New herb National Collections for Plant Heritage

Plant Heritage is delighted to welcome two new striking Collections of Monarda and Nepeta to its nation-wide programme of National Plant Collections.
The Collections based near Okehampton, Devon, have been put together by Fi Reddaway in her two acre garden on the edge of Dartmoor. She has used the development of the Collections to help her rehabilitate from ME diagnosed in 2004.
Fi has always had an interest in growing herbs, loving their fragrance and usefulness but hadn’t highlighted Monarda and Nepeta as being of particular interest until her husband started keeping bees, -one of Monarda’s common names being ‘bee balm’ and bergamot.
Monarda was originally identified by the physician Nicolas Monardes who wrote a book in 1574 on herbal and medicinal plants he had found in the New World. It wasn’t grown in Britain until plant hunter John Bartram (see the John Bartram Heritage Collection at Painshill Park, Surrey) gave some to his wealthy Peckham based friend, Peter Collinson on return from his trip to the Iroquois Confederacy in 1743.

Historically Monarda was highly prized by American Indian tribes for its medicinal properties as an antiseptic and has also been used to relieve symptoms of colds and chest complaints, digestive conditions and dental conditions. A strong source of thymol, the plant is often the active ingredient in mouthwash formulas. Although it bears the common name bergamot, it is not the source of the flavouring in Earl Grey or Lady Grey tea, that is Citrus bergamia.

The leaves and flowers are commonly used in teas and the leaves and flowers are used for seasoning sausages, pulse dishes, pizzas and breads.
The Collection currently includes 87 cultivars, to which Fi is adding from Europe and American seed suppliers. She is currently particularly looking for six cultivars: M. ‘Amethyst’, ‘Blaukranz’, ‘Mrs Perry’, ‘Night Rider’, ‘Petite Wonder’ and ‘Velvet Queen’.
Attracted to Nepeta, commonly known as catmint or catnip (N. cataria), for its all round beauty and elegance as well as great garden value; Fi describes the plants as having stunning lacy, billowing, aromatic foliage, long flowering season and a large number of blooms per plant. “They are the perfect mounded shape for edging and softening borders, both delicate and elegant in all stages of growth,” she says.
Already a collector Fi started taking the search for new plants more seriously in 2009 and embarked on what she described as an exciting, long and possibly never ending search across Britain and Europe. With 85 different cultivars at present Fi is particularly searching for the following species and cultivars: N. amethystina, bucharica, Nepeta “from China”, kubanica, ‘Lilac Cloud’, N. nepetella (syn. lanceolata), nuda ‘Grandiflora’, x faassenii ‘Limelight’, ‘Veluwse Wakel’.

Speaking on the new Collections Plant Heritage Plant Conservation officer said: “ I am so pleased to be able to welcome Fi to the scheme, her applications were exemplary and I am sure she will make a very good Collection Holder. I hope that we will see more collections of particularly Monarda as it can be somewhat prone to disease, so the more there are, the safer they will be.”

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