Growbag Blog

Rare plants – a common Growbag weakness


We knew, we just knew that we were going to have a good day at the Great Dixter Plant Fair when we pulled into a field to find Fergus Garrett himself, Head Gardener Extraordinaire, helping to get the cars parked. Laura and I had persuaded our game husbands (terrifically useful for carrying bags) to come with us, while our younger sister was flying back from a sun-soaked week in Italy. Must have been ghastly for her.

Laura and me with the man himself – Fergus Garrett

We had had a beautiful drive through the early autumn countryside of East Sussex to get there, and the low October sunshine cheered the quintessentially English scene of the gardening middle-classes drunk on plants reeling round about 25 specialist nursery stalls laden with priceless treasure….a rare cyclamen, a different camellia, an enchanting salvia……Dear reader, I was not immune to their lure.

First it was Crocosmia ‘Emily Mackenzie’ from Daisy Roots (we had only been there two minutes – great nursery this, always on our Chelsea Show itinerary), Mimulus auranticus from Rotherview (new to me, couldn’t resist its soft orange flowers), Dipelta yunnanensis and Magnolia laevifolia ‘Gail’s Delight’ from Kevin Hughes at Heale Gardens (fabulous healthy-looking plants, God knows where I am going to put them), and a most unusual-looking shade plant called Saruma Henryii from the Hermannshof Gardens in Germany – the charming lady assured us that it was never a nuisance and we would enjoy its light yellow flowers all summer.  Googling it since I got home (sometimes a nasty shock when you have bought a plant you have never heard of before: ‘This plant has annexed Texas’, ‘a notifiable weed in 150 countries’, ‘about as welcome as a coughing fit during your keynote speech’, but everyone seems to agree that it’s a goodie.
Rosa ‘Bengal Crimson’

Then we walked round the gorgeous Great Dixter garden in all its autumnal splendour – the jungle garden was jungly, the Long Border was zinging, and the Sunken Garden just a delight.  We paused in the Great Dixter nursery just long enough to make two more ridiculous purchases – a scrumptious purple Clematis rooguchi, and Rosa ‘Bengal Crimson’ which I had seen in the Sunken Garden, looking exactly as Dan Pearson had described it: ‘single cherry-red flowers….like sweet-wrappers scattered over the bush’.

I know you are throwing up your hands in horror at such wanton acquisitiveness, but just wait till you hear how many unnecessary purchases Laura made!!

Yes in general I have very few vices; I don’t drink, I don’t smoke and only occasionally swear and then usually just for dramatic effect (can I really be related to E & C?) but something comes over me when I am presented with an array of eclectic plants and a peculiar, irresistible acquisitiveness takes hold. Being beckoned into your parking space by Fergus Garret himself was akin to a siren calling me to the rocks, and from that point on all resistance was futile.

I don’t think I am entirely alone in my addiction. We had driven for two hours to make the pilgrimage to Great Dixter, the couple next to us had driven up that morning from Devon……

Aster laterifolius Chloe

It wasn’t just the allure of the plants, it was the nurserymen themselves, exuding bonhomie and so generous with their tips and advice when you inquired whether a particular gem would ‘do’ in your garden.
Now that I have ‘come out’ about my problem I think, like the admission of your failings in a therapy group, the easiest way to come clean is simply to list what I bought:

  • Two asters, oh alright, Symphyotrichums, ‘Porzellan‘ and ‘Pinwheel’ from Bob Brown’s Cotswold Garden Flowers (a brilliant stand). Louise describes some wonderful Symphyotrichums in her Great Plants this Month column today.
  • Another Symphyotrichum from the ever helpful and oh so knowledgeable Marina Christopher’s Phoenix Perennial Plants called ‘Bishop Colenso’ (very tall, very late flowering, very deep purple, very excited).
  •  Two Aster lateriflorus (labelled as such but now actually Symphyotrichum lateriflorum, aargh!)  from the Great Dixter nursery itself, on the grounds that we have never seen so many bees on a plant, the flowers are a lovely mix of cream ones and pink ones and apparently, once pollinated they stop producing nectar and helpfully turn pink to let the bees know not to waste their precious energy visiting this flower – isn’t nature wonderful?
  •  Saxifraga cortusifolia ‘Gokka‘ from Daisy Roots – they always  have the best cultivars….
  •  A lovely pink Corryea pulchella and the king of grasses Miscanthus nepalensis from goodness knows where.
  •  Finally, from the Beth Chatto stand a lovely giant quaking grass Chasmanthium latifolium and a beautifully subtle pink, ground-hugging evening primrose Oenothera speciosa ‘Siskiyou‘.
    And that was it. Okay okay there might also have been a couple of globe artichokes (well you don’t often see the Violet Globe forms) and possibly a cardoon or two but, really, who’s counting ….?

There, I feel better already! Same time next week?

Brugmansia – anyone for a pernod?

Well my role is to make everyone feel better about their comparatively few vices and  I was sloshing back the Pinot Noir in Sorrento while E & L were at Great Dixter feeding their more socially acceptable horticultural habit. Fleetingly though, between sampling  refreshments in what was dubbed a cultural tour of Gracie Fields’ former home on Capri and D H Lawrence’s Amalfi hideaway, a lovely brugmansia did come into focus – familiar as Laura has one in her glasshouse. It has an aniseed scent in the evenings which can make a pernod feel like a good idea.


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