H. Heritage Value of Plant Collections


The plant collections of Britain and Ireland are diverse in content, age and history, forming an interesting and vital part of our national, scientific, horticultural, cultural and biological heritage. PlantNetwork aims to emphasise the heritage value of plant collections in these and other contexts, as appropriate, and to support members in making collections publicly accessible, physically and through promoting an understanding of their significance to a wide audience.

Collections do not necessarily have to be very old to be of heritage value. However, the older plant collections have a particular place in the history of botany, horticulture and gardening, in Britain, Ireland and elsewhere; some also involve social, historical and political aspects as well as associations with art and design. Staff working in British and Irish plant collections have played a significant role in the introduction of plants into gardens and their life and work can also legitimately be included as part of our heritage.

Many aspects of botanic gardens and plant collections are relevant to heritage and culture. Knowledge, whether formally documented or oral, is an important part of heritage. This includes knowledge of the properties of the plants in a garden and how to cultivate them and scientific work on plant collections, including conservation research. For some, the greatest heritage value of gardens is the combination of science, horticulture and education and their part in preserving, conserving and rescuing the biological heritage of the world.

People, places, buildings and events also form part of the heritage of botanic and similar gardens. Individual components of a garden (such as historic avenues or buildings), or indeed the whole landscape, may have heritage value, locally or nationally. Botanic gardens and plant collections can provide physically and intellectually accessible opportunities to promote the historical and cultural links between garden design and plant collections with Britain and Ireland’s multicultural communities.

Plant collections have played a significant role in the history of these islands for more than 400 years. We have therefore inherited an asset that has been designed and refined for at least 15 generations. This is one part of our heritage that must be allowed to evolve and not simply be preserved.

PlantNetwork aims to develop the understanding of the heritage value of plant collections

PlantNetwork has:

  • held conferences on
    • Historic and Cultural Significance of Plants in Cultivation at the University of Birmingham Botanic Garden, in September 2005
    • Glasshouses: Old Structures New Growth at Sheffield Botanical Gardens in September 2003
    • Training in Heritage and Botanical Horticulture at Writtle College, in September 2002
  • held a Tree Forum meeting on Conservation of Wilson’s Legacy at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in June 2005

To maintain these achievements, PlantNetwork will:

  • encourage its members to recognise and support the heritage value of their gardens and plant collections through the establishment of historic assessment policies and inclusion of historical information within plant collection records
  • create a forum for sharing the expertise of recognised heritage gardens through workshops and newsletter articles
  • highlight the heritage value of collections for a wide audience, through specialist, professional and popular media
  • celebrate anniversaries and local connections of plant collectors, botanists, gardeners, events and dates of introduction of plants either in individual gardens or as joint, multi venue events.
  • work with museums, and organisations such as the Garden History Society, English Heritage, National Trust and National Trust for Scotland and the Association of Heritage Interpretation to promote the heritage value of plant collections and gardens.
  • highlight the shared skills between curatorial staff whether as curators of plant collections or those working in other collection management sectors such as museums, archives or galleries and seek to share expertise and promote joint activities where possible.

The following policies are also relevant in delivering the policy on Heritage Value of Plant Collections: