Sussex gardeners win prestigious Brickell Award

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The Mathers Foundation, based near Pulborough, West Sussex, has won the prestigious Brickell Award 2024 at RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival for outstanding orchid conservation.

Horticultural conservation charity Plant Heritage has awarded its prestigious annual Brickell Award 2024 to distinguished orchid conservationists at The Mathers Foundation in West Sussex.

The annual award – named after Plant Heritage’s founding member and Vice President Chris Brickell – celebrates excellence in cultivated plant conservation and has been awarded to Gill Mathers, David Mathers and Jim Durrant in recognition of their outstanding orchid conservation work.

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Garden writer, TV presenter and historian Advolly Richmond presented Gill, David and Jim with the award at Plant Heritage's display at RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival on Monday, July 1.

Jim Durrant, David Mathers and Gill Mathers with their Brickell Award 2024.Jim Durrant, David Mathers and Gill Mathers with their Brickell Award 2024.
Jim Durrant, David Mathers and Gill Mathers with their Brickell Award 2024.

The Mathers Foundation is home to three National Plant Collections of orchids (Oncidium; Pleione; Stanhopea & Acineta spp. & hybrids), including two that were rescued when their original Collection Holder was no longer able to maintain them.

Chair Gill Mathers, Founder David Mathers, and Nursery Manager Jim Durrant (recognised as an Associate of Honour by the RHS last year) have been awarded for using sustainable growing techniques, minimal chemical use and for their active laboratory propagation programme of existing and new cultivar seedlings.

The judges also commended the Foundation for using the 17,000 plants within their care to support research, including tracking, identification and photographic logging of all of their plants and studying improved methods of growing and propagation.

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Since the foundation was established in 2019, Gill, David and Jim have worked tirelessly to conserve a variety of orchid species and hybrids that otherwise might be lost. Preserving unique collections of plants outside their natural habitats is becoming ever more important given the pressures on wild plant populations.

They conserve three outstanding collections, with a further two planned. The Foundation has also received numerous awards from the RHS Orchid Committee in recent years and works closely with the Plant Heritage Sussex Group by hosting training courses, visits and events for members.

Gwen Hines, CEO at Plant Heritage,says: “The Mathers Foundation is a fantastic example of three passionate people working to save a plant group they love. Gill, David and Jim have devoted themselves to conserving orchids, making them truly worthy recipients of our Brickell Award.

"Together they have taken on Ian Butterfield's Pleione and Richard and Denise Hartley’s Stanhopea National Plant Collections in a bid to ensure that the many years of hard work by Ian, Richard and Denise were not in vain, and their precious plants saved.

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"Succession of National Plant Collections is hugely important, as otherwise the plants and their associated knowledge could be lost. We applaud The Mathers Foundation’s ongoing work and look forward to their many more successes in the future.”

Gill Mathers said: “We are delighted to receive this prestigious award. Safeguarding, cultivating and propagating endangered orchids is becoming increasingly important given the pressures on these plants in their native habitats from climate change and deforestation.

"The Brickell Award is a fantastic recognition of the importance of this work and a tribute to the incredible support, encouragement and ideas that have we received from so many individuals both in the UK and internationally.”

“The award is an important acknowledgement of Jim’s work. His long experience in growing orchids enables us to take on large and complex collections and ensure that they flourish in their new home. His knowledge and enthusiasm for these plants inspires innovation and encourages others to grow these plants better.

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"We intend to expand our work over the coming years, increasing the range of orchids that we look after and developing our research and laboratory propagation programme too.”

To find out more about Plant Heritage, visit www.plantheritage.org.uk

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