National Plant Collection at London Colney

PUBLISHED: 15:27 15 February 2010 | UPDATED: 14:48 20 February 2013

Judy is keen to preserve older chrysanthemums

Judy is keen to preserve older chrysanthemums

Judy Barker bought six chrysanthemum plants from a nurseryman six years ago and now holds the National Plant Collection at her allotment at London Colney. Philippa Pearson admires the colourful late summer display

FROM mid-August to December, a spectacular firework display of colourful blooms light up an allotment at London Colney. This is where Judy Barker keeps her National Plant Collection of hardy chrysanthemums, built up over six years from just a handful of plants. Judy remembers her grandmother growing pretty chrysanthemums with brown, yellow, pink and purple flowers but in recent years, these particular varieties seem to have vanished, becoming harder to find at nurseries and garden centres.

Judy became intrigued as to why this once popular garden plant had almost disappeared from circulation. In 2001, she went to Capel Manor College in Enfield where the Hertfordshire group of the Hardy Plant Society, of which Judy is a keen member, hosted a study day on late flowering autumn hardy plants. One of the lecturers included hardy chrysanthemums in his talk and during the lunch break Judy quickly bought one of each of the chrysanthemums he was selling. Her collection had begun.

More were then added from the Hardy Plant Conservation Scheme, which aims to preserve older, rarer or unfashionable perennial plants.

Judy put the plants in her allotment plot, a strip measuring 28 x 9m (90ft x 30ft), and word soon spread amongst the plant lover's grapevine that she was looking to increase her collection. Soon more plants appeared, many through the post in an assortment of containers from soggy jiffy bags to margarine tubs and shoe boxes. Most plants have a little note such as 'this came from my mother's garden and it flowers year after year'.

The mists of time have long obliterated the names of many of the cultivars finding their way into Judy's collection and she happily spends time researching to trace their heritage. The Plant Finder, an annually produced bible advising nurseries selling particular plants, lists fewer outlets each year selling old chrysanthemums but Judy has tracked down some cultivars and named them with the help of nurserymen. She also visits the Royal Horticultural Society's Lindley Library, spending hours pouring over old nursery catalogues, pamphlets and botanical books, a good source for descriptions of plants grown by gardeners long ago.

Article taken from September issue of Hertfordshire Life

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