Sunday 24 February 2013

Launching the new Award of Garden Merit list

Elizabeth Banks, President of the Royal Horticultural Society, toasts the launch of the new list of Award of Garden Merit plants with (L-R) Kylie Balmain, JMG, Richard Sanford & Jim Gardiner.

Although not much has been said of it in this diary, for the past 15 months or so a great deal of my time has been devoted to the 2012 review of the Award of Garden Merit (AGM) for the Royal Horticultural Society. The AGM is the recognition given by the RHS to plants of outstanding quality for garden use and is perhaps the highest accolade a plant can receive - it is thus a source of pride to the raiser and of potential value to the nursery trade. It's fair to say that AGM plants form - or should form - the core of any garden planting.

The Award of Garden Merit was revitalised in 1993, with the idea that it should be reviewed every ten years - so 2012 was scheduled for a major review. Having attended several preparatory meetings I was invited to undertake the task of co-ordinating the review across all plant groups and their appropriate committees, and was also asked to lead the team working on woody plants. With all the changes in my life that occurred last year this was quite a challenge, but somehow we managed to get the review completed for almost every group of plants in time for a new AGM list to be published and launched last Tuesday: the lists for Hosta and Hemerocallis were finalised the previous Thursday. The lists, broken into various categories, are available on the RHS website, here, and with them will be found the new RHS Hardiness Ratings chart. Both are important tools for British gardeners at least.

Galanthus elwesii 'Comet' is a worthy new addition to the AGM list.

There are about 7100 AGM plants in the new list. Having lost 1900 and gained 1400 it is slightly shorter than before, but we have removed a lot of plants that are not available in the trade and are thus debarred from holding the AGM. As I said in my speech at the launch, many people are interested in the 'ins' and 'outs', but in fact what is most interesting is the consistency of the core of AGM plants - in most cases a good plant twenty years ago is still a good plant today. An article on the process has appeared in The Garden (February 2012) and a more detailed version will be in the next issue of The Plantsman.

The dream team: Peter Catt, Maurice Foster, Chris Lane, Chris Sanders and Roy Lancaster, debating Hydrangea for the AGM review.

To bring this list together has entailed a huge amount of work from a large number of people on the RHS plant committtees, who have trawled through lists and debated each candidate's merits. For me this was a fascinating process and I'll always remember the meetings of the panel discussing shrubs, meeting in the Tower Room at Wisley for four long sessions and watching the diseased leaves of Robinia pseudoacacia 'Frisia' blow away, taking its AGM with them. Sitting with the 'dream team' of experts assembled was an incredible education and very pleasurable too. Such work was carried out by members of all seven plant committees - I hope all will be proud when they see the AGM logo decorating the label of a plant in a garden centre or nursery. An awful lot of work went on behind the scenes too, most especially by Richard Sanford of the Informatics team at Wisley, who meticulously logged every decision and hardiness rating into the RHS database, an enormous task, taken to the wire with the last changes going in late on Friday afternoon.

The display of AGM plants put together from Wisley, at the show on Tuesday last week.

To get to the launch at the RHS show last Tuesday was therefore a huge relief to all concerned. Kylie Balmain, Head of Horticultural Relations, and a team from Wisley had spent the weekend putting together a display of AGM plants, which attracted a lot of attention, and some of us were interviewed for a podcast - though I've yet to find it on the RHS website. The launch itself was fun, once the speeches were over, with ample wine and lots of good gardeners to talk to: a very pleasant end to a long journey.

The launch party on Tuesday: Jim Jermyn is excited about something in front.
Matt Pottage and Razvan Chisu, in varying degrees of hirsuteness.

1 comment:

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