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Plant Conservation Centre

A member of staff kneeling down, checking on cuttings of the Ankerwycke yew in the plant nursery at the Plant Conservation Centre
Checking on cuttings of the Ankerwycke yew in the plant nursery at the Plant Conservation Centre | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

We look after hundreds of parks and gardens that are home to a vast range of rare and historically important plants. We conserve these plants at our Plant Conservation Centre, so that future generations can learn from them for years to come.

What is the Plant Conservation Centre?

The Plant Conservation Centre (PCC) is both a storehouse and production site for many of our most valuable plants, which are just as integral to the history of a place as the objects in its collection. It's one of few National Trust places which isn't open to the public, and its location is kept secret.

Plants have a natural lifespan and don’t live for ever, and therefore valuable plants require regular propagation and replanting to conserve their unique qualities. Many of the plants can't be cared for in a traditional nursery because of their distinctive genetic make-up or horticultural heritage.

We follow rigorous biosecurity procedures in order to protect the plants at the PCC. Any new plants are carefully monitored in a separate quarantined facility, and staff have to pass through a foot-scrubbing and disinfection point before entering the growing areas.

Propagating plants under threat

Our team of expert propagators support all of the gardens and parks in our care across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, wherever a significant plant is identified as being under threat.

In most cases, the aim is to produce offspring identical to the parent plant. Collecting and growing from a seed could introduce uncertainty and variety, and a loss of the original appearance or genetic inheritance. Therefore, asexual methods are needed to produce cloned copies of the parent.

Propagation techniques

At the PCC, we often use a technique called grafting. We take cuttings from the plant to be propagated and attached, or grafted, to the roots of a compatible plant (the rootstock). This is how named apple varieties like Bramley are grown. Many significant historical landscapes such as the Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire rely on grafted trees to replant avenues of limes and other species.

Successfully propagating some plants often takes persistence and experimentation, especially where old or ailing plants are concerned. A bespoke pipe warmer was even invented to speed up the process of grafting new plants.

Another technique that we’re experimenting with is micropropagation, where extremely small pieces of flower buds are grown under laboratory conditions to produce new plants.

A woman using a hydropod planting tray to grow propagated plants
Growing plant cuttings in a hydropod at the Plant Conservation Centre | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

Saving Newton’s apple tree

We've propagated one of the most historically significant plants in our care – the apple tree that is said to have inspired Sir Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity.

This apple tree still grows at his former home, Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire. It’s been propagated at the PCC as part of the Orchard Project, which aims to protect endangered apple tree varieties. The apple pips (seeds) from the tree have even been flown into space, when they were taken on a mission to the International Space Station by astronaut Tim Peake.

Peat-free plants

All of the plants we care for at the PCC are peat free. We use coir plugs for rooting cuttings, bio-degradable wood fibre pots for growing and Air Pots for the final stages. With expert care, even ericaceous plants that like growing in acidic soil can be grown peat free. We use Petersfield’s T2 soil blend, containing a mix of fine grade bark, wood waste and loam.

Visitors at the sunflower display at Rhosili and South Gower Coast, Wales

Donate to make a difference

Your support is essential to help us look after nature, beauty and history. Make a donation today, and together we can protect precious places for everyone, forever.

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