Britain is a nation of gardeners, our long history of collecting, breeding and growing plants gives us a hugely diverse garden flora.
There are numerous charities supporting the conservation of nature or artefacts, but Plant Heritage is unique in its aims to conserve and cherish garden plants.
Why conserve garden plants?
Plants have always been selected and bred, whether for their beauty, flavour, scent or other reasons. This breeding involves an enormity of human effort and inventiveness that is wasted if the plants cease to be grown.
Climate change, the advance of new pests and diseases, loss of gardens, a diminishing nursery trade and lack of knowledge in the general population all conspire to reduce the diversity of our garden flora. If garden plants go, a tantalising slice of social, cultural and horticultural history dies with them.
Why does this matter?
Garden plants are valuable for many reasons
National Plant Collections are living reference libraries where all the plants in a genus or group can be seen together, compared and researched. When funding for botanic gardens and parks is under threat, the need to earmark, support and conserve these collections becomes more urgent. A collection holder can become the authority/expert on a plant group, able to provide advice, conduct research and be a resource for others.
From cottage gardens and allotments to the grand estates, they were all founded on plants such as old pinks, florists' violas, extravagant tulips, Malmaison carnations and dainty auriculas. These often need specialist cultivation and may represent a body of knowledge built up over a lifetime. Sadly, these specialist skills are easily lost along with the plants so by keeping the plants in National Plant Collections, we are also keeping the knowledge about them.
We’re not all about the past though - there are constantly new developments in plant breeding and the best of these will enrich our gardens and National Collections for years to come.
The plants collected from around the world by plant hunters or bred by the head gardeners on country estates are as much a part of our history as our stately homes and art. They feature in stories, legends, works of art and songs, providing a living link to our ancestors and culture. National Plant Collections recognise the value of this history and help preserve it.
The world of garden plants is constantly changing and Plant Heritage has a role in supporting this in order to ensure resilience to environmental and societal change.
We were founded under the principle that we should “…conserve the unique gene pool of accumulated variation from centuries of selection and breeding, a resource of great economic potential and heritage value.” (Brickell, 1977).
This need not only remains but has been strengthened through the international Aichi Biodiversity Target 13, which recognises the importance of domesticated plants...for their socio-economic and cultural value.