Plant hall of fame

It isn’t widely known that our gardens contain one of the most important collections of cultivated plants in single ownership anywhere in the world.

Our plant collection includes some specimens that were brought back centuries ago from all corners of the globe.

There are rarities that no longer thrive in the wild, significant varieties from plant breeding projects and historically interesting collections reflecting the passion and skill of past garden owners and their talented head gardeners. All add immense value to each garden.

Our Plant Conservation Centre (PCC) in Devon is where propagating, grafting and conserving the rarest, trickiest, most threatened plants across our 200 gardens and parks takes place in state-of-the-art facilities.

Last year, 2,450 plants were distributed to 64 gardens across the country, not including those propagated for external partners, such as Kew Gardens.

Plant profile: Rhododendron ‘Creek’s Cross’

You won’t find the beautiful, pink-flowering Rhododendron ‘Creek’s Cross’ listed in any nursery catalogue. This hybrid has never been officially named but it has a special place in the history of Trengwainton garden in Cornwall.

The exceptional collections of rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias, which light up the spring garden, have their origins in the plant-hunting expeditions of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

In the late 1920s, Colonel Edward Bolitho was offered a share of the finds from plant collector Frank Kingdom-Ward’s expedition to Burma and Assam. The seeds brought back to Trengwainton were given to Head Gardener, Alfred Creek, to propagate.

He skillfully raised the plants from seed and of the many hybrids created in the garden, the Colonel decided to name one choice rhododendron after the talented Mr Creek. 

‘Creek’s Cross’ has been flourishing at Trengwainton for nearly eighty years but recently a new plant disease, the fungus-like pathogen Phytophthora ramorum, posed a serious threat. It thrives in the warm, wet Cornish climate and woody shrubs, such as rhododendrons, are particularly susceptible to infection. 

Currently the only way to control the disease is to remove and destroy infected plants to prevent the pathogen from spreading. A potential catastrophe for historically important plant collections, unique to a garden.

Fortunately, science has come to the rescue with the help of Duchy College’s micropropagation laboratory run by Ros Smith. Tiny sections of the Trengwainton rhododendron were taken and cloned in sterile glass tubes, using disinfectants to effectively eradicate any disease.  The new plants were then grown on at the PCC until large enough to be reintroduced to the garden. 

As a safeguard, other selected gardens have now been given rhododendrons from the Trengwainton collection. It means the future of vulnerable plants, such as  R. ‘Creek’s Cross’, is once more secure and you can continue to enjoy their beauty on a spring garden walk for years to come.