Robbie is one of a new generation of innovative horticulturalists blending the spheres of gardening and conservation. He is the driving force behind ‘FossilPlants’; a ‘backyard botanic garden’ and research nursery that houses a collection of early evolutionary plant lineages alongside many others. Renowned for succeeding with difficult-to-grow plants, he uses his skills to propagate threatened plant species, creating cultivation protocols that will assist future ex-situ conservation and restoration efforts.
Robbie’s main area of research is in trying to understand some of the more unusual, and little grown, members of the Proteaceae. He holds the British National Collection of South Eastern Australian Banksia species and one of the largest documented collections of South African Proteaceae in the world. Other plant passions include Ericaceae, threatened British native species, Bryophytes, Oncocyclus Iris and understanding the evolutionary links between the world’s plant species.
With a keen interest in plant science and evolution it is unsurprising that he is a fellow of ‘The Linnean Society Of London’, the world’s premier society for the study of natural history, he sits on the Royal Horticultural Society’s Nagoya Protocol working group and his love of antipodean plant species has led to his Chairmanship of the Australasian Plant Society in Great Britain.
In his role writing for ‘The Guardian’, he enticed gardeners to step out of the boundaries set by mainstream horticulture, through introducing more unusual species to the reader and by providing useful insights into how these plants have been brought into cultivation. His writing often engaged with uncomfortable concepts and issues in the world of gardening such as non-native invasive species, the worldwide illegal trade in plants and ‘Plant Blindness’ – a concept that, until Robbie’s 2015 article, had been stuck in the realms of scientific literature.