Rare peony wins national horticultural competition

A rare peony has been crowned the winner of the Threatened Plant of the Year 2022 competition by horticultural conservation charity Plant Heritage. An equally unusual Aeonium with links to the 1690s, and a rose named after Sir Winston Churchill, are also joint winners of the People’s Choice award.

The judging panel crowned Roz Cooper’s winning peony, Paeonia ‘Gleam of Light’, as the overall winner due to its rarity, exquisite perfume, beautiful appearance, and free flowering characteristic. Yet, despite being a distinctive plant that was first recorded in Kelways Nursery’s 1954 catalogue, this cultivar hasn’t been commercially available for over five years. To the best of Plant Heritage’s knowledge, this is the only recorded location of this peony, as it’s cared for by Roz as part of Plant Heritage’s Plant Guardian scheme.

Thanks to Roz, its future is looking brighter. Roz has even been able to provide plant material to someone looking to start a National Plant Collection of historic peonies in Cornwall, further helping to re-build numbers of this iconic plant and keep it safe for the future.

Vicki Cooke, Conservation Manager at Plant Heritage explains: “With its free flowering potential, desirable qualities and good heritage, we really hope this pretty peony will become more widely available again, giving this currently rare plant hope for the future. Roz’s story really showcases the value of our Plant Guardian scheme in looking after rare plants to stop them disappearing from our gardens altogether.

Roz was informed of her success at RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2022 by Jim Marshall, Vice Chairman of Plant Heritage, and will receive a winner’s certificate, an engraved vase and a special plant label.

Roz Cooper, winner of the Threatened Plant of the Year 2022, said: “I am thrilled that my beautiful paeony has won, especially as it was up against several rare plants each with fascinating stories. Paeonies are long lived plants, and ‘Gleam of Light’ was available to buy for over 60 years before it fell out of nursery catalogues, so I was taken aback to discover that my garden was only one known location to Plant Heritage. It would be wonderful to discover more examples of it in the future.”

The winners of the People’s Choice award 2022 were Aeonium arboreum ‘Albovariegatum’ and Rosa ‘Sir Winston Churchill’, which are both held in National Plant Collections.

This Aeonium was shortlisted due to its fascinating heritage – there’s reference to a cultivar matching this description in the glasshouse of Badminton House, Gloucestershire in 1699! – but also because of its appearance. It has swirling rosettes that change colour throughout the seasons, from almost entirely creamy white with a pink tinge around the leaf margin to lime green, cream and pink variegation. This unusual cultivar forms part of Melanie Lewis’ National Plant Collection of Aeonium, held at her home in Shropshire.

Joint winner, the pretty-in-pink Rosa ‘Sir Winston Churchill’, forms part of a ‘living archive’ at Churchill College Cambridge, complimenting the archive papers of Churchill, also held on site. Yet despite its association with such a well-known figure – and winning a gold medal at the National Rose Society – it became lost from UK horticulture.

As part of a project to bring together all the plants named after Churchill as part of a National Plant Collection, John Moore (Head of Grounds and Gardens) eventually tracked it down in Australia. It was found in South Australia’s David Ruston Garden (the largest private rose garden in the Southern Hemisphere), where over 50,000 rose varieties are grown. Bud material was sent back to the UK, where it was grafted and now thrives alongside other cultivars named after Churchill. Its future is now looking brighter, as plants have now also been shared with Cambridge Botanic Garden and Blenheim Palace.

To see this year’s 12 finalists, visit: https://bit.ly/TPotY2022

To find out more about Plant Heritage, how to become a National Plant Collection Holder, Plant Guardian or member, visit www.plantheritage.org.uk

And for anyone who doesn’t have time or space to start their own collection, you can always sponsor the National Plant Collections instead!

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