The Future of Plant Hunting?

Crug Farm exhibit - Chelsea 2014  All the plants were grown from seed collected by them in the wild

Crug Farm exhibit – Chelsea 2014
All the plants were grown from seed collected by them in the wild

I started to write this blog post by saying that politics and policy have little impact on my gardening world but as soon as I wrote those words I realised what a nonsense they are.  Of course politics and policy have an impact.  You only have to look at the rhetoric you encounter when you mention peat and using it in the garden to realise that even when we potter in our gardens we can’t escape Whitehall, the EU or campaign groups.

In fact horticulture seems to have featured a lot in the News recently with the controversial Garden Bridge in London and Boris Johnson’s controversial ping-pong approach to funding and the reduction of funding for Kew Gardens, one of the most revered botanical gardens in the world.  Last year there was concern about proposed EU legislation that had the potential to reduce the range of seed available to gardeners by insisting that any plant distributors wanted to sell seed  had to have the seed registered, at no small cost.  This would obviously significantly impact on the growing number of small seed distributors in this country and it seems that the vehemence of the UK and Dutch gardening world may be stopped or delayed this legislation coming into force.

This week I learnt about the The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilisation (Nagoya Protocol).  At my local HPS meeting Bob Brown of Cotswold Garden Flowers was telling us about the protocol which has arisen out of the  UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) which all countries, except the US, have signed up to, ratified in the UK in 1994 (I’m not 100% sure if it is indeed all countries). The Convention was drawn up to protect biodiversity and to ensure sustainable use of genetic resources.  Under it the native plants (or animals, insects, etc – for the purposes of this post I will use the term plants) of a country are that country’s property, the country has sovereign rights, and this means that any commercial benefits deriving from them are the property of that country. You can see the logic behind this if you consider the possible financial gains from the production of a native plant should it be discovered to have some amazing medicinal use. The Convention has been hard to enforce and so the Protocol has been agreed with the legislation coming into force in the UK in October 2014.  Under the Protocol you need to have the country’s government’s permission to sell/benefit from the use of that country’s plants.
When you start to really think about this the ramifications have the potential to be hugely significant to a mere amateur gardener such as myself.  In recent years I have bought wild collected seeds from an Eastern European seed collector and I have bought plants from a number of nursery men/plant hunters which have presumably be grown from wild collected seed.  The UK’s floral diversity can be directly attributable to centuries of plant collectors exploring the world, our native flora has been diluted for so long it is hard to say what is actually a native UK plant.
Chatting on twitter with some plant hunters and a representative of Plant Heritage it seems that the consequences of the Protocol in the UK are not yet clear.  There are useful summaries on the RHS website and on the Plant Heritage blog.  Current expectation is that the enforcement of the protocol will be dealt with by the National Measurements Office (I didn’t know we had such a body) and it is expected that there will be a light touch.  However, it is possible that if you plan to sell non-native plants you will need to be able to show that they were available commercially prior to October 2014 and if not you will need to have, or be able to refer to, the documentation and records to show that the plant’s native government gave permission for the plant material to be collected.
For me this seems to herald a curtailing in the not too distant future of the tradition of plant hunting which some of us gardeners follow vicariously savouring the results with those special acquisitions. It also means that some overseas suppliers may have to curtail their export of native plant seed outside their country if they are relying on collecting it in the wild.  As to the impact on the various seed exchanges which include wild collected seed – well the jury is well and truly out on that one.
During my twitter conversation it was even muted that as the Protocol stipulates that you cannot share information about the native plants then this could be interpreted to mean that anyone delivering a talk on a plant hunting trip would be in breach of the protocol.  How on earth would anyone police such a rule, it seems completely unenforceable to me!?
It will be interesting to watch the horticultural world to see if there are indeed the repercussions that some are worried about. If there are then we may find that the diversity of plants we have access to stops – would this be such a bad thing, I really don’t know but it makes for an interesting conversation when you get some passionate plants people together.

End of Month View – February 2015

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February seems to be ending on some sunny days which make a welcome relief after the recent grey and cold.  It was a delight today to potter in the garden without having to wear a coat.  As you can see from the state of the grass path it has been very wet here and the path is looking muddy.  It does take a lot of wear and I keep wondering about replacing it with a gravel path, a bark one doesn’t appeal.  However, my cat loves the grass – she sunbathes here and if often seen leaping around on it chasing some leaf or twig.  She doesn’t really like my gravel paths choosing instead to creep along the stone edges so I think it will remain but I may lift it and level it.

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The border alongside the steps has seen the most work this last month and although it looks rather bare there are lots of plants emerging.  I have also been adding some geraniums and boykinia along the stone edge to try to soften it.  I love the watsonia leaves with the sun shining through them at the bottom of the obelisk it is such a useful plant and really should be grown more.

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There is still little to see in the woodland border although I have spotted some narcissus coming through and hopefully the epimediums will start to flower soon. Once plants start to emerge I want to work on improving this area.  It needs more cohesion and really being a woodland border it should have lots of hellebores, erythroniums and spring bulbs right now – something I will need to address.

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The other end of the woodland border looking very bare and dull also.  More work to do but also so much potential for plant buying!  I have been doing some on-line shopping so hopefully these purchases will have an impact this time next year.  I should add some snowdrops and eranthis here too or maybe some crocus and some ferns and possibly digitalis but I would also like some late summer/autumn interest.

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Another view across the grass path and there has been a change since last month as I have moved a Cotinus into the foreground.  I wonder how useful this view is as the grass path seems to be featuring too much.  Maybe I will find a spot to take a better shoot of the old bog border from for next month.

So there we are at the end of February.  It is looking generally tidy, there are splashes of colour from hellebores and bulbs and so much beginning to emerge through the soil.  I have started to implement some of my planting plans and have other ideas up my sleeve including painting the shed and hopefully over the next couple of months with lighter evenings and possibly more favourable weather I might be able to really make some progress.

Anyone is welcome to join in with the End of Month meme and you can use it as you wish.  We post on the last day of the month, or thereabouts, and some of us show the same shots of the garden every month, whilst others give a more general tour.  All I ask is that you leave a link to your post in the comment box below and link to this post in your blog post – that way we can all find each other and come for a visit.

 

 

My Garden This Weekend – 22/2/15

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Any time in the garden is precious at this time of year and if the sun shines albeit weakly it is even more special. Yesterday afternoon was such a time with a low sun appearing fleetingly behind the scudding clouds. Today, by contrast, was a day to watch and look as the rain lashed against the windows and the few remaining dead leaves galloped across the patio.

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It is also a time of year that rewards you for looking.  If you take time and look carefully you can see buds forming on the branches and the elegant detail of the bulb flowers such as the veining on these unknown crocus flowers.

But I have to be honest to say that whilst I do take time looking  I am so pleased to be able to spend some time outside that I tend to have my head down working hard.  I have spent the week hoping for gardening time, devising a list of things I would like to achieve, pondering planting ideas and generally dreaming of getting my hands into the soil which makes me feel grounded (no pun intended) and rooted in my space.

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The objective this weekend was to plant out the remaining two peonies which had been potted up temporarily since their arrival and also to plant out the new hellebores instead of them languishing on the patio with the risk of being frozen in their pots.  The focus of my attention was the corner of the former Bog Garden nearest the workshop – which I have decided to remain the Rowan Border because there is a Rowan (Sorbus vilmorinii) in it!  I have struggled with a focus for this area ever since it was created.  The Rowan tree has almost been an obstacle ever since I planted it or no obvious reason at all.  But having read in several places recently about lifting the canopy of shrubs and trees to provide planting spaces under I realised that I was letting the tree canopy block my ideas. Strange I know and I wonder if it has something to do with the garden sloping upwards as I often seem to be looking at the bottom or top of plants rather than the view you would have in a flat garden.  The Peony ‘Bowls of Beauty’ is to be a key plant in the border although I appreciate it might not flower this year and has been planted so it will eventually hide the base of the tree.  The colours of the flowers should reflect and continue the blossom of the Prunus kojo-no-mai.  I am trying to build up layers of planting using the idea of creating triangles with the Sorbus and Prunus as two of the high points of triangles – we will see if it works.

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I haven’t thought of planting borders with a particular colour palette before, focussing more on a season or a style so this is a new approach for me and hopefully will make more sense. I don’t want a restricted plant palette as I am far too eclectic in my taste nor, as I have discovered, will a particular style i.e. exotic, work for me. So the peony and prunus are being supplemented with hellebores, acquilegia, primroses and violas all in soft pastel colours but hopefully with some stronger highlights.  The trouble is I can’t remember what colour the acquilegia flowers are so I will have to do some editing as they appear.  I also know there is an orange Lathyrus and a yellow day lily in the border some where and I suspect these will have to be relocated.  If so they will go to the Big Border which has citrus colours in it as well as purples and blues.  I have also tried to think about textures and foliage as these will be there for longer than the flowers.  It’s a start and will be added to as the plants develop and it becomes obvious what needs to be done.  All has been top-dressed with some green waste from the council and although it looks a bit bare above, from the bench you get the first view which is really enjoyable on an early Spring day as you hug a cup of tea.

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Whilst I was pleased with the planting I managed yesterday I was also really chuffed with the purchase of the Primula above.  It cost me £4 for a 1 litre pot from Waitrose but I knew from looking at the shades of the flowers that there was more than one plant in the pot and yes when I turned it out there were 3 good size plants.  These have been planted in the border I was working on last week so they can be enjoyed from the gravel steps.  The plan is to really plant up along the steps, something I have neglected to do until now.  I want to create a really flowery effect so will be adding some of the more robust alpines I have languishing in pots and hope they seize the challenge and start to soften the hard landscaping.

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Having done so well yesterday it would have been greedy to expect a second gardening day and Mother Nature has certainly shown who is in charge today.  I did manage to sow a couple of packets of annuals though which are now sitting on a windowsill with the hope of getting some good strong plants for the summer.

Next weekend I have my local HPS meeting and a birthday nursery visit but until then I will content myself with revisiting my all time favourite gardening book – The Layered Garden and pondering.

 

 

My Garden This Weekend – 16/2/15

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I am still aching from my gardening session yesterday which shows either just how unfit I have got over the winter or that I took on more than I should have.  It doesn’t matter though because despite the aches I am really pleased with what I achieved and it certainly clears your head and recharges you mentally before another week at work.

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Not the most prepossessing photo but it signifies a good couple of hours work and much hauling of heavy and awkward objects.  This is the space that was formally occupied by the Stipa gigantea and I was intent on improving the soil so I could plant out at least one of my new peonies.  Having dug up the couple of bearded irises which had disappeared under the skirt of the grass and hadn’t flowered for years I added a bag of gravel and some sand to improve the drainage and break up the residual clay.  This was then topped off with three bags of green waste compost from the local council which is like black gold. The initial planting has been done although its hardly obviously but I am assure you that a Peony Immaculata, Agapanthus ‘Alan Street’, Agapanthus ardernei hybrid and the original irises have all been planted.  The Agapanthus had been growing in pots on the patio and overwintering in the garage.  However I read somewhere that deciduous Agapanthus are generally hardy so I have taken a gamble and planted them out – fingers crossed.  I now need to think about what additional planting is needed to fill in.  I am thinking of Aquilegias as I have a number of plants to plant out but I also need something for late summer but without strappy leaves.

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Before I added the compost etc to the border above I took a soil sample so I could test the PH.  Now I know it is basic horticultural practice, what you could term gardening 101, but I realised the other day that I had never tested the soil in my garden.  I planted a rhododendron from my last garden when we moved in and as it has done alright I had assumed the soil was acidic. My neighbour has a wonderful Pieris (top pic) in his garden which grows over my fence and is healthy and floriferous so knowing Pieris need acidic soil I don’t think my assumption was too daft.  So I was completely flummoxed when the test showed the soil was alkaline (7.5).  This is Ok for the bearded iris and means I don’t need to add lime to the soil but it got me wondering about the rest of the garden and the two rhododendrons I had recently bought.  Three further tests later from different parts of the garden and the conclusion seems to be that the soil is alkaline this would explain why eranthis do so well in my garden but I am still perplexed as to why the Pieris looks so good and what to do with the two new rhododendrons!

2015_02160018Of course the obvious thing to do having spent a couple of hours digging and lugging heavy things is to empty a small greenhouse of the pots of bulbs (heavy with gravel), remove the overwintering tender plants from the garage and generally re-organise the whole lot.   As I have been indecisive over the last 6 months or so I have gone off the idea of showing plants as I just do not have the time to ensure they are up to standard and I don’t need any more pressure or stress in my life at the moment as there is enough in my working life.  This being so I decided that I really didn’t need to keep the pots of bulbs in the greenhouse especially as the likelihood of sustained long temperatures was past.  I do like seeing the pots of alpines and bulbs in alpine houses but I have discovered that I get more of a feel good factor from a collection of tender plants and I was missing mine which had been banished to the garage.

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The view above makes me much happier.  I have still got some pots of bulbs in the greenhouse including some S. African ones which won’t do well outside and the Narcissus bulbocodium whose hardiness I’m not sure on and need to research.  As the bulbs go over they will be moved to under the staging to dry out and rest.  I will have to rejig things at some point in order to accommodate the hall hardy annuals I want to sow but I am OK for time at the moment.

As you can imagine after all that labouring I was quite exhausted but I was thrilled at what I had achieved.  I have no plans at all for next weekend so weather permitting I will have two days to garden and hopefully the other two peonies will be planted.