The history of Plant Heritage
Formerly known as the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens (NCCPG), the organization adopted the name of Plant Heritage in 2009.
It was founded as a registered charity in 1978 to combine the talents of botanists, horticulturalists and conservationists with the dedication of keen amateur and professional gardeners, Plant Heritage's aims are to: encourage the propagation and conservation of cultivated plants in the British Isles; encourage and conduct research into cultivated plants, their origins, their historical and cultural importance and their environments; and encourage the education of the public in cultivated plant conservation.
Through its membership and the National Collection Holders, Plant Heritage seeks to rediscover and reintroduce cultivated plants by encouraging their propagation and distribution so that they are grown as widely as possible. Plant Heritage works closely with other conservation bodies as well as botanic gardens, The National Trust, The National Trust for Scotland, English Heritage, The Royal Horticultural Society and many specialist horticultural societies.
An Overview of Plant Heritage
In 2008 Plant Heritage celebrated its 30th anniversary. It has achieved a great deal during this time.
Concern about the loss of plant variety within the horticultural world was brought to a head in 1978 when a conference was arranged by the RHS with the title 'The practical role of gardens in the conservation of rare and threatened plants.'
As a result of changing patterns of plant marketing and increased costs of production many nurseries were cutting back on the breadth of stock offered in their catalogues. Local and Central Government and education establishments were operating within tighter financial constraints and the price of labour was making private gardens harder and harder to maintain. These financial factors all contributed to a loss of available plant variety.
The RHS Council established a steering committee to build upon the ideas generated by the conference and individuals who attended began to plan local initiatives. The RHS committee established aims and objectives for a fledgling organisation, including the formation of National Plant Collections as a mechanism for preserving plant material.
By 1980 the name had been agreed. The first criteria for National Plant Collections were approved; they were to be 'as complete a representation of a genus or section of a genus as possible.' Despite an initial emphasis on institutions it was stated that 'the expertise and enthusiasm of individuals should be used'. Meanwhile area groups had been forming. By 1981 the first paid staff member, a horticultural taxonomist, had been appointed. The four elements of the current structure were then in place: Council and committees, full-time horticultural expertise, the county group structure and the National Collection Holders.
Back in 1978 there was no Plant Finder, therefore one of the first tasks for the area groups was to conduct a nursery survey to establish which plants were 'commonly available' and which were 'rare and endangered'. This was completed in 1982. During the course of the same year the first journal was published.
The central organisation was strengthened by Government funded staff in the form of MSC (Manpower Services Commission) volunteers.
There was a steady growth in both collections and membership; by 1984 there were 200 collections and 3,000 members. In 1985 regional representatives were appointed to Council for the first time. By 1987 the organisation was becoming more commercially aware, producing items for sale, which raised some funds and provided promotion of Plant Heritage at shows and plant sales.
Commercial firsts continued in 1988 with the launch of Gazania 'Yellow Buttons', a reintroduction to the trade and Arthur Bell Distillers (now Guinness UDV) with their Heather Collection. The first National Plant Collections Directory was issued in 1990, sponsored by Jackman's Tea and ICI made a donation from a forest bark promotion.
In 1991 'The Pink Sheet' of rare and endangered garden plants (compiled over many years by the Plant Committee and the Secretariat with volunteer support) was formalised and published by the Cambridge Group.
In 1994 two committees (the Plant Committee and the National Collections Committee) were merged, forming a single Plant Conservation Committee. It recommended the formation of a Publications Committee and affirmed the National Co-ordinator concept for monitoring collections.
In 1992 HRH The Prince of Wales became the Patron of Plant Heritage.
The Voluntary Sector in Horticulture and the Role of Plant Heritage
Plant Heritage has strong links with many of the voluntary organisations involved in horticulture.
Previously based at RHS Wisley, Plant Heritage moved to Loseley Park in Surrey in August 2007 but still retains its close relationship with the RHS. The Lindley library, the herbarium and the botany departments at Wisley have the closest association with Plant Heritage. The RHS is also a holder of several National Plant Collections. The RHS, the National Trust, the National Trust for Scotland and other important bodies in horticulture all have a nominated representative on Council. Contact is maintained with many other organisations via the National Plant Collections Scheme.
The remit of the County Gardens Trusts (CGTs) does to some extent (ie the preservation of historic gardens) parallel the garden conservation objective of Plant Heritage. This situation is gratefully accepted by Plant Heritage as its interest in preserving gardens lies where historically significant or rare plantings are still in existence. Garden trusts are more concerned with preserving and restoring garden features, architecture and landscapes. Plant Heritage does have a role to play where a garden is to be replanted with contemporaneous plants and cultivars by providing advice on suitable plants and their sources.