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6 Jul 2022

Project to document 100,000 rare and exotic plants begins

A close-up of a shrub, covered with very pale pink rose-like flowers.
The £1 million PLANTS (Plant Listing at the National Trust for Scotland) project will last three years and will help our charity to better understand Scotland’s horticultural heritage.

This ambitious new project aims to catalogue every single species of plant in our 39 gardens across the country, and has been made possible by support received from our members, donors and supporters. As Scotland’s largest garden owner, we look after places such as Pitmedden Garden, the medieval kitchen garden re-created at Culzean Castle, and the remarkable Threave Garden.

Complete with their own unique horticultural history and wildlife, there are thought to be over 100,000 plants including both native and exotic species within our gardens.

Group of men and women in Trust jackets in a lovely green garden
The PLANTS team will travel to every Trust garden to examine their horticultural collection.

Philip Long OBE, Chief Executive of the National Trust for Scotland, said: ‘The Trust wants to do all it can to enable our gardens to flourish, and our new PLANTS project will help us with just that.

‘Just as our castles and grand houses are full of artworks, textiles and furniture which need constant care, conservation and protection, our gardens are full of beautiful and diverse plants, many of which are commonplace, many of which are rare. This intensive project will help us to understand exactly what can be found in our gardens, establish why each is horticulturally important, and provide the information we need to best look after them, so they can be nurtured for all to enjoy.

‘We are very grateful to all our members and supporters whose help and contributions make such projects as PLANTS possible for the Trust to undertake.’

The project is being led by Dr Anna Florence, National Trust for Scotland Curator of Plant Collections, and Dr Colin McDowall, PLANTS Project Manager, alongside a team of experts. Excitingly, the project is expected to find long-lost plants and discover new species.

Standing man and crouching woman in garden setting
Dr Anna Florence, National Trust for Scotland Curator of Plant Collections (right) and Dr Colin McDowall, PLANTS Project Manager (left)

Not only does each of the National Trust for Scotland’s gardens house rare and endangered plants, but they are also home to countless stories of how plants came to be there, offering an insight into Scotland’s rich horticultural heritage.

Crathes Castle has many different species of plants nurtured by the five stepped Victorian glasshouses dating back to 1886. Made by the famous Victorian Mackenzie & Moncur firm, the glasshouses have been restored many times over the last century but still retain many original features such as their rainwater tanks. The houses are home to exotic plants such as Selaginella kraussiana, which was introduced from South Africa.

This project will provide a wonderful basis to help tell the stories of the vision and determination of the horticulturists and plant collectors who designed and cared for such iconic gardens as Inverewe in Wester Ross. It was established by Osgood Mackenzie in the late 19th century and then cared for by his daughter Mairi Sawyer for many years, until presented to the Trust in the 1950s.

At Branklyn Garden in Perth, John and Dorothy Renton, who established the garden from the 1920s onwards, used seeds sent from Asia especially from the plant collectors George Sherriff (who was from Stirling) and Frank Ludlow, who made pioneering expeditions to the Himalayas together in the 1930s.

Variety of green plants surrounding the pool in Branklyn Garden
Branklyn Garden

Dr Anna Florence, Curator of Plant Collections for the National Trust for Scotland, said: ‘We are delighted to announce the start of our new three-year PLANTS project that will see us document the plants in our gardens. The sheer scale of our gardens means that we are constantly finding new species that we didn’t know we held in our collections. We expect to find a plethora of new plants, all with a unique story behind how they came to be in our gardens.’

The new PLANTS project is one of many initiatives led by the Trust as part of its 10-year strategy, Nature, Beauty & Heritage for Everyone. With a mission to conserve Scotland’s heritage and the stories that each of its gardens hold, the new PLANTS project is a necessary step in understanding the heritage of the gardens we are responsible for and help inform how they can best evolve in the future.

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