Towards the end of the summer last year, the UK’s second-largest garden centre chain and the National Trust announced the start of an exclusive five-year collaboration.
Blue Diamond Garden Centres is working together with the National Trust – which has the largest collection of historic gardens and plants under single ownership in Europe – to create a series of collections, from seeds and bulbs to a far more unique offering.
Sold exclusively through Blue Diamond stores, the collections are inspired by National Trust gardens, including the red border at Hidcote and the white garden at Sissinghurst Castle Garden. They include rare, heritage species which gardeners will be able to plant for themselves for the first time.
“This horticultural heritage doesn’t belong to the National Trust; it belongs to the nation,” says Andy Jasper, National Trust’s head of gardens and parklands. “So, this is all part and parcel of allowing access. It’s actually quite a bold move. We were looking for a partner and Blue Diamond came along with the mechanism and the ability and a can-do attitude which unlocked everything.”
First to launch was the spring flowering bulb collection last September. Two months later, the Powis Castle Bare Root Collection was unveiled, inspired by some of the roses grown at the Grade I listed castle in Powys, Wales. All are grown in peat-free compost and in household recyclable pots.
“The sourcing standards at the National Trust include no single-use plastic, peat-free, and recycled – all of which Blue Diamond has adopted, and Blue Diamond has actually been leading the way in transferring away from peat growing media,” says Jasper. “We’ve been eradicating peat from our processes for the last 30 years, so it really is something that is right at the core of who we are and what we represent.”
Plants for the National Trust’s latest collaboration plants are grown at Blue Diamond’s 75-acre nursery, which the chain purchased alongside its Bridgemere garden centre, one of the largest garden centres in the UK.
“Blue Diamond, we feel, is a formula in the garden centre trade; we aim to be peat free by 2024. We work with big and local suppliers to try to get everyone moving towards peat free too,” says Blue Diamond’s Jill Kerr.
At the start of this year, the native trees and hedgerow collection hit stores which hopes to address the decline in hedgerows following World War II and to improve biodiversity. It includes native shrubs and trees such as viburnum, hawthorn and elderberry. The summer flowering bulb collection then launched in February, swiftly followed by the seed collection – with more than 60 flowering varieties of seeds in packets illustrated by Madeleine Smith – and seed gifting, along with potted roses such as Rosa ‘Octavia Hill’, named after one of the founders of the National Trust, Rosa ‘Biddulph Grange’, Rosa ‘Tatton’ and Rosa ‘National Trust’.
Most recent to market is the herbaceous border plant bundles inspired by four National Trust properties: Nymans in West Sussex, Hill Top in Cumbria, Sissinghurst Castle Garden in Kent, and Hidcote in Gloucestershire. The ‘Ready to Plant’ packaging shows users how they might plant the collections to replicate those at these properties, with planting instructions and a planting plan.
To showcase the range so far – and what’s still to come – the National Trust and Blue Diamond will be exhibiting in the Discovery Zone at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show this year, before launching their seed journals in June. At the RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival, a new rose will be unveiled which has been bred by specialist German rose breeding company Rosen Tantau. The ‘Mottisfont’ rose has been named after the National Trust property in Hampshire with the same name, “which is renowned for its 1900 old fashioned roses,” explains Kerr. “It’s a very traditional rose, in terms of colour and style – which is just perfectly suited for Mottisfont,” adds Jasper. Towards the end of the summer, Blue Diamond will be adding a collection of ‘naturalising’ spring flowering bulbs – which are planted in open grass – including crocus and tulips.
All the launches, up to this point, will be available to the mass market, with a minimum of 10% of retail sales price per product to be donated to the National Trust. However, in the autumn, an exclusive product will be available through the collection which only 10 buyers will be able to get their hands on – one which has “gravitas”, says Jasper.
Isaac Newton’s Apple Tree, also known as the ‘Flower of Kent’, is situated in the orchard of Newton’s childhood home, Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire. An apple from this tree dropped in front of Newton which is said to have sparked his theory of fundamental gravitational force. From the original tree, a limited number of trees have been propagated and will be auctioned off. A large part of the sum will then go to Woolsthorpe Manor, a National Trust property.
“People have never been able to own their own piece of history this way, I think it’s a really exciting collaboration. We’re going to allow people to register their interest from May, then there will be an online auction in September, says Kerr.
The 10 trees each come with a wooden stake and a brass plaque – and a contract. “You might want to take cuttings, but you cannot actually sell those cuttings,” explains Jasper. “We have actually given these trees as donations to some other places, but they all come with that agreement.”
Bidding will also take place next year on a limited number of trees propagated from the original Ankerwyke Yew, which is said to have witnessed the signing of the Magna Carta and where it is rumoured Henry VIII proposed to Anne Boleyn.
Whilst both Blue Diamond and the National Trust will profit from sales of the collection, the hope is that these products will also drive customers of the garden centres to their local National Trust garden, or those further afield.
“For me, it’s one of the key reasons,” says Jasper. “All the National Trust properties belong to the nation, and by allowing greater access, through the plants that you can buy, it also will help people realise that these properties are here for the nation, for everybody to visit, so that’s right at the heart of this.”
For now, the five-year partnership is exclusive to Blue Diamond, with no plans from the National Trust to strike up a similar partnership with other garden centres. With a series of launches in just the first year, though, it’s bound to prove lucrative for both parties and there could be more to come.