Collection Holder Linda Eggins had no idea where a fascination with Aucuba would lead.
From being awarded the collection in 1993 it soon became apparent that getting an accurate name for plants in this genus was not that straightforward. "A plant without a name, or with an unreliable name or a synonym is of little use. A National Collection full of plants with unreliable names and synonyms is a nightmare!"
After some initial research trips to horticulture libraries and herbaria, the natural next step was to contact the registrar (in America) to help sort out the names. Many plant groups have a registrar, who is the authority on the names and descriptions of cultivars within that genus. The reply came back “the aucubas seem to be in a muddle, when you have sorted them out it would be helpful if you could let me know”!
With the ball firmly back in her court, Linda set out to research the earliest names and descriptions for the plants in her collection. The search took in the herbaria of Kew and the National History Museum, to find original described specimens to the archives of the RHS, botanic gardens and universities both in the UK and abroad, to scour old nursery catalogues for cultivar descriptions. Thanks to an RHS bursary she was able to go to Japan to study how the plants are used in their native country.
The work has led to an RHS flower show display, which was awarded a gold medal, an article in the Plantsman and finally to the award of Scientific Status to her National Collection in recognition of the work done in sorting out the taxonomy of plants in this genus. The collection has now moved to Winterbourne House and Gardens and can be seen year round on the campus of Birmingham University nearby.
Linda's recommendations for researching your collection.
There are bursaries available for those researching plants which are easy to apply for.
Make use of the wealth of archives and herbaria. They are available to visit by appointment and many are now being digitised to view online.
Establish early on a consistent way of recording and managing all the data you will amass. A database can help with this.
See the Researching your Collection page for more information.
Abbey Brook cactus nursery
It started with 6 plants bought when Brian Fearn was 9 years old. From this early fascination has developed a successful nursery business, specialising in cacti and succulents as well as becoming the holder of 7 National Plant Collections.
His early interest was fostered by membership of the local branch of the cactus society, whose members were only too keen to give away spares and offsets to this enthusiastic young member. The Abbey Brook cactus nursery was founded whilst Brian was still an undergraduate and used plant fairs and flower shows as a way to reach a specialist audience. Brian and his wife Gill are still a fixture on the shows circuit, regularly winning gold medals for the quality and range of plants on display.
Having built a thriving global mail order business, things were to change when CITES legislation restricted the import and export of cacti and succulents. This is to protect wild species from exploitation but puts additional emphasis on the value of collections already in the UK as a source of plant material.
With over 60 years of cactus growing experience, Brian still welcomes visitors to the nursery, does talks and researches his collections.
Read more stories of collection holders and their plants from these past issues of our member's Journal