Come on, let’s hear it for independent nurseries!

Jenny
Laura

Joy of joys! I’ve been to a Plant Fair, a proper one at Great Dixter, with real people who’ve grown the plants themselves, not imported them on trolleys from the Netherlands as is often the way at garden centres.

This precious breed of nursery owners really are among the unsung heroes of lockdown and it’s time we paid tribute to some of them. We’re starting with the lovely Jenny Maillard of ‘Usual and Unusual Plants’ (our feature picture above), and we’d like to hear from you about your favourites too.

Or how about the super-helpful team from ‘Aberconwy Nursery’ who had driven all the way from North Wales in the teeth of Storm Alex to bring a breathtaking array of alpines and gave me detailed advice of the growing requirements of the rare miniature iris, with no hint of an expectation that this would lead to a purchase or not (obvs I bought three….) This was the one and only plant fair they had been able to attend since March.

Aberconwy Nursery
The horticultural world would be poorer without experts like this, generously sharing their knowledge and skills

I had only come across the Hertfordshire based ‘Daisy Roots’ nursery through their medal winning displays at Chelsea and imagined them to be a trendy team of hipsters.

Daisy Roots at Chelsea Flower Show
It looks like a glamorous lifestyle at Chelsea

But this is what lies behind the glitz, owner Annie Godfrey giving up her weekends and out in all weathers bringing quality plants and sound advice to enthusiastic amateurs in the middle of a muddy field.

Daisy Roots
Forget the glitz this is the reality, and the charm, of running your own nursery

The wonderful thing is that because they have grown and nurtured the plants themselves they can tell you exactly how to grow them well.

Cotswold Garden Flowers
When I heard Ed Brown of Cotswold Garden Flowers confidently tell a customer ‘it’s almost impossible to kill this plant’ I knew I’d found the right gift for Caroline.

It wasn’t just plants either, botanist turned horticulturist Marina Christopher of Phoenix Perennial Plants not only had her usual eclectic selection of perennials but also hand knitted gardeners socks and fingerless gloves.

Marina Christopher gloves
Is there no end to Marina’s talent? They were for E and C for Christmas but really they’re too good for this, so I’ve decided to keep them for myself (don’t tell them …)

And what of the gardener manager himself, the legendary Fergus Garrett? Obviously he had taken on the most difficult job of the event, running the car park in the pouring rain and squelchy mud, and delivered it with skill, charm and aplomb, honestly he should definitely be running the country ……

Fergus Garrett – a master class of triumph over adversity – surely he could do a better job than Boris?

Elaine

Being with Laura at a plant fair is rather like being with Violet Beauregarde in Mr. Wonka’s Chocolate Factory (as you can probably tell, I’m fresh from bedtime stories with my grandchildren..). With flushed cheeks and breathless exclamations, she scampers from one stall to another, buttonholing proprietors with questions about their most obscure plants, and loading up her long-suffering husband Tim with all the weird things she simply CAN’T DO WITHOUT. It is all quite endearing but I’m glad I’m not footing the bill.

Caroline is quite a different kettle of fish. She has an unerring instinct for falling in love with the things that won’t grow in her outrageously exposed Scottish garden (tbh, the list is HUGE!) Note to stall-holders – Caroline’s a pushover for almost anything, given the right sales patter……

Whereas I, the sensible one, always have a suitable planting position in mind before making a purchase, knowing that the right conditions are critical for future success. Apart of course, from buying more roses on the last day of Chelsea Flower Show………………

Moving swiftly on. Laura is so right about the joy to be had at independent nurseries where the plants have all been grown on site. I’m thinking of such businesses as the wonderful Marchants Hardy Plants at Laughton (all links are at the bottom of this blog), where Graham Gough can give you a world of info on each and every plant and you can even see most of them growing in their glorious garden before you buy. You’ll have to be quick if you want to get there this autumn, though – their last nursery opening this year is Saturday, 10 October. Or make a note to visit next spring.

If you want to find nurseries like this in your own area, a good place to look online is the Independent Plant Nurseries Guide, which includes links to their websites, contact details etc.

Steven and Morag Hockin at Rapkyns Nursery doing a sterling job in a very strange year, with their dogs Crunchie (the blonde) and Jumble

Another excellent one in our neck of the woods in East Sussex is Rapkyns, run by Steven and Morag Hockin who have a really tempting nursery list – 40 different salvias, 70 different clematis, penstemons, geraniums, grasses……… They told me that they sold out of lots and lots of stock once they were allowed to open this summer, and I am not surprised. They had a stall at Great Dixter but they won’t be at the upcoming Firle Place Plant Fair 16-18 October (postponed from the spring). The folk at Rapkyns also have a lovely little dog called Crunchie – news which will warm my sisters’ hearts as that is also the name of the Jack Russell that belongs to Caroline but lives with Laura………….Awwwwww!

Rapkyns still had some wonderful-looking plants at the end of their late but busy season….

Caroline with our Crunchie!

No plant fairs around us yet but Donald Davidson at Abriachan Nurseries here in the Scottish Highlands told me they’d been so busy with online sales, their own garden had gone wild (Really? Has he seen mine?)

And rather than risk the big car parks and gift shops of garden centres, haven’t many people preferred the prospect of physically shopping at secluded nurseries this summer?

Donald Davidson at Abriachan Nurseries on the shores of Loch Ness. Don’t be fooled by the nasturtiums, you’ll get some beltingly unusual plants here – and their online service is tip top.

Trust me, other top specialists up here such as Binny Plants (West Lothian) and MacPlants (East Lothian) know how to do secluded. No matter how often you’ve been before, their exact location remains a challenge…’it’s this corner coming up, no it’s the next, slow down, doh it was back there!’

I admit my main interest in nurseries lies in their potential for a pleasant afternoon out (i.e. no particular buying plan or knowledge) so I’ve collected a rather strange array of plants this summer – for instance what is a Prostanthera cuneata? I’ve got one anyway, and something else that has nice silver backs to its leaves, otherwise a mystery. One day they may even flower giving me another fabulous experience for free.

No idea what it is, but I remember having a lovely day when I bought it. This is hopefully when the know-it-all sisters will come in handy.

So in conclusion – nurserymen and women the world over – please know that your work is hugely valued for the host of wonderful benefits you give us and we love you!

We’ve told you about a few of the independent nurseries we know and admire, but we’d love to know your favourites too, so send us their names and we’ll publish a list in next week’s blog.

Meanwhile Louise has a smashing nursery recommendation too, where you could source her splendid plant of the moment. Click on the box below to find out what they both are.

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More NB. If you’d like a bit more gardening chit-chat from the3growbags, just enter your email address here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning.

Links:

Great Dixter Nursery

Usual and Unusual Plants

Aberconwy Nursery

Daisy Roots

Cotswold Garden Flowers

Phoenix Perennial Plants

Marchants Hardy Plants

Rapkyns Nursery

Abriachan Nurseries

The Garden Show at Firle Place

Independent Nurseries Guidehttp://independentplantnurseriesguide.uk/

10 Comments

  1. Love your blog I’ve really enjoyed reading all your chitchat. Two lovely independent growers in the east of England are The Walled Garden, Saxmundham and Woottens of Wenhaston I’ve bought some lovely unusual plants from them. Sorry no photos I’ll have to take some another time when I visit. Keep up the good work ladies you brighten my Saturday morning. Marjorie from Lowestoft, Suffolk

    1. Thank you Marjorie! We are so glad you like our blog, and this is just the sort of recommendation we are after, especially since Lowestoft is not an area we know much about. There is nothing as powerful as personal recommendation, really, is there! All the best,Elaine

  2. Love finding independent nurseries rather than seeing rows of “common or garden” plants for sale. Really miss my gardening club’s sale table where good value quality plants came with excellent caring advice.

    1. Hello Linda, I couldn’t agree more, and I always remember when, where and from whom I have bought a special plant and that memory adds to my enjoyment of it in the garden. Thanks so much for supporting our blog and happy gardening Laura

  3. Fergus is the ultimate star – definite PM potential – and Great Dixter is just the most magical place. Wonderful how the spirit of Christo lives on there, and how he himself would have loved the Plant Fair…

    1. Hello Caroline, your comments are conjuring up some wonderful images in my mind of Christopher Lloyd holding court with all those other wonderful nurserymen and women who go to this Plant Fair. You’re absolutely right that his spirit is definitely still around Great Dixter. Best wishes Laura

  4. Thank heavens for The Three Growbags cheerful banter to look forward to each week!

    My favourite nursery is ‘The Plant Specialist’ in Great Missenden, Bucks HP16 OBH, surrounded by its wonderful gardens. On a recent trip to Scotland we found ‘Elizabeth MacGregor’s Nursery’ at Ellenbank, Kirkcudbright, DG6 4UU, sitting next to its lovely walled garden. Here I was amazed to find many rare 3 ft Magnolia Wilsonii grown from seed by Mrs MacGregor. Both nurseries sell unusual plants, well grown on their own premises and most of the plants can be seen growing in their surrounding gardens.

    Susie Brooke

    1. Hello Susie, I love the sound of both of these nurseries, but the report of Mrs MacGregor’s home grown Magnolia Wilsoniis is surely worth a trip to Scotland just in its own right! I also love Cally Gardens, and then a bit further west Logan Botanical Gardens which are also in that neck of the woods, so perhaps it’s time to start planning a road trip (the car will have to have a big boot to fit in the magnolias..) So glad you look forward to the blog each week, comments like this make it all worthwhile. Best wishes Laura

  5. Another fab blog – Thanks!
    Paul Seabourne at Pelham Plants near Laughton has wonderful unusual plants and he is opening his garden Rose Cottage for the NGS in 2021..hoping gardens are allowed to open.Irene CO for East and Mid Sussex

    1. Thank you, Irene. That is a great suggestion about Pelham Plants – I will add it to our list. Yes, we have chosen our dates for our 2021 NGS openings, haven’t we, but WHO KNOWS what the situation will be, by then! Fingers firmly crossed. All the best, Elaine

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