Essex explores the National collections of rare plants

PUBLISHED: 17:39 11 January 2011 | UPDATED: 20:40 20 February 2013

Essex explores the National collections of rare plants

Essex explores the National collections of rare plants

Preserving the legacy of hundreds of plants, Plant Heritage is the world's leading cultivated plant conservation charity. Philippa Pearson joined the local Essex <br/><br/>group to find out more

Planting for posterity

Each year seems to bring an exhaustive parade of new plants, mostly launched in baffling numbers at horticultural shows. The newest shape, boldest colour, most intensively bred and must-have plant dazzle before our eyes in a bewitching spell of temptation. I love the excitement of seeing all the latest offerings in the plant world, but here is a heartfelt plea to not forget about all those excellent oldies; good garden plants that have been around for decades and longer, which perform well in gardens and still have the capacity to outshine their newer companions.
Previously known as the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens (NCCPG), Plant Heritage is run to help preserve and conserve our cultivated plants. The National Plant Collection scheme is a living plant library with more than 650 different plant collections in Britain, each one dedicated to a specific genus and each one very different.

If youve ever read the RHS Plant Finder youll know that each genus, or family, varies in numbers. Some, like Dahlias, have thousands of plants in the group and others, such as Lily of the Valley, have just a handful of plants. Collection owners with the help of Plant Heritage seek out plants in the family they look after to add to, conserve and preserve them for the future. If this didnt happen, some of our garden plants would sadly fade into extinction.

Among the many benefits of becoming a member of Plant Heritage is the opportunity to visit privately-managed collections, not usually open to the public, enjoy workshops and volunteer with the work of maintaining collections. You also get the chance to acquire rare and unusual plants at plant sales and free swaps around the country, a pleasurable way to contribute to the conservation work of keeping plants
thriving in gardens.

Essex is home to one of the oldest county Plant Heritage groups in the country. The group has a range of activities including spring and autumn plant fairs at RHS Hyde Hall, where specialist nurseries offer a wonderful array of plants. Annual lectures at the group have also included visits from garden stalwarts, such as Peter Seabrook and Carol Klein, in the past and visits to the 11 National Collections located in the county are another highlight, as well as trips further afield too.
Last year, explains Julia Thornton, membership secretary of the Essex Plant Heritage group, we visited one private plant collection in Suffolk. The garden went on forever and was crammed with plants. I always thought that I knew a lot about plants, but after being a member of the Essex Plant Heritage group I have realised how vast the subject is. I would never have realised what wonderful collections we have on our doorstep.

Good detection skills and having lots of space are some of the key qualities to being a holder of a National Collection. Many cultivars are not readily available or commercially produced anymore and plants have to be sought from research and investigative work. In the past, small independent growers would compile catalogues containing hundreds of garden plants, sadly now lost forever. Some growers didnt even record their work so plants they hybridised and introduced are even harder to track down. There are more than 650 National Plant Collections in Britain and individuals or organisations undertake to document, develop and preserve a comprehensive collection of one group of plants in trust for the future. Almost half of the collections are in private ownership and include allotments, back gardens and large estates. Collections are also maintained by local authorities, universities, agricultural colleges, schools, arboretums, botanic gardens and nurseries and some by English Heritage and The National Trust. Everyone is working together to protect our nations treasured plants for posterity.

How to join Plant Heritage

12 Home Farm
Loseley Park
Guildford, Surrey
01483 447540

To find out more about the activities of the Essex Plant Heritage Group, contact Julia Thornton at

RHS Silver-Gilt medal winner Philippa Pearson is a garden designer and professional horticulturalist, awarded Peoples Choice Award for Best Show Garden at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2010. Visit or contact her on 01767 651253

Visit a National Plant Collection in Essex

Visits are generally by appointment only, so please contact collection holders in advance of your visit

Rhodes & J Rockliffe
2 Nursery Road
Nazeing EN9 2JE
01992 451598

Bergenia (Eric Smith cvs)
Mr C Hallsworth
27 The Promenade
Maylandsea CM3 6AR
01621 740994

Corydalis spp.
Mr B Wickenden
164 Point Clear Road
St Osyth
Clacton on Sea CO16 8JB
01255 821744

Dionea and Sarracenia
Mr M Haslett
12 Strangman Avenue
01702 558775

Mr D G Barker
Stone Pine
Hyde Lane
Chelmsford CM3 4LJ
01245 223232

Mrs M MacLennan
Byndes Cottage
Halstead CO9 2LZ
01787 269500

Malus (ornamental)
Mr & Mrs B Holmes
The Christabella Charitable Trust
Barnards Farm
Brentwood Road
West Horndon
CM13 3LX
01277 811262

Rosa bourboniana
Mrs J Lewis
Elms Farm
Blackmore End
Braintree CM7 4DB
01371 851218

Latest from the Essex Life