Robbie's banking on banksia

A childhood fascination with the prehistoric world spurred Robbie Blackhall-Miles’ passion for ancient plants. While his brothers were enraptured by dinosaurs, Robbie was enthralled by the world they inhabited and plants living in those times. That spark never left him, and after taking a degree in environmental management and a seven-year spell as propagator at Crug Farm Plants near Bangor in North Wales Robbie is now pursuing his dream by working as a horticultural consultant. He is currently leading the redevelopment of the garden at the Natural History Museum and travels to see plants in the wild.

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“Among 1,118 different plant species squeezed into my tiny garden and small nursery I’ve developed one of the largest collections of the protea family in the UK,” said Robbie. He holds the Plant Heritage National Plant Collection of banksia from South East Australia, shrubs that have changed very little over millions of years of evolution. He currently grows 12 species, and one variety, Banksia ‘Birthday Candles’, which he considers the easiest to grow.

He’s also proud of his wollemi pine, Wollemia nobilis, a prehistoric relative of the monkey puzzle tree Auraucaria araucana, discovered in a remote gorge near Sydney in 1994. “It was a little boy’s dream when it was found,” recalled Robbie, whose own plant has reached 7m (22ft) in eight years. “The secret is an acid soil and high rainfall,” said Robbie. “Those growing in drier conditions don’t do so well.”

His analytical approach to growing involves developing a complete understanding of how a plant reproduces, grows and survives in the wild. Said Robbie, “I want to establish protocols for future generations to reproduce and if necessary restore a critically endangered plant in the wild.”

How you can be a plant hero

You can help preserve unusual plants in your garden! The Plant Heritage charity works to conserve the nation’s garden plants through the National Plant Collection Scheme and Individual Plant Guardians, and is looking for Garden news readers to get involved with its crucial work.

Contact collections@plantheritage.org.uk for more information or visit www.plantheritage.org.uk.