I’ve been spending a few days away from Chartwell recently, attending some National Trust seminars and events, all designed to help us look after and preserve our plant collection here for now and future generations to enjoy. The latest of these days was spent at Wakehurst Place, the country estate of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, and more importantly in this case, the home of the Millennium Seed Bank. Created with funding to mark the Millennium celebrations, the seed bank works with over 80 other countries to save plants around the globe with a focus on plants most at risk and most useful for the future. So far, the seeds of around 13% of the World’s wild plant species have been saved with a target of 25% for 2020.
As part of the Milliennium Seed Bank Partnership, the National Trust is working with Kew and Wakehurst to try and help their seed saving process by providing access to the vast collection of plants within the gardens and countryside estates that belong to the Trust. In fact, The National Trust’s portfolio of plants is of immense importance and is one of the most significant collections in the UK. Last year, ten properties within the South East took part in the first year of seed collecting including Nymans, Sissinghurst Castle, Sheffield Park and Scotney Castle. For 2104, five further South East National Trust properties will join the scheme, including, we are very pleased to say, Chartwell.
This process of seed saving will allow us to make sure the key, important plants here in Churchill’s gardens and estate are preserved via their seeds. Our Cryptomeria japonica, for example, which stands proudly by the Golden Orfe Pond is thought to be the oldest in the country. It was planted by the previous owners of Chartwell, the Colquhoun family, from the first batch of seeds that were introduced into the UK by plant hunter Robert Fortune from Shanghai in 1844, ironically via Kew Gardens.
The process of saving Chartwell’s seeds will be done over a period of time, depending on when the seeds are ripe and viable. The best time to collect seeds is at their natural time of dispersal. Once collected they must be cleaned and then properly dried before they will be taken to Wakehurst for further drying, analysis, x-raying and then cold storage. Once in storage the life span of them will increase exponentially. For example, for every 1% of moisture content that is removed from a seed, the life span doubles!
We will keep you abreast of our progress throughout the year as we start to save our seeds and submit them for storage at the Millenium Seed Bank at Wakehurst Place. At the top of this blog post I mentioned that I had been to several of these seminars so it seems a little remiss of me if I don’t let you know what the other ones were about too.
A day held at Scotney Castle a couple of weeks ago on Plant Health gave instruction on how best to avoid plant diseases coming into our gardens. It has encouraged us here at Chartwell to try and achieve at least a National Trust Plant Health Bronze Standard award by working hard to improve a few things such as getting assurances from visiting contractors about their boot and tool hygiene and improving our plant quarantine area where we store plants brought in from outside nurseries. We will keep you posted on our progress with these actions in a future blog.
Another day, this time held at Nymans, was led by the National Trust Plant Conservation Centre, who are there to propagate rare and endangered plants to keep the collections in National Trust gardens thriving. As part of this process, we hope for example to get some new Kalmia latifolia ‘Clemtine Churchill’ plants propagated via laboratory micropropagation, as ours are not currently in the best of health. Again, you can read how we get on with this process in another future blog. For now though, come and visit us here at Chartwell soon and see our magnificent plant collection with your own eyes!