The Merlin Trust is celebrating 30 years of funding life-changing travel for young horticulturists. Founded on 22 January 1990 by Valerie Finnis with the support of three preeminent horticulturists as trustees: Christopher Brickell, David Rae and Brian Mathew, the Merlin Trust sought to give early career gardeners an opportunity to visit the plants they grew and cared for in their natural habitats.

Named for Valerie’s stepson, Merlin Scott, who died in North Africa in 1941, the Trust accepts applications for study travel grants from horticulturists under 35 years of age, or those new to horticulture irrespective of age. Each successful applicant becomes a ‘Merlin’. To date, there have been over 700 Merlins, traveling around the world to learn how to grow and care for many different plants, gain experience from global plants people, and develop networks for horticultural and botanical information sharing. There are two travel grant-giving rounds every year, with additional opportunities to visit the Schachen Alpine Garden or take part in an Alpine Garden Society tour.

Merlins look back on the travel they undertook with a Merlin Trust grant with great affection – with all those meeting Valerie, who oversaw the Trust for 16 years until her death in 2006, holding her in high regard. For most Merlins, a study travel grant helped focus their career aspirations, assisting in their development into specialist horticultural areas, and providing much needed horticultural expertise to gardens in the UK and elsewhere.

A well-known and very highly respected gardener, photographer and teacher, Valerie established the Merlin Trust “for the advancement of education by providing grants for students to enable them to travel both abroad and in the United Kingdom to study plants in the wild and in gardens.” This statement, taken from the document which formed the Merlin Trust, summarises the initial and continuing purpose of the Trust, which is a registered charity and welcomes donations.

Valerie was quoted as saying “I love helping the young to get on. For years plants used to be more important than people to me. But really it’s only people that matter.” The current Merlin Trust trustees couldn’t agree more, with Sally Petitt, chair of the Merlin Trust and Head of Horticulture at Cambridge University Botanic Garden, saying “We are continually impressed by the applications we receive from young horticulturists who show such dedication to the field of horticulture and it’s always a pleasure to learn how much successful applicants value the opportunities and experiences Merlin offers.”

Happy birthday, Merlin Trust!