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13 Nov 2023

Second year of PLANTS project completed

A close-up of a bright red rhododendron flower growing on a bush.
Rare pre-First World War rhododendron identified at Arduaine by our PLANTS team this year
The second year of the Trust’s three-year plant-listing project has seen 17 gardens and 32,000 plants audited, including a rare rhododendron planted before the First World War.

Our hardworking project teams have now capped off the second phase of our ambitious, three-year PLANTS project to meticulously document the plants across all of our 39 major gardens. Having audited 32,420 plantings across Scotland this year, the teams have made remarkable findings, including a rare Rhododendron arboreum subsp. zeylanicum planted before the First World War.

Since the project began in 2022, the teams have identified over 60,000 plantings. Understanding each plant’s unique traits, needs and vulnerabilities will enhance the Trust’s ability to manage the risks of plant disease, severe weather and storm damage as well as the growing impact of the climate and biodiversity crises.

This second year of the project has focused predominantly on the west, north and east of Scotland, which yield an expansive variety of plant life across different micro-climates.

Among this year’s highlights were the team’s findings at Arduaine Garden, a 20-acre coastal property in Argyll that was created in 1898 by tea planter James Arthur Campbell, overlooking the Sound of Jura. In this year alone, the PLANTS team have audited over 5,000 plantings here. Given its renowned and extensive collections of rhododendrons, it is no surprise that the team made some astonishing findings.

A Rhododendron arboreum subsp. zeylanicum dating from the late 19th century was recorded, which is potentially one of the largest in the UK. James Arthur Campbell used his tea planting connections to secure this seed and it’s rumoured to have come to Arduaine hidden in a chest of tea. Additionally, the team recorded a wheel tree (Trochodendron aralioides) towering nearly 18m (60ft) high.

A rhododendron plant growing in a garden. It is covered in bright red flowers.
Arduaine Garden has long been admired for its rhododendron collections.

In the North East of Scotland, Leith Hall is home to an iconic rock garden, designed by the last laird of Leith Hall, Charles Leith-Hay, in the 1920s. The team auditing the property found Rhodohypoxis ‘Great Scot’ in the gardens, a South African bulb that has intense deep red-pink flowers. Bred by horticulturist Ruth McConnel, who was probably one of the foremost growers of Rhodohypoxi in the world, it got its name when her husband saw the beautifully deep colour of the new seedling and exclaimed ‘Great Scot!’

Leith Hall’s rock garden grants visitors a window into the past to see the garden as it was once imagined. Thanks to the work of our charity, the bold design of the rock garden – very different to most other designs of the time – remains the same today, so that the beauty and heritage of Charles Leith-Hay’s vision can be enjoyed by all.

A hillside garden, with dense and vibrant flower beds either side of a narrow path snaking down the hill.
The beautiful Leith Hall Garden in Aberdeenshire

For those in the Central Belt looking to know more about the rich, biodiverse offerings of Inveresk Lodge Garden, near Edinburgh, the PLANTS team identified a slew of unusual plants – from chocolate vines (Akebia quinata) to Oven’s wattle (Acacia pravissima). The latter is commonly found in New South Wales in Australia and thrives in hot and dry conditions, yet it can now be found flourishing in this beautiful Musselburgh garden in the distinctly cooler Scottish climate.

A white stone house stands on top of a hill, with a garden surrounding it. In the foreground is an old stone sundial in the middle of a large lawn.
Inveresk Lodge Garden

The PLANTS project is led by Dr Anna Florence (the Trust’s Curator of Plant Collections) and Dr Colin McDowall (PLANTS Project Manager), alongside a team of experts. The array of micro-climates across Scotland, and the scale and breadth of the Trust’s garden spaces, have made the project an extensive task that entails a great deal of precision and detail.

Anna said: ‘The PLANTS project has been a meticulous yet massively rewarding experience for the Trust as a whole. This year, we have made some remarkable findings across our gardens that give a glimpse into the lives of those that originally designed them. Beyond finding plantings that were not on record before, the project enables us to gain a greater understanding of the original plantings and how we can best protect them and let them flourish for the future.’

“We’re excited as we look toward the final year of the project and the opportunity to share more data, learning and stories about Scotland’s rich horticultural heritage.”
Dr Anna Florence
Curator of Plant Collections

Stuart Brooks, Director of Conservation & Policy at the National Trust for Scotland, added: ‘The PLANTS project marks another major milestone in our commitment to protecting the rich biodiversity, heritage and stories that make our charity’s gardens and designed landscapes so important. This ambitious project is helping us understand better what is in our gardens, and therefore how we can keep them resilient, valued and accessible to more people, helping to secure their longer-term future and that of the plants that live in them.

‘We are hugely grateful to our PLANTS team for making outstanding progress on such a large-scale project, and to our supporters and members who make these critically important projects possible.’

Group of men and women in Trust jackets in a lovely green garden
Members of the PLANTS project team

The PLANTS project is one of many initiatives that form part of our ten-year strategy, Nature, Beauty & Heritage for Everyone, with a mission to conserve Scotland’s heritage and the stories that each of its gardens hold. For each of the thousands of plants examined so far, the PLANTS team have recorded the genus, species or cultivar of the planting to match previous archived records. The teams will now spend the winter months inputting the recorded data.

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