivars that best suit our gardens, and with the help of Plant Heritage and its members, older ones have a chance of still being around for us to return to.”

Glenn Shapiro is National Collection Holder of Hepatica and joint Collections Coordinator for Cumbria; Razvan Chisu, Plant Guardian & Collections Coordinator for Cheshire; John Wilkinson, Collections Coordinator for Lancashire, Vice-Chair NW Group.

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Rare plant of the month: March 2017

Welcome to the first of our new series of posts that will introduce you to some of the wonderful and intriguing rare plants that have been registered into the Plant Guardian scheme by Plant Heritage members. While the main aim of the scheme is to record the rare plants we have in our gardens, hopefully for them to become more widely grown and therefore better protected for the future, we have to admit that this will never be possible for every plant. However we can learn more about these plants and their origins.

The Plant Guardian scheme is by definition the perfect forum to appreciate how our garden plants are linked irrevocably to British gardens and gardeners. When Joseph Banks sailed home from Botany Bay in 1770, bringing with him extraordinary plants from the new world, who then could have imagined that some would still be growing in gardens in Britain nearly 250 years later.

Many are rarely grown here and one of these is Lambertia formosa.

Image: Lambertia formosa, mountain devil. © Ben Ram

Image: Lambertia formosa, mountain devil. © Ben Ram

Registered by Plant Guardian Robbie Blackhall-Miles, Lambertia formosa – the ‘Mountain Devil’ is an evergreen shrub in the Proteaceae family and a native of New South Wales, Australia. I t is the only species (of 11 in the genus) endemic to south eastern Australia. A small or medium shrub, with stiff sharply tipped, linear-shaped leaves, the red tubular-shaped flowers appear at the ends of the branches in clusters, flowering during the winter. The flowers contain nectar and are popular with honey eating birds and it is sometimes known as the ‘honey flower’. However it is the strange seed pods that develop devil-like horns which give it the name ‘Mountain Devil’.

Robbie tells us ‘Lambertia formosa has a very interesting history in UK cultivation. The Mountain Devil, was originally collected by Sir Joseph Banks (founder of the Royal Horticultural Society) in Botany Bay in 1770, and was one of the earliest introductions of Australian plants to cultivation in the UK, introduced by Lee and Kennedy’s nursery in Hammersmith. It first flowered not far from Hampton court in Stockwell in 1798’.

When it was first recorded it was originally thought to be a different plant altogether – Brabejum (a South African plant also in the Proteaceae family described far earlier in 1737), It would seem that when the plant flowered at Lee and Kennedy’s nursery (in 1798), botanist James Edward Smith recognised the new genus, naming it in recognition for his friend and fellow of the Linnaean Society the botanist Aylmer Lambert.

Listed in the International Plant Names Index (IPNI)


Proteaceae Lambertia formosa Sm. Trans. Linn. Soc. London 4: 223. 1798 [24 May 1798]


Sm. is an abbreviation which denotes the author of a botanical name, it is followed here by the official abbreviation for: Transactions of the Linnean Society of London, Botany 4 1798

The original herbarium specimen that Joseph Banks brought back from Botany Bay  is held in the Banks Collection at Natural History Museum.

Robbie with the original Joseph Banks specimen (BM000947188) in the Herbarium at the Natural History Museum © Robbie Blackhall-Miles Courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

Robbie with the original Joseph Banks specimen (BM000947188) in the Herbarium at the Natural History Museum © Robbie Blackhall-Miles Courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

The original 1770 Joseph Banks specimen in the Herbarium of the Natural History Museum ©JSTOR www.jstor.org

The original 1770 Joseph Banks specimen in the Herbarium of the Natural History Museum ©JSTOR http://www.jstor.org













Although Lambertia is not under threat in SE Australia, it is rarely grown in the UK, and having an example of a plant first sold commercially in 1798, registered with Plant Guardians, and being able to link it with the original 1770 Joseph Banks specimen brought from Botany Bay (and safely stored in the Natural History Museum), gives us a wonderful example of how deep the heritage of our garden plants can go.

Lambertia formosa will be shown in a display at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show under the ‘Plant Guardians’ scheme, as part of an exhibit highlighting the unique diversity of antipodean plants from the many National Plant Collections held by members of the Australasian Plant Society. Robbie is holder of the National Collection of Banksia (South East Australian spp.)

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London in bloom in February

A superb gold medal winning display was created by our Plant Heritage London Group, at the RHS Early Spring Plant Fair. The display illustrated a range of plants that are in flower or fruit now.  At first glance the display catches your eye with the wide variety of plants, but then you start looking at the details.  It’s a feast for the eye, and the nose, particularly at this time of year.  Visitors lingered along the display stopping at particular plants to simply enjoy them, and to wonder where they have come from and some took notes perhaps finding a particular Camellia they had not seen before.

Such a display is only possible with tremendous team work from the London Group: Gerald Goddard, Antonia Cannon, Angela Hepple, Fiona Crumley, Pat Huff, Peter and June Lloyd, Toby Vane and James Callicott with help from garden staff of Chiswick House.  Plus the volunteers who manned the stand during the Show.


The generosity of the plant donors is an important part of this display, so thanks go to London members, and for the contributions from the gardens of  Buckingham Palace, Capel Manor, Chiswick House, Isabella Plantation, Marlborough House, Myddelton House and Regent’s Park, plus the invaluable skills and time given by the gardeners from all of these gardens in sorting and preparing the plant material.

Amongst others the plant that caught my eye was  Freylinia  lanceolata (Honey Bush),which is a tenderish evergreen from South Africa with panicles of fragrant flowers, and the Ilex aquifolium ‘Ferox Argentea’ known as Silver Hedgehog Holly.

The challenge and the beauty of this display is that the team never know what plants they will have until the day before the Show, so a gold medal is lovely reward for this display.

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Love your rose Collections on Valentine’s Day

We have 11 National Plant Collections of Rosa, spanning the UK from Edinburgh to Hampshire.  From old English roses to Scottish and Japanese roses, rambling, shrub and ancient Gallica roses – there’s a Collection to woo all lovers of the nation’s favourite flower.  Wherever you live, why not plan some visits to see them this summer?

Rosa 'Etoile de Holland'

Rosa ‘Etoile de Holland’

AYRSHIRE: Rosa rugosa

BERWICKSHIRE, SCOTLAND: Rosa (pre 1900 Gallica cvs.)

CIRENCESTER: Rosa (rambling)

OPEN DAY: 25 June 2-6pm

EDINBURGH: National Trust for Scotland, Malleny Garden, Rosa (19th century shrubs)


ESSEX/EAST LONDON: St Francis Hospice, Rosa – intro by Pemberton & Bentall 1912-1939


HAMPSHIRE: National Trust, Mottisfont Abbey, Rosa (pre 1900 shrub roses)


LANCASHIRE: Rosa – hybrid musk intro by Pemberton & Bentall 1912-1939


OPEN WEEKEND 24-25 June 1-5pm

NORWICH: Rosa – Peter Beales Old Rose Collection


OPEN WEEKEND: 17-18 June (17 June 10am-6pm, 18 June 10am-5pm)

SHREWSBURY: Peter Boyd, Rosa spinosissima (syn. R. pimpinellifolia) Scots Roses & hybrids.


ST ALBANS: The Royal National Rose Society, Rosa spp. & cvs.


WOLVERHAMPTON: Rosa (English roses bred by David Austin)


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Plant Heritage at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show – In pictures

National Collection Holder Kristopher Harper and Rachel de Thame after filming for the BBC

National Collection Holder Kristopher Harper and Rachel de Thame after filming for the BBC

Sarah Cook & Anne Milner, Iris introduced by Sir Cedric Morris and Arthur J Bliss.

Sarah Cook & Anne Milner, Iris introduced by Sir Cedric Morris and Arthur J Bliss.

Barry Clarke and his National Plant Collection of Rubus

Barry Clarke and his National Plant Collection of Rubus

The Plant Heritage zone inside the Floral Marquee

The Plant Heritage zone inside the Floral Marquee

Chris Brickell with the Chris Brickell award winners - Margaret McKendrick and Judy Barker

Chris Brickell with the Chris Brickell award winners – Margaret McKendrick and Judy Barker

BBC presenter Joe Swift with Philip Oostenbrink filming his National Plant Collection of Hakonechloa macra & cultivars

BBC presenter Joe Swift with Philip Oostenbrink filming his National Plant Collection of Hakonechloa macra & cultivars

BBC's Matt Biggs opening the Plant Heritage Zone on Press Day

Garden journalist Matt Biggs opening the Plant Heritage Zone on Press Day

Gary and Maria Firth and their National Plant Collection of Myrtaceae (Tribe Myrteae)

Gary and Maria Firth and their National Plant Collection of Myrtaceae (Tribe Myrteae)

Harper & Debbage - Fuchsia cultivars introduced by James Lye

Harper & Debbage – Fuchsia cultivars introduced by James Lye

Our Missing Genera stand

Our Missing Genera stand

Jonathan Hogarth and his National Collection of Small and Miniature Hosta

Jonathan Hogarth and his National Collection of Small and Miniature Hosta

Visitors to Plant Heritage's Seed Shop

Visitors to Plant Heritage’s Seed Shop


Linda Heywood’s (Echium World) new National Plant Collection of Echium spp., & cvs., from the Macaronesian Islands

Linda Heywood’s (Echium World) new National Plant Collection of Echium spp., & cvs., from the Macaronesian Islands

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I couldn’t walk the Hartland Peninsula without paying a visit to Westcountry Nurseries to see the National Plant Collection of Lupinus.  When I arranged this visit with Sarah Conibear in February it seemed to be perfect timing to see the Collection coming into bloom ready for the upcoming shows.

GS visit 20160428 sign (640x480)

But as we all know – and I certainly do after a week walking on the North Coast of Devon with a wind coming straight down from the Arctic – it’s been a cold Spring and there was not a flower in sight – not even the promise of one at the base of the leaves.  Sarah reckons that the plants are about a month behind schedule.

National Collection of lupins

National Collection of lupins

Sarah was a professional clarinettist but retrained as a horticulturist and was awarded National Plant Collection status in 2005.  The Collection is propagated by cuttings and housed in a large tunnel.  The first thing they did when they bought their current site was to sink a borehole, lupins are thirsty plants and you can see that there is a very efficient watering system to make sure the plants don’t dry out. 

Sale plants ready for Malvern

Sale plants ready for Malvern

Most of her sales are by mail order but she is displaying at the Malvern Spring Show this week, Sarah is taking lots of lupin stock with her but will have to build her display with other spring flowering plants in order to inject some colour into the stand.  To get you in the mood, here are some pictures taken in past years of Sarah’s Chelsea displays.

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There’ll be lots of other National Plant Collection holders at  the Malvern show and the weather looks perfect this weekend for a visit.  Follow this link for a list of nurseries at the show.


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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.

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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.

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

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

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

The team

The team


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