Sadny’s Garden ... Brexit and Immigrant Plants

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

The world-famous Chelsea Flower Show opens its doors to the public on Tuesday May 22.

Well, to Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) members only on Tuesday and Wednesday … and closes just five day later, on Saturday 26th. Provided you have bought your tickets in advance, a mere £45.00 will allow enthusiastic gardeners to wallow in a plethora of new and exciting horticultural ideas and to be introduced to a range of newly-introduced species and variants. But, gentle reader, some very popular plants have been banned by the RHS. You won’t find any lavender plants there, or any flowering cherry trees, both of which are favourites with British gardeners. For these plants can fall victim to Xylella fastidiosa, which is described by the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) as, “one of the most harmful bacterial plant diseases in the world. It can cause severe losses in a wide range of hosts and there would be a massive impact on the plant trade across all business sectors in the event of an outbreak in the UK.” The HTA warning continues, “An outbreak of this disease, where several different plants are infected, will trigger immediate stock destruction within 100 metres and a movement ban of host plants within a 5-kilometre radius for up to five years. This will dramatically and immediately affect most plant selling operations, as well as impacting on all businesses dealing in plants within the 5km zone.”

Other plants which are banned from the 2018 Chelsea Flower Show are coffee, hebe, oleander, olive, polygala, rosemary and Spanish broom, the aim of the RHS being to stop invasive slugs, germs, bugs and beetles from laying waste to the nation’s shrubberies. All of these species can become infected by Xylella fastidiosa, as can something of the order of 350 types of plants. And that deadly germ is approaching the UK from continental Europe as it advances from Spain and Italy and across France towards the English Channel.

The present UK government rules for gardeners returning home from holidays abroad are quite straightforward. If you are travelling from a country within the EU, you can bring in any fruit, vegetables or plant products, other than plants and seeds of Fraxinus (ash) and Castanea (Sweet chestnut) and plants of Platanus (plane) intended for planting – as long as they are grown in any of the countries of the EU, are free from pests and diseases and are for your personal use. If you’re travelling from a country outside the EU, many products have weight and quantity restrictions or are banned completely unless you have a phytosanitary (plant health) certificate. The banned plants are the ash and sweet chestnut again, joined by the potato and all citrus and vine plants. Horticultural traders are subject to similar rules.

If you want to buy plants online or by post, the government advice is to check that the seller can provide a phytosanitary certificate before you buy any plants from outside the EU. You don’t need a certificate if you’re buying a plant that’s coming from within the EU. So when we leave the European Union, the gardener … and the garden centre … will have more bureaucratic hurdles to cross. And this is a two-way process, for the many British nurseries which sell plants in continental Europe will also be subject, like people, to new restrictions and delays and to curbs on freedom of movement between the UK and our neighbours.

The RHS is calling on the government to introduce a warranty system for plants … similar to the visas which apply to people … in a bid to ease the post-Brexit movement of plants which can be assured to be free of plagues and pestilences. And I shall be delighted if this bid to prevent unnecessary restrictions on intra-European plant movements is successful.