Back to What We Do

PLANTS project

Red roses in the gardens at Drum.

Cataloguing Scotland’s heritage plant collections

One of the joys of gardening is discovering new plants. No matter how long you have been gardening, there is always something new to catch your eye. 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.

Beginning in June 2022 and running until March 2025, three regionally based teams will inventory the plants within our gardens and work to update the data held in our plant records database, IrisBG. The resulting database will have taxonomy descriptions and unique object numbers for every plant collection in our 39 major gardens and designed landscapes.

A stone statue of a lion stands in a rose garden, with beds surrounded by box hedges. A lady kneels in the background, examining a rose.
The rose garden at Drum Castle, Aberdeenshire

Why are we carrying out this project?

The scale of this project, which will audit an estimated 100,000 items, represents a major investment in managing and preserving our plant collections.

It will have a number of significant benefits for the Trust:

  • It will enable the Trust to identify collections at risk of disease, and to treat and respond quickly to outbreaks.
  • It will evidence the legal and ethical sourcing of our plants.
  • It will make it easier to report on nationally important plant collections and track conservation scheme material.

With this important information, we will be able to analyse the diversity of our collections so that we can plan for the future and provide reliable information to use in interpretation and visitor engagement. 

Where will the project take place?

The first phase of the project begins this summer and will see two of the regional teams (North and South-West) work across nine sites, supported by central project management, database management and administration support. One of the first visits by the North team will be to Inverewe Garden, founded by Osgood Mackenzie on what had been a bare rocky headland and then further developed by his daughter, Mairi Sawyer. Pioneers in the development of the coastal shelterbelt, they created an exotic paradise which today contains five of the Trust’s National Plant Collections.

By contrast, Broughton House Garden is located in the closely packed streets of Kirkcudbright. This Japanese-influenced garden was developed by artist E A Hornel and his sister Elizabeth at the beginning of the 20th century. The garden boasts some magnificent specimens such as the hardy orchid Dactylorhiza ‘Tizzy Hornell’, which was named after Elizabeth herself. The South-West inventory team will head down to Broughton House later this summer.

Over the next three months, the PLANTS team will visit many other Trust gardens. These will include Culzean Castle, perched on the cliff top of the Ayrshire coast and boasting colourful walled gardens and exotic borders; Haddo House in the north-east of Scotland with its formal gardens and collection of specimen conifers designed by artist and landscape designer James Giles; and nearby Crathes Castle, where in the 1900s Sir James and Lady Sybil Burnett developed the now internationally renowned walled garden containing a remarkable series of eight garden rooms.

Telling stories

Each garden has a unique story and history. Throughout the PLANTS project we will celebrate our plant collections, as well as recognise the creators and custodians behind them.

Since the 1960s, students at the Trust’s School of Heritage Gardening at Threave Garden have created and maintained a ‘garden for all seasons’. The resulting unique garden has been divided into a series of smaller gardens to showcase different styles, including a rose garden, rockery and walled garden.

At Glasgow’s Holmwood, visitors can discover 5 acres of landscaped gardens and a small kitchen garden, planted with a range of Victorian herbs, fruit and vegetables.

A few miles down the road from Holmwood, Greenbank’s walled garden has been designed to showcase new ideas and techniques for domestic gardens and contains over 3,600 named plants as well as important collections of Narcissus and Bergenia.

The PLANTS project team will share their experiences of recording some of the most important plant collections in Scotland through regular blog posts. Until then, the best education for any gardener is to visit gardens! So please come and visit us and say hello to the teams in our gardens this summer.

Blog stories

Meet the PLANTS project teams