Plant Heritage saves plants by encouraging their cultivation through the National Collections, as well as through its Plant Exchange of rarer plants and through the activities of its local groups, especially the specialist Plant Fairs. The aim is to preserve the biodiversity that resides in our gardens. Most garden plants derive from species gathered from the wild, probably long ages ago and, because of the pressures of population and development, these wild populations are in danger of disappearing altogether. Take Tulipa sprengeri, the most elegant and latest-flowering of garden Tulips, a scarlet beauty, and now extinct in the wild. Yet this plant grows well in British gardens and comes back year on year, unlike a lot of the highly developed hybrids. Unfortunately it is rarely offered in the trade as it only reproduces from seed - a long winded process though easy enough.You are much more likely to find this sort of plant in a National Collection, or on a Plant Heritage plant stall.
Trying to start a collection of all plants in one genus is probably too ambitious - think of how many roses there are - so a well-defined subset of a genus would be a good place to start. You might collect only the cultivars produced before a certain date and exclude the species altogether, or focus on the plants introduced by one person or nursery. Once the scope of the collection has been decided, several copies of each plant have to be held, usually three, and these ought to be obtained from different sources - a useful crosscheck that the plant is what it says on the label. Each copy of a plant gets a unique number and meticulous records are kept relating to each plant in the collection. Back up systems are employed at every stage to protect the integrity of the collection. Extra research has to be done and contacts maintained with other growers and research establishments. The plants must be propagated as time goes on and there is an expectation that, after renewal of the collection, surplus plants are passed on to the wider public. Once you have done all this, you have become a national expert and your advice might well be sought from other growers and students in the field.
Norfolk is the home of ten National Collections ranging in size from Colchicum to Gunnera, many of the Holders are ordinary people: many started off as amateurs, but through the process of becoming a Collection Holder, they have become experts in their field and are performing a vital job in sustaining the biodiversity of the planet. If you are keen on the idea of starting a collection, the first step is to contact our local Collections Co-ordinator and talk it through. If you start small and keep at it, you too can have a National Collection.
Our collections are: Colchicum, Eucomis spp & cvs., Fuchsia cvs. introduced by James Lye, Gunnera (hardy), Iris Tall Bearded raised by Bryan Dodsworth, Lavandula sect. Lavandula, dentata and pterostoechas, Mespilus germanica cvs, Molinia, Muscari, and The Peter Beales Old Rose Collection.