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