Plant conservation

Himalayan blue poppies (Meconopsis betonicifolia) growing in the walled garden at Rowallane

Taking the long view is part and parcel of caring for the nation’s largest collection of historically important and beautiful gardens, spanning over five centuries of garden history and design.

The plants within them include original introductions from the wild, botanical rarities and plants named after the gardens themselves. Together they make up one of the most diverse and significant collections of cultivated plants anywhere.

The combination of Britain’s temperate climate, maritime history and the nation’s love of gardening has left a legacy of plant discoveries, plant breeding and collecting that we still enjoy today, reflecting passions, changing fashions and horticultural obsession.

" Plants are among the most vulnerable of our assets, requiring just as much attention, protection and expertise in caring for them as the most fragile objects displayed indoors."
- Mike Calnan, Head of Gardens
At the Plant Conservation Centre in Devon, 300 lime trees are being grafted for a new avenue at Stowe in Buckinghamshire. There are 13 different clones of lime (Tilia x europaea) in the Centre's specialist lime nursery, some dating back to 1650.
Our Plant Conservation Centre showing some of the 300 lime trees, grafted for a new lime avenue at Stowe. There are 13 different clones of lime (Tilia x europaea) in the lime nursery, some dating back to 1650.
At the Plant Conservation Centre in Devon, 300 lime trees are being grafted for a new avenue at Stowe in Buckinghamshire. There are 13 different clones of lime (Tilia x europaea) in the Centre's specialist lime nursery, some dating back to 1650.

Conservation has become increasingly important given the threats from climate change, new pests and diseases and the destruction of native habitats where a number of these plants originated. Discover some of the highlights from this rich horticultural treasure trove.
 

Daffodils at Cotehele, captured in the early morning light

Daffodils at Cotehele, Cornwall 

Daffodils are synonymous with the Tamar Valley. For centuries, people worked their small plots growing daffodils for the cut flower market, which were sent up to London by train. Trading boomed until the Second World War when flowers were replaced by food crops. Fields of daffodil bulbs with old varieties and small delicate beauties were discarded, and some lost to cultivation. Since the 1970s, the local community and gardens team have worked hard to reclaim bulbs abandoned in hedgerows and fields, repopulating them throughout the garden where they thrive once more.

Ghent azaleas flowering at Sheffield Park garden

Ghent azaleas at Sheffield Park Garden, Sussex 

Plants can be lost forever due to the vagaries of fashion, and a good example of this is the Ghent azalea. Imported from Belgium in the 1860s, these beautiful, scented shrubs were a Victorian garden favourite. At the peak of their fashion, 200 cultivated varieties were available but by the 1930s numbers dwindled, as showy, modern hybrids became more popular. From just two surviving shrubs, successive head gardeners have sourced and reintroduced many of these old varieties. The garden is now home to the National Collection of Ghent azaleas, which bloom prolifically in late May.

Close-up of Eucryphia x nymansensis 'Nymansay' flowering in summer

Eucryphia at Nymans, Sussex 

Over thirty plants carry the name of Nymans garden or the Messel family who lived there. An impressive legacy of fathers and sons, Ludwig and Leonard Messel and their talented head gardener James Comber and his son Harold. The garden holds the largest collection of South American plants in England, many brought back from Harold’s plant collecting expeditions in the early 20th century. A hybrid offspring of two such plants is, Eucryphia x nymansensis ‘Nymansay’, raised at the Nymans nursery in 1914/15.

The holm oak at Westbury Court garden, probably the oldest in the UK

Holm oak at Westbury Court garden, Gloucestershire 

The Dutch style water garden at Westbury Court is a rare survivor of a formal garden made fashionable under the reign of William III and Mary II at the end of the 17th century. Older still is another garden resident, an ancient holm oak (Quercus ilex). These evergreen oaks, native to the Eastern Mediterranean, were introduced to Britain in the late 1500s. This is probably the oldest tree of its kind in Britain, a witness to history since at least the time of the English Civil War (1642-1651).

The Chinese golden larch in autumn

Chinese golden larch at Biddulph Grange Garden, Staffordshire 

Sometimes described as the horticultural equivalent of the 1851 Great Exhibition, Biddulph Grange's remarkable 'world in a garden' reflects the heyday of Victorian plant hunting and exploration. The China garden contains many Japanese plants, but the highlight is definitely Chinese - a deciduous conifer brought back from China in the 1850s by plant hunter Robert Fortune. The magnificent Chinese golden larch (Pseudolarix amabilis) turns brilliant yellow in autumn and is the oldest surviving example in Britain.