The five Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) gardens are to become custodians of one of the UK’s biggest National Collections of plants thanks to a generous donation from current collection holder Fibrex Nurseries. The National Collection of Pelargonium is the largest of its kind in the world, numbering more than 1,400 accessions which will be divided by group between RHS Gardens Bridgewater, Harlow Carr, Hyde Hall, Rosemoor and Wisley.
Heather Godard-Key of Fibrex Nurseries, says: “We are absolutely delighted to see this collection move to the RHS, and we are confident now that it has a long and secure future ahead. Although we are very proud of the collection held here at the nursery, it has never been in the limelight as our location means we simply don't see the numbers of visitors that the RHS gardens do. Our hope is that this will help to raise public awareness to the astonishing variety of pelargoniums that is available and for more people to be able to enjoy them.”
Dr Tim Upson, RHS Director of Horticulture, Education and Communities, adds: “We couldn’t be more thrilled that Fibrex has entrusted such an important and beautiful collection to the RHS. It is a unique opportunity to put these pelargoniums in front of an audience of more than 2 million annual visitors to the RHS Gardens, and help even more gardeners appreciate this fascinating and diverse group of plants. It is an honour to continue the incredible work Fibrex has done over the years to bring this collection together.”
The entire collection will go on display for the final time this summer at Fibrex Nurseries in Warwickshire, where visitors can view all the species and cultivars together free of charge from May to September. Transfer of the collection to the RHS has already begun, with a number of propagated plants now settling into new homes at the RHS Gardens, but some rare and more challenging pelargoniums will make the move after this growing season. Some of these are believed to be the only examples of their type in cultivation and cannot successfully be propagated.
Mostly originating from southern Africa, pelargoniums have a long history of cultivation in the UK, with the species P. triste first brought to the UK in the 1630s. Hybridisation began in earnest in the 1700s and continues to this day, with the genus now split into 10 principal groups with numerous sub-groupings and descriptors to distinguish between cultivars.
RHS Garden Wisley will become home to Species, Species Hybrid, Mini/Dwarf Stellar, Zonartic and Dwarf pelargoniums, which will be displayed in the Glasshouse and across the garden in container displays over the summer. Meanwhile, the Scented Leaf and Variegated Leaf types go to RHS Garden Rosemoor, where they will be central to the garden’s much-loved bedding and container displays throughout the summer.
Rosebud, Miniature, Single and Double types (including Deacons) can be found at RHS Garden Harlow Carr, where this year they will enhance container displays by the garden entrance, the Plant Centre and the Sub Tropicana Garden. The famously dry climate at RHS Garden Hyde Hall, meanwhile, is the perfect home for the drought-tolerant Ivy Leaf, Irene and Unique types, which will become an integral element in summer seasonal planting across the garden.
The largest group of more than 200 Regal pelargonium cultivars is in the care of RHS Garden Bridgewater, along with the Decorative, Angel and Dwarf Regal groups. At the newest RHS Garden, the collection will be planted in pots en masse in the Frameyard to showcase its diversity adjacent to other impactful monoculture plantings in the Trials area.
In addition, Fibrex has also presented its National Collection of Hedera to RHS Garden Wisley, where Curator Matthew Pottage has been delighted to add the 390 varieties to the garden’s existing collection. With ivy recently shown by RHS research to be a ‘super plant’ capable of cooling buildings by up to 7.2°C in summer, visitors can appraise the impressive array of leaf shapes, colours and habits found in the National Collection to help decide which to grow.
“As with the pelargonium collection, we are grateful to see our ivies go to a new home where they will not only flourish but also be appreciated by so many more people,” says Heather Godard-Key of Fibrex. “Ivy has gained an undeserved reputation as a garden menace over the years, so hopefully this will present an opportunity for new generations of gardeners to learn that ivy is not the enemy and can be a beautiful, versatile addition to the garden.”
“I am delighted to be taking on this group of misunderstood but wonderful plants,” adds Mathew Pottage. “Their wildlife value is immense and the variations of texture, colour and form are quite a spectacle. I look forward to changing everybody’s mind about them in the coming years!”
Both National Collections were originally started by Hazel Key of Fibrex Nurseries, before being passed on to her daughters, Ursula Key-Davis and Angela Tandy, to continue her legacy. The Pelargonium collection was started in 1958 and was granted National Collection status in 1987. The ivy collection, comprising both species and many hybrids of the native Hedera helix, was originally started as companion plants for the pelargoniums at shows, and earned National Collection status in 1996. The RHS currently holds 20 National Plant Collections at its gardens, including Crocus, Cornus, Viburnum and rhubarb.