The Plants in our Gardens are at Risk


Plant Collections, Biodiversity and the European Union

National Plant Collection is the term used for a collection of plants of a particular species or genus; for example, Hemerocallis (day lily); which is ‘held’ that is looked after and documented. The aim is to ensure the survival of ‘ordinary’ garden plants as well as those considered to be at risk; and maintain biodiversity. National Plant Collections are to be found in many gardens across Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands, as well as elsewhere in Europe, Australia and North America.

meconopsis-ophiopogon -Holehird garden

The gardens in which you’ll find the plant collections may be large ones, like the Royal Horticultural Society’s gardens at Wisley, Rosemoor and Hyde Hall, holding thirteen plant collections between them. They may be Botanical Gardens, for example, the Botanical Garden in Caen, France holds the national plant collection of Sansevieria (mother-in-laws-tongue). The plant collections may be held in small specialist nurseries, private gardens where the plant collection is cared for by an enthusiastic amateur in small or large gardens, private or open to the public; for example, the national plant collection of Hemerocallis is held at Antony House. In fact they may be held in any garden.Heliotrope -cherry pie

National Plant Collections in the UK are monitored and co-ordinated by Plant Heritage, formerly the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens (NCCPG), which celebrates its 35th anniversary in 2013. There are currently more than 650 registered National Plant Collections in the British Isles, covering both ornamental and edible plants, such as rhubarb.

But there are plans afoot which could jeopardise national plant collections across Europe, reducing the amount of different plant cultivars available for us to buy. It is being proposed that any plant (seeds will be included) marked as a cultivar or variety has an ‘officially recognised description’.


This may not seem a dreadful proposal at first glance; the aim is to simplify a dozen different EU directives into one. However, there it is estimated that there are over 75,000 ornamental plant varieties currently on sale in the UK alone, ie not including the rest of Europe. Of these, only some two thousand cultivars are thought to have an official description that would conform to the new requirements.

The cost implications initially to develop and to then monitor these officially recognised descriptions are out of all proportion to the revenue received from sales. Many of the national collection holders sell a few plants propagated from the collection to their visitors; many of the specialist nurseries are by definition small with low profit margins.

It is not just that these may go out of business through being unable to sell a diverse and unusual as well as the more commonplace plants; such a proposal as is currently drafted could result in, for example, only two thousand of the seventy five thousand plant varieties being available for any garden centre or charity plant sale to sell.

apple orchard in blossom Brogdale

The devil, as they say, is in the detail; there are queries as to whether certain a plant species would be included as they fall under more than one of the categories, for example, Lavender is medicinal, ornamental and edible. I would suggest you read the letter drafted by Plant Heritage for sending to the various MEPs and officials. You may even feel like writing to the people they list. Comments need to be received by the end of November.

Both as individuals (Marie, Nathan and the Team) and as gardening businesses, Plews Garden Design and Plews Garden Landscaping feel very strongly that any directives which are likely to limit the diversity of species are wrong. Properly thought through and with full consultation the simplification has the potential to be useful but as it stands it is a threat to both currently available plant cultivars and the development of new varieties.

Heliotrope -cherry pie


Related Gardening blogs you may enjoy

National Plant Collections

Hellebore – Christmas Rose
Garden visits – Antony House Garden
Garden Visits – Acorn Bank Garden


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