ISSUE 95  |  Southern Gothic

Rare Plants Saved From Extinction That You Can Grow at Home

November 01, 2013 1:00 PM

BY Kendra Wilson

Evolution Plants, a new nursery near Bath, might be one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet. Tom Mitchell, its founder, sees his five acres as a kind of Noah’s Ark. “There are species in cultivation here which are threatened with imminent extinction in the wild,” he says. “It’s important to have a Plan B.”

Zoos, botanical gardens, private gardens, and nurseries all play a role in looking after threatened plants “ex situ.” The hope is that these rescued plants will survive the destruction of their natural habitat but will be ready to be re-established in the wild when “the world comes to its senses,” says Mitchell. The plants are also for sale.

Trees can become extinct too–unless we save them. See Saving the World’s Oldest Trees.

Photographs by Tom Mitchell, unless otherwise noted.

Above: Autumn-flowering Parnassia grandifolia, £7.50, is “looking great now,” says Mitchell.

Tom Mitchell is a nursery man and plant explorer who has a few other lives under his belt. After earning a Cambridge doctorate in rainforest biology he became a city banker, which was not a happy choice. However, the strands of his life weave together at Evolution Plants in a way that seems naturally predestined. Tom is brilliant at telling stories on the website and is quite open about his own.

Above: Helleborus Foetidus was found happily growing at high altitude in full sun, though generally promoted as a shade-loving plant. “Ill-served by its unflattering name, this tough, architectural, winter-green perennial deserves a place in every garden,” writes Tom on the website. Skill level? “Bomb proof.” Helleborus Foetidus, or Stinking Hellebore, £5.50.

Not every plant at the nursery is directly under threat; some are also there because they fit into a plant group that Tom loves and they are a good example of a natural un-messed-around-with species, which he will always favor over a cultivar or hybrid. “One of my favorite plants is Crocus tommasinianus, which occurs by the billion, in the wild and in gardens, but it’s a fantastic garden plant,” says Tom.

Above: Trautvetteria sp. nov, £15. A new type of the little-known Trautvetteria, a very useful shade-tolerant plant which can be grown as a gauzy screen.

“Virtually no-one has heard of this splendid genus of woodland perennials,” writes Tom in the notes. “They are valuable for their glossy foliage and white, Thalictrum-like flowers.”

Above: Autumn Snowdrop, Galanthus peshemenii (£4.50), flowering now. Growing it well outdoors involves mimicking its natural conditions: “In the wild it grows in pockets of soil in limestone and enjoys perfect drainage,” writes Tom on the site. It follows then that these do well in a pot.

In the wild it grows in pockets of soil in limestone and enjoys perfect drainage. The key to growing it well outdoors is to mimic those conditions. It does well in a pot – See more at:

Above: Orchid, Calanthe discolor £15.99.

“Although diversity is greatest in the tropics, there are also many hard, temperate, terrestrial orchids,” of which this is one.

Above: Evolution Plants at Lower South Wraxhall, Wiltshire, Photograph by Martin Haswell.

“There’s a simple criterion by which I judge a plant for inclusion on the website,” says Tom. “Do I personally love it enough to put my hand on my heart and tell potential customers that they ought to love it too?”

Evolution Plants is an online shop; visits by appointment.

For more passionate plant collecting, see The Source: Where to Find the Next ‘It’ Plants.