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19 Jun 2024

The PLANTS project: National Plant Collections

Written by Jennifer Hollywood, PLANTS West Team Manager
A close-up of a bright pink rose growing on a bush. It has a large flower with delicate, almost paper-thin, petals.
We have a National Collection of 19th-century shrub roses at Malleny Garden in Edinburgh.
In this blog, our PLANTS West Team Manager reflects on the 17 National Plant Collections that are safeguarded within the Trust’s care, some of which are rare in cultivation and some even nearing extinction.

Since June 2022, the PLANTS project teams have been listing and cataloguing plants in National Trust for Scotland gardens across the country. In addition to recording the names and locations of plants, the database also includes information on topics such as Champion Trees, plant collectors and National Collection status.

National Plant Collections are registered and documented collections of a group of plants, coordinated by Plant Heritage. This charity supports the conservation of horticultural heritage through the creation and management of collections of living plants, with a particular focus on cultivated varieties. The holders of collections are responsible for maintaining up-to-date plant records, and this is where the PLANTS project has become involved. There are 17 National Plant Collections in Trust gardens, covering a diverse range of herbaceous perennials, shrubs, trees and bulbs.

Brodick Castle Garden

Brodick Castle Garden holds 3 National Collections of Rhododendron subsections:

  • R. subsect. Falconera
  • R. subsect. Grandia
  • R. subsect. Maddenia

These special collections have been built up over many years, starting in the 1920s with the creation of the woodland garden by the Duchess of Montrose and continuing through the work of Trust head gardeners John Basford and Nigel Price. The Duchess of Montrose supported the introduction of new Rhododendron species by plant collectors George Forrest and Frank Kingdon-Ward. One species was even re-named to recognise her contribution – Rhododendron montroseanum, which is part of the Grandia subsection.

The gardeners at Brodick continue to develop the collection, and have recently acquired a Rhododendron wumingense, part of the Maddenia subsection. This was a recent discovery from the Guangxi province of China and is now available in cultivation. Our gardeners also work to maintain and increase the collection. For example, the large-leaved rhododendrons of the Falconera and Grandia subsections are regularly propagated by air-layering.

Crarae Garden

Crarae Garden in Argyll has the only National Collection of trees in the care of the Trust: Nothofagus. Commonly known as the southern beech, this genus is native to temperate regions of the southern hemisphere in Chile, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea and New Caledonia. Crarae has grown 11 species and 1 cultivar, 4 of which have reached Champion Tree status.

Greenbank Garden

Greenbank Garden holds the National Collection of Bergenia species and cultivars. Familiar to gardeners as a good evergreen ground cover, it would surprise many to find that this collection consists of over 90 cultivated varieties. National Plant Collection status was reached after the garden received a large donation from a German nursery exhibiting at the Glasgow Garden Festival in 1988.

Threave Garden

Threave Garden in Dumfries & Galloway maintains the National Collection of Iris sibirica cultivars (British Award winners & historically significant). There are 75 cultivars grown in an island bed near the main house so they can easily be identified and compared. They are looked after by the students at the School of Heritage Gardening.


Inverewe is another garden with an impressive collection of rhododendrons, including three National Collections:

  • R. subsect. Barbata
  • R. subsect. Glischra
  • R. subsect. Maculifera

In addition, Inverewe also holds 2 other National Collections: the succulents Aeonium, Aichryson and Monanthes, and Olearia. Olearia is a diverse genus of trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials in the daisy family (Asteraceae), originating from Australasia. Inverewe hold over 50 different taxa, and the project team in the north have researched leaf shape to help identify them.

North East

In the North East we look after two National Collections: Dianthus (Malmaison) at Crathes Castle and the Brodie cultivars of Narcissus at Brodie Castle. This collection of daffodils is exceptional within the Trust as it represents the hybrid cultivars bred on the property by Major Ian Brodie, 24th Laird of Brodie, in the early 20th century.

Branklyn Garden

Branklyn Garden in Perth is famous for its collection of large-flowered, blue Meconopsis species and cultivars.

Less well known is its National Collection of Cassiope, a small shrub with bell-shaped flowers. This genus is part of the Ericaceae family and originates from northern mountains and Arctic regions. John and Dorothy Renton, who developed the garden in the 1920s, were very keen on the genus, and their interest is reflected in the 27 varieties currently at Branklyn.

Rhododendrons are usually associated with gardens on the west coast of Scotland, but Branklyn holds a National Collection of Rhododendron subsect. Taliense. Varying in size from dwarf to large shrubs, the leaves of this genus have a thick, woolly indumentum (covering of hair) on the underside.

Malleny Garden

Malleny Garden near Edinburgh is dominated by its National Collection of 19th-century shrub roses that provide colour and scent throughout the garden. With 142 rose cultivars listed on our database, the PLANTS Project team in the east are currently working on verifying their identity and confirming inclusion in the National Collection.

Plant Listing at the National Trust for Scotland (PLANTS) is the biggest horticultural audit project undertaken by the Trust and aims to celebrate, protect and better understand the flora and vegetation across our gardens and designed landscapes.

Read more about the PLANTS project

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