Collection Categories

Our category system gives an insight into why a Collection Holder sets out to collect particular plants, and their vision for how the Collection will develop.

There are over 600 National Plant Collections at present, and all Collections are categorised into one of three types: Historic, Horticultural and Reference. This gives the gardening public an idea as to what sort of collection they can expect to see. And for anyone with a particular interest in, say, plants cultivated by a specific breeder or grown in a certain location, it points them in the right direction.

When people apply for Collection Holder status they are prompted to think about why they started their collection and what factors determine the plants they want to add in the future. Although many collections could fit into two or even three categories, the Collection Holder must choose the main one on their application form. For instance, there are Iris Collections that cover all categories: Iris (Sir Cedric Morris introductions) for Historic; Iris Miniature Tall Bearded for Horticultural, and Iris subgenus Scorpiris for Reference.


This is a collection of plants that has been grown in British or Irish gardens, with a connection defined by a common history or association, or by importance to society. An example of an historic collection is the Suffolk Garden Plants (20th Century Hardy) Collection, held by the Suffolk Punch Trust, which includes plants named for a place, person or object from the county of Suffolk. Examples of collections that are of importance to society include plants bred by a UK breeder or from a particular period, such as pre-1900 roses.

Another type of historical Collection is the one held by the Myddleton House
 Society at Myddleton House garden in north London. It is Crocus chrysanthus cvs, C. bilforus cvs. & cvs. raised by E.A. Bowles, a great Victorian plantsman who was popularly known as ‘The Crocus King’. This Collection began in 2004 in order to safeguard as many of the cultivars raised by Bowles as could be found.


This embraces collections of garden plants of aesthetic or functional value. The Collection Holder may have a passion for a group of plants for their impressive flowers, foliage, scent or all of these things. Or they may be especially garden-worthy because, for example, they are pest- and disease-resistant or flourish in difficult conditions. Others collections may be started because they include plants that are attractive to pollinators (eg, Monarda and Nepeta held by Fi Reddaway. 
The functional aspects of a Horticultural collection are evident in groups of fruit-bearing trees, or the Collection of Vitis vinifera cvs. authorised for wine-making in the UK cvs (held by Mr Greenwood of New Hall Vineyards).


A group of plants which are important for taxonomic (naming) reference and research.
 Collections under this category have a research objective in mind – to try to grow the maximum diversity possible in a particular group of plants. 
Reference Collections are extremely useful to study various taxa in the same setting, under the same growing conditions – for example, Betula at Stone Lane Garden in Devon. They can also allow horticulturalists to identify unknown plants, by comparing them against what is grown in a Collection.
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