Bristol Zoo Gardens (BZG) have pioneered a new sort of National Collection in the past couple of years. The Bristol Community Plant Collection (BCPC) is a Collection of Calendula held between several sites and growers but monitored and administered by staff at BZG.
The Collection is ground-breaking in several different ways. It is the first dispersed collection that we are currently aware of, though it is likely that there have been others held by Plant Heritage groups in the past. A dispersed Collection is the same as a regular National Plant Collection but is split between several different places. To make this work there has to be a person in the middle to coordinate both plants and people so that the Collection makes a coherent whole. Otherwise there is a danger that enquirers and visitors can’t tell what is being grown, where it is and whether it is still alive. At Bristol this is done by the enthusiastic, knowledgeable and patient Emma Moore. A central point also provides a place for everyone to meet and for the public to view the plants. Not everyone or every site is able to host visitors, and access to the plants is one of the most important requirements for a National Plant Collection.
The BCPC is also the first National Plant Collection to work directly with those parts of a local community that have little or no access to or experience with horticulture; places such as care homes, primary schools, rehabilitation centres. This has so many benefits: teaching people the value of plants and gardening; teaching skills; giving people a role other than that resident/patient/pupil. It is very important for Plant Heritage as the supply of future conservationists is not assured, we need to work on empowering a wider range of people than just our own peer group. You can read about the pilot project here.
The Calendula Collection is also unusual in that it is grown from seed, this does not make it unique as PH has other seed-based collections (Heritage Seed Library at Garden Organic, Roger Parson’s Lathyrus) but it does assure that the plants remain true to type. If they were being grown on one site, cross-pollination would be a potential problem.
BZG recently brought some of the Collection to the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show in the Plant Heritage marquee, and have been invited back by the RHS.
If you are interested in a dispersed Collection you will need to meet the requirements for regular National Plant Collection, have several growing partners interested in joining you, and have a patient, organised and enthusiastic person to act as administrator.