Heritage gardens benefit from major new plant conservation centre

Rare plants from National Trust gardens across the country will be propagated at a new Plant Conservation Centre that will improve the way one of the most important plant collections in the UK is cared for.

Opened today by international plantsman Roy Lancaster, the new 2.5 acre facility at a secret East Devon location will bring together plant propagation facilities, plant collection management expertise and facilities for training National Trust staff on all aspects of caring for the important plants in the gardens they look after.

The opening of the new facilities comes at a time when the spread of new plant diseases in the UK, in particular Phytophthora ramorum which causes Sudden Oak Death, have required an acceleration of emergency propagation to ensure the survival of threatened specimens and the supply of disease-free replacements.

The £700,000 Centre’s immediate focus will be to build on existing plant conservation work at Knightshayes Court [1], also in Devon, to help staff and volunteers record and identify the special plants that require priority propagation at National Trust gardens throughout the country.

Mike Calnan, Head of Gardens at the National Trust, said: “The National Trust’s portfolio of plants is of immense importance and is one of the most significant collections in the UK.

“The aesthetic, historic and botanical value of the plants is what makes the gardens we look after so special and give pleasure to more than 12 million visitors each year.

“This is the most important plant conservation initiative from the National Trust for more than 60 years and will have a legacy for decades to come.”

The charity cares for over 20 major collections of trees and shrubs including thirty National Plant Collections and hundreds of plants that were first raised or collected in the wild around the globe and planted in National Trust gardens over past centuries.

Roy Lancaster said: “The new Plant Conservation Centre is a hugely important development for the National Trust, creating for the first time a single facility dedicated to the vital work of conserving the important plants in its properties.”

In addition to the Centre’s work for the National Trust, a new bespoke propagation service for major private plant collection owners will be offered for the first time.

Nursery Manager Chris Trimmer said: “This is an exciting new commercial development for the Plant Conservation Centre. By offering access to our expertise and first class facilities we can contribute to important plant conservation work beyond the National Trust.”

Propagation services are also available to Trust countryside properties wishing to save or bulk-up rare native species.

The National Trust gardeners who will be working at the Centre recently propagated and helped save over 300 old Cornish apple varieties now successfully established in the ‘Mother orchard’ at Cotehele in Cornwall. [2]

Charlie Port, who worked for the National Trust at Knightshayes Court and is now one of the volunteers that will be working at the new Centre, said: “Working in the propagation unit is extremely rewarding.

“I’ve been involved with propagating plants for the Trust for 25 years now and during that time we’ve had thousands of successes.

“I get huge satisfaction from the idea that some of the plants I have handled will be around for hundreds of years to come.”

-ends-

 For more information please contact the National Trust press office on 0844 800 4955.

Notes to editors
It has taken 18 months to set up the new facilities which include a quarantine unit, propagation facilities, growing-on glass houses and tunnels, offices and student accommodation.  Two full-time members of staff and five volunteers are directly involved on site and further plant survey and plant collection interpretation volunteers are involved at numerous properties throughout the National Trust.  An important aspect of the new site is its enhanced biosecurity and greater capacity for propagating plants.

The Plant Conservation Centre (PCC) is also home to the Trust’s plant collections specialist who advises on all aspects of plant surveys and data management. The Trust’s plant database now contains details of 300,000 plants from 80 of the Trust’s 200 gardens recorded so far.   Through the PCC, the Trust will continue to work with other organisations, such as the Royal Horticultural Society and RBG Kew, on joint national conservation initiatives.

[1] The National Trust first set up a propagation unit in 1982 at Knightshayes Court, near Tiverton, where nearly 25,000 rare and significant plants were propagated and distributed to Trust gardens over 30 years.  The new facilities will be able to process up to 12,000 plants at any one time. The vacated land at Knightshayes will now be used by the garden team to expand the kitchen gardens.

[2] Much of the Tamar Valley fruit industry prospered on land owned by the Edgcumbe family at Cothele so it is particularly apt that some of this land has now been dedicated to establishing an orchard of old Cornish apples. The Mother Orchard, as this eight-acre meadow at Cotehele is known, has been planted with 300 trees representing 120 apple varieties, all propagated from Mary and James Edgcumbe’s collection by staff who will be working at the Trust’s Plant Conservation Centre. Local cherries have already been planted, and pears and plums will follow in a second phase. 95 per cent of orchards have disappeared nationwide since 1950 and along with them rich ecosystems, precious genetic material and tangible links to our past. Thankfully projects like the Mother Orchard, and similar efforts throughout Britain, are stemming this loss of cultural and horticultural heritage.

The National Trust looks after more than 250,000 hectares of countryside, 710 miles of coastline and hundreds of historic places across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. For more information and ideas for great value family days out go to: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/

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