National Collection of Magnolias
at Caerhays Castle
The National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens (NCCPG) was founded in 1978 with the aim of arresting the decline in the range of plants available to the public. The charity, based at the RHS Wisley Gardens, administers the National Plant Collection Scheme which now consists of around 630 collections held on 450 sites and safeguarding around 70,000 species and cultivars. Well over half the magnolia species in existence in the wild are classified as being endangered and on the United Nations ‘Red List’. The purpose of a National Collection is to establish in one place as many species and cultivars of magnolias as possible to enable the public to see and assess them together.
A National Plant Collection Holders’ job is to protect a particular group of plants and both to display them to the public as well as ensuring the survival of the genetic material for the future.
In the case of magnolias one simply cannot go to Yunnan or Schezewan in China. Even if the magnolia species which Wilson and Forrest collected from around 100 years ago have been burnt as firewood, ring barked by goats or cleared for agriculture, we will still have pure genetic plant material originating from the wild of many of these species at Caerhays. In quite a few instances Caerhays still has the original and oldest plants of particular species in the Western world.
In 2000 Caerhays’ application to become a holder of a National Collection of Magnolias was accepted by the NCCPG. As well as having a good existing collection of species and cultivars (preferably from wild collected seed), Collection Holders must search out old and new varieties and cultivars to add to their existing collections so that a whole range of genetic propagating material will be available for comparison and research from one source for future generations.
The NCCPG prefer for Collections to be held in more than one place in the country, where the plants may grow and survive quite differently. Caerhays is therefore only one of now four National Magnolia Collections. The others are at Wentworth Castle (Yorkshire), Windsor Great Park (Berkshire), and Bodnant (N. Wales).
M. ‘Caerhays Surprise’
M. ‘Miss Honeybee’
There are just over 40 species of magnolia, maglietia and michelia in the Caerhays collection. Alongside this there are a further 170 named cultivars and some 250 (as yet) unnamed seedlings. In addition Caerhays has imported a range of exciting new cultivars from China which was, at the opening of the last century, the origin of many of the oldest magnolias growing in the gardens today. Further additions to the collection have come from New Zealand, France, Holland, Belgium and Switzerland, although many of these represent the work of magnolia hybridisers in the USA and Sweden. In the last two springs some 30 new cultivars have been planted out to add to the collection. Another 40 remain in the nursery beds until they get larger.
A National Collection Holder must have at least 75% of the species and cultivars listed in The Plant Finder or Hillier’s Catalogue to be eligible. He must also undertake to label all the plants in the collection in a clear and accurate manner and to enable the public to view and compare them.
Jaimie Parsons, the Head Gardener at Caerhays, must therefore take a great deal of the credit for the new labelling of the Caerhays collection and for the computer listings and history of the full collection which are available for viewing on this site. Some of the best-known Caerhays species and homebred hybrids are featured pictorially further on but, in time, the plan is for the collection to be able to be viewed pictorially on a fully interactive basis.