Successful collaborative research is dependent on excellent ideas and innovative experimental approaches as well as the provision of appropriate support networks. Collaboration requires venues, infrastructures, training facilities and, perhaps most importantly, a sustained commitment to working together as a community. These activities do not occur without significant effort yet can be facilitated and overseen by the leadership of a research network that has a clearly defined role to help build resources for their community. Over the past twenty years, this is a role that the UKRI-BBSRC funded GARNet network has played in the support of the UK curiosity-driven, discovery-led plant science research community. This article reviews the lessons learnt by GARNet in the hope that they can inform the practical implementation of current and future research networks.