Excerpts from the Autumn 2013 Journal
A plant conservation scheme for members
The National Office has launched the Plant Guardian scheme, which is
open to all members of Plant Heritage. The scheme grew out of a
desire to find a way for members to contribute to our objectives of plant
conservation. The role of the plant guardian is to look after a threatened
plant in your own garden or allotment. The plant must belong to you.
A record of your plant is held on the National Office website at
www.nccpg.com. This record is created and updated by you. An email
address is essential to take part. The definition of plants that can be
registered for guardianship are :
* TPP defined as ‘threatened’
* RHS Plantfinder listing 2 or less suppliers
* Red label from the plant exchange or from our group sales
* IUCN Red List
You register to become a plant guardian (PG) on the national website
You identify which of your plants you would like to record in the scheme,
and register the plant details on the national website and check they meet at
least 1 of the above.
The ‘threatened’ status of the plant you record will be checked by the TPP
project coordinator and your plant will be listed as being cared for by an
anonymous PG on the website.
You need to be happy about your contact details (email or phone) being
passed on to other members who may make an enquiry about the plant. It
will be entirely your decision if you share your plant on request. The
scheme will involve members more with hands-on conservation, and it will
help to make members aware of the National Plant Exchange.
I will be registering all the red label plants I have received on behalf of the
group over the last two years. There can be more than one guardian for a
plant, in fact the more the better. The plant is more widely distributed and
therefore less likely to be lost.If the scheme interests you, please get
involved and sign up for guardianship.
ALL HAIL THE VOLUNTEER!
Now I may be a bit slow on the uptake but I have to admit that I only
recently began to realise just how important volunteers are to Plant
Heritage. Of course I was aware that we have a committee who 'organise'
things for us, but that was as far as it went. Since becoming involved as a
committee member myself however, I have begun to see just how much
hard work is going on behind the scenes, in fact I would state it more
strongly than that and say that volunteers are the lifeblood of Plant
I suppose it wasn't just becoming a committee member that triggered this
realisation. The other thing that started me thinking was reading in the last
group journal about the tremendous achievement of the Suffolk Group in
being the largest donor to Plant Heritage National Office giving over
£38,000 from 2006-2012. Once I started ruminating it all began to fall
into place and I could see that the success of Plant Heritage Suffolk is due
to the tremendous efforts of volunteers.
It's not all about fundraising but it has to be said that money oils the wheels
and enables us to achieve our aims of conserving plants and promoting
Plant Heritage. Perhaps the most obvious exemplar is the twice yearly
plant fair at Helmingham Hall in Spring and Autumn. Everything from the
negotiations to hold the event to gaining publicity from local and national
media; from approaches to nurseries to secure their attendance to the
propagation and nurturing of our own plant stocks; from support to
encourage collection holders to exhibit their plant collections to all the help
on the day including selling plants, meeting and greeting visitors, acting as
MC, gaining feedback from nurseries, unpacking and packing away and so
on and so forth, it all depends on the goodwill and energy of volunteers .
I've certainly missed out many jobs but you will get the feel of just how
much there is to be done and having performed so effectively. Suffolk
Group has enjoyed great success and respect in raising funds for Plant
Heritage National Office.
Now volunteering isn't a one way street, there's a lot to be gained by us as
individuals if we give the organisation a bit of time. I've already
discovered that getting involved means getting to know other members on
a more personal level. It's really interesting finding out about other's
backgrounds and interests and at the end of the day we're all gardeners so
there's always a common theme to help cement these social interactions.
Volunteering is also a chance to gain satisfaction from using the many
skills and talents we all possess and have brought with us from our previous
experiences. Alternatively, it can also be the chance to experiment
with doing something different or to develop a new skill or just have a go.
I recently joined a group of members as a 'propagating student' and really
enjoyed myself. It has to be said that as well as helping Plant Heritage
volunteering has a lot to offer us.
We certainly have lots to celebrate in Suffolk and a huge reputation to
maintain and I'm hoping that this article might just encourage more of you
to have a go. Volunteering doesn't have to be a huge commitment, you
don't even have to be hugely energetic or active as some jobs can be done
from your armchair. At all levels we always need members to get involved.
So if your appetite is whetted why not have a word with one of our
committee members to work out where you would be happy to fit in as a
volunteer and help the continued success of Plant Heritage Suffolk Group.
FLOWERS AS ART
One of the advantages of being a National Collection Holder is that you
never know what surprise is round the corner. Most are pleasant
surprises, and earlier this year I was asked to visit Vienna and give a
lecture connected to Sir Cedric Morris and his irises, part of a lecture series
and exhibition in the University department of Applied Arts (which
includes a Landscape design department). However, despite a visit to
Hullwood Barn by the University lecturer organising the exhibition, I
managed to misunderstand my brief for the lecture – probably I was so
excited by the thought of an expenses paid trip to Vienna in early June that
I was not listening properly to what she was telling me. I thought the
exhibition was on ‘Flowers in Art’, but the reality was much more thought
provoking it was ‘Flowers as Art’ –and yes I did have to very quickly
change the focus of the lecture!
The thrust of the exhibition and lecture series was inspired by a statement
of American artist George Gessert that “Time is long overdue for
ornamental plant breeding to be considered an art”. The lecture and his
book has introduced me to terms such as ‘Bio Art’ and has made me
wonder whether living things can be art - and made me think “ah! but
what is Art” – something which, you will be relieved to read, I am not
going to try and answer here.
I discovered through the exhibition that there is a long history of plant
cultivars which are the deliberate product of a breeding programme being
considered works of art.
In 1936, Edward Steichen, a professional designer, photographer and
painter who was also the President of the Delphinium Society of America,
made history by exhibiting his delphiniums the New York Museum of
Modern Art. The press release for the exhibition reads “……to avoid
confusion, it should be noted that the actual delphiniums will be shown in
the Museum – not paintings or photographs of them. It will be a ‘personal
appearance’ of the flowers themselves”. Part of Steichen’s vision was to
sell seeds of his ‘Conneticut Yankee’ range to give everyone a chance to
buy (and grow) affordable art.
In 1939 Sacheverell Sitwell wrote that highly bred ornamental plants are
fine art because they ‘represent a direct and conscious attack upon Nature’
Sitwell wrote about Morris and his ‘Benton’ irises and certainly considered
them to be art. At this time, before the Second World War the science of
genetics was expected to become increasingly important in both science
and art, however it is not surprising that after the war artists and writers
did not pursue genetic hybridisation as art.
It was not until 1990 that plant cultivars were again shown in an art
gallery, pacific coast irises bred by Gessert. If ‘man made’ plants can be
works of art, I also would put Cedric Morris in the same league, and if
their beauty defines them as fine art, then they certainly qualify. I would
also agree with Gessert that the ruffled highly coloured irises which are
being bred today would qualify as Kitsch Art, and also many modern
cultivars of other species.
Flowers as ‘art’ have also had a Damien Hirst moment. In America,
Eduardo Kac has inserted a gene from his own blood into a chromosome
of a Petunia, the resulting plant he called an Edunia, he deliberately
ensured it had red veins. It produces seed which also contain Kac’s genes
(is this a bit scary?)
I have recently seen fungus as art – a friend’s graduation exhibition
contained a damp slice of mother’s pride bread sandwiched between two
pieces of Perspex, the ‘art’ was watching the mould grow. I am still not
entirely sure about some of this, but for me it is an interesting line of
thought. I have definitely come to consider gardening to be a form of art
with gardens such as Stourhead and Sissinghurst to be great works of art.
In different genres I very much admire the landform art of Kim Wilkie and
the plant associations of Christopher Lloyd.
Incidentally I would suggest that landscape parks and gardens are
multidimensional works of art, with, in addition to having the usual three
spatial dimensions, at least four time dimensions. As Jim Marshall says in
his article ‘A Horticultural Crisis’ (page 37) to care for these works of art
requires a unique understanding of science and art, so we should be
training the curators (gardeners) to a very high standard, and valuing them
accordingly. Maybe, if cultivars of ornamental plants can be considered
fine art in themselves, this puts an interesting complexion on the work of