Manager of the National Trust’s Plant Conservation Centre, Chris conserves an invaluable collection of plants for future generations
I think gardening is in my genes. My mum was a very keen gardener and I know from delving into family history that my grandfather was a gardener at a private estate somewhere in Alton, Hampshire.
It’s always been about growing and propagation for me. I started when I was 12 and my first experience of gardening was growing a few cacti on my mum’s kitchen windowsill, some of them from seed, probably bought at Woolworths. Eventually I had two 8ft x 6ft glasshouses full of them.
Other influences besides my family include Geoff Hamilton who was an inspiration. I always liked watching him on Gardeners’ World. I liked his down-to-earth, hands-on approach – it’s my line of gardening.
I’ve worked for the National Trust for 24 years now. I was at Knightshayes Court before coming here, and I always wanted to be in propagation and work in the South West, so getting to where I am now as manager of the Plant Conservation Centre (PCC) in Devon is a real high point in my career.
Propagating and grafting is what I do so if there’s one object I’d choose to represent me and the way I look at the world, it would be a grafting knife. The trust’s gardens contain an incredible wealth of plants from all over the world and they are part of our history. Many of them are rare or threatened and no longer thriving in the wild. Our job here is to build up new stock of these plants and grow them on for future generations.
My sharpest learning curve has been designing and building the PCC. Finding the right site took nine months and then there was the task of designing all the pieces that we need for this state-of-the art building, finding building contractors and getting them on site and organised. The building took 18 months and the centre became operational in 2012.
The trees and plants that we’re raising at the centre are hopefully going to be around for a long time. A Cedar of Lebanon, for instance, can live for 200 years, and we’re also reproducing young plants of the Ankerwycke Yew – and that’s been around for 2,500 years.
The exact location of the PCC is kept secret. Find out more at www.nationaltrust.org.uk