• Highdown Foxtails, 1930s, West Sussex Record Office

    The Legacy

Stern from RHS Highdown photo album, 1960, RHS Lindley Library

The Vanishing

Today at Highdown, there is the threat of climate change, new plant diseases and visitor damage which has led to plant losses. Some plants have vanished such as the collection of Eremurus (nicknamed ‘Foxtails’) due to changing rainfall conditions, see photo above. However, many of those seeds collected over 100 years ago by the plant hunters, or swapped with Sir Frederick Stern, did survive and thrive in the chalk.

Lottery and Cards

Thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Highdown staff and volunteers can now audit the surviving collection. The main clues are found in Sir Frederick’s original index plant cards once stored in the head gardener’s bungalow, now the Highdown Gardens Visitor Centre. In 2020, volunteers catalogued over 3500 of Stern’s cards to reveal some of the origins of the plants that arrived at Highdown.

Seed the Future

In the spirit of Sir Frederick’s scientific curiosity, seeds from his rare chalk loving plants can now be shared with the Millennium Seed Bank. We are planning more public events to raise awareness to  protect this living library. Also, a propagation project is ongoing with more opportunities to share the Sterns’ plants with other gardens and future generations.

Download Highdown Plant Trail