Plant-hunting at the Malvern Autumn Show

malvern autumn show

The nursery displays at the Malvern Autumn Show are always the first place I head. Mail order is all very well but nothing beats being able to examine plants and talk to the people who’ve grown them before you buy. And at Malvern there was no shortage of tempting exhibits.

The judges’ favourite was Hampshire Carnivorous Plants’ display of insect-eating plants (pictured above). I confess to finding them somewhat sinister but the colours were stunning and the exhibit richly deserved its Best in Show award – the third at Malvern for grower Matt Soper and number 11 in total.

Elsewhere, Stella Exley, of Hare Spring Cottage Plants, won her first gold with only her third RHS show exhibit; she got silver at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival and Tatton Park earlier this year.

malvern autumn show
There was lots of good detail on Hare Spring Cottage Plant’s stand

I loved the sense of timelessness she had created. It felt like the corner of a real garden that the owner had just stepped out of for a moment.

The sense of a garden was also apparent on Green Jjam’s stand. This Cotswold-based nursery, which specialises in penstemon, showed how they could be worked through a border with things such as Verbena bonariensis, helianthus and grasses to create a soft, cottage garden-like effect.

malvern autumn show
Green Jjam Nurseries’ stand showed how to mix penstemon with other plants

And there were plenty of individual plants that caught my eye at the Malvern Autumn Show. Here are just a few I spotted.

Rethinking rudbeckias

I’ve never been too sure about rudbeckia, though my judgement is possibly clouded thanks to my struggles to grow them. It’s the combination of yellow and brown that puts me off so a new variety on Hayloft Plants’ stand really appealed.

Rudbeckia ‘Sophia Yellow’ has an orange central cone instead of the usual dark brown and two-tone petals of yolk and pale yellow, giving a real blast of sunshine colour to a late border.

Malvern autumn show
Rudbeckia ‘Sophia Yellow’

It grows to about 40cm high and needs more sun than the traditional rudbeckia – so much so that Hayloft are promoting them as ‘Sunbeckia’.

“If you put it in the same category as ‘Goldsturm’, it’s going to struggle,” explained Lark Hanham, of Hayloft.

The Dutch breeders regard it as fully hardy but, until it’s been thoroughly tested in gardens, Lark is advising that it’s hardy to minus seven.

malvern autumn show
Rudbeckia ‘Amber Glow’

For those who like the familiar brown and yellow combination, ‘Amber Glow’ is a winner. It has a dark brown centre but the yellow petals have striking red-brown markings.

A cool contrast is a Senecio candicans ‘Angel Wings’. This is so new on the nursery they still have no idea what colour the flowers will be or even what shape. As it’s not hardy, it’s being suggested as a houseplant or as part of a summer border.

malvern autumn show
The new senecio has lovely felty leaves

New versions of old favourites

I love heucheras: the foliage is good year-round; they have lovely, delicate wands of flowers; the slugs and snails leave them alone. Malvern always has several specialist nurseries, making it easy to compare different varieties.

On Plantagogo’s stand this year, a new heucherella – a cross between a heuchera and a tiarella – was making an impact.

malvern autumn show
‘Art Nouveau’ will eventually make a sizeable clump

‘Art Nouveau’ is a beefy plant that will eventually get 2-3ft across with large green leaves that have a striking dark marking.

“It will have leaves as big as your hand and lovely white flowers,” said Vicky Fox, who runs the nursery with her husband, Richard.

And if it’s brown hues you want, Heuchera ‘Mega Caramel’ has tints of orange, peach and pink in its foliage.

malvern autumn show
‘Mega Caramel’ has beautifully shaded foliage

The display by specialist aster growers Old Court Nurseries was stunning and a worthy gold medal winner.

malvern autumn show
The gold medal-winning display by Old Court Nurseries

Among the familiar pink, white and mauve blooms was a new variety, ‘Jessica Jones’, a seedling from ‘Ochtendgloren’ but slightly taller and with larger flowers.

Growing to about 4ft-high, it has dark pink buds that open to paler flowers giving a lovely two-tone effect on the plant.

malvern autumn show
‘Jessica Jones’

“It’s a pretty good size, robust and very free flowering,” said Helen Picton from the Colwall-based nursery.

Don’t forget the scent

Another pretty pink bloom that was getting admiring glances was Clematis ‘Manon’ making its Malvern Autumn Show debut on Floyds Climbers and Clematis’ stand.

It has almost pearlescent lavender-pink flowers, which appear from May to September, grows up to 5ft, making it idea for a container, and is best in semi-shade for the best colour.

malvern autumn show
Clematis ‘Manon’

“It is also good for growing up a low-growing shrub,” said Marcel Floyd.

His tip for growing clematis in a container is to give them two gallons of water once a week and let them dry out, rather than watering daily.

“They don’t like wet feet,” he explained.

malvern autumn show
They may be tiny but these flowers have a powerful scent

But it was a pink jasmine that followed me home from his exhibit. Trachelospermum asiaticum ‘Pink Showers’ is an evergreen that flowers from June to September, is drought and salt-tolerant, and deer-proof. It is also suited to any aspect except north-facing.

Best of all, it has that wonderful jasmine fragrance.

Also beautifully scented was the Actea simplex ‘Brunette’ on Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants.

malvern autumn show
Actea has a wonderful scent

The creamy wand of flowers is held above deep burgundy-brown leaves. It will grow to around 4ft in height, likes humus-rich soil and needs sunshine to keep good foliage colour.

“It will gradually clump up and can be split after four or five years,” said Rob Hardy.

For those who love honeysuckle but don’t have room for what can be a vigorous climber, one of Newent Plant Centre’s most popular plants could be the answer.

Lonicera periclymenum ‘Honeybush’ doesn’t climb but forms a 3ft by 3ft bush, covered in deep pink and golden blooms.

malvern autumn show
A bushy honeysuckle is good for the front of beds or pots

“It still has that fantastic, intense scent,” said Mark Moir of the nursery, which is now based near Ledbury.

The honeysuckle is deciduous, will flower from July to October and can be grown in pots or in a semi-shaded position in the garden.

“If you want to tidy it up, you can prune it in the spring.”

And among the edibles

Mint is rarely thought of as a thing of beauty yet a new variety on Hooksgreen Herbs’ display was stunning.

Variegated grapefruit mint, which was discovered on the nursery, has pale mauve flowers above green and white foliage, which has a definite hint of citrus.

malvern autumn show
Variegated grapefruit mint

“At this time of year it goes pink and has good autumn colour,” said Malcolm Dickson.

Finally, I love looking at the veg displays at the Malvern Autumn Show – if only to marvel at their absolute perfection. There’s also usually something a bit different, such as the Karella on W. Robinson & Son’s stand.

Sue Robinson described it as a bitter gourd from India that is used as the base for curries.

malvern autumn show
Karella is used in curries

“It’s a bit of an acquired taste.”

And if you don’t like the flavour, you could always use this climber as her grandfather used to: as living greenhouse shading in the firm’s glasshouses.

Read my reflections on the Malvern Autumn Show and its future shape here

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Reflecting on the Malvern Autumn Show

Despite an enjoyable day buying plants and talking to nursery owners, I’m not convinced the Malvern Autumn Show has found its niche. Here are some thoughts on what is for many the final show of the year.

There’s no doubt that the Malvern Autumn Show has a very different feel to its springtime cousin.

Its RHS flower show is smaller and less crowded, there are no show gardens – it’s been some years since Malvern had its autumn ‘edible gardens’ feature – and the mood is more one of calm reflection than the fizz of anticipation.

It is, of course, not billed as a purely gardening show but rather a seasonal celebration with a large ‘harvest festival’ element, food, and, for the past three years, the National Giant Vegetable Championships, which this year broke four world records, adding to the mix.

malvern autumn show
The giant veg contest is a big attraction

As such, the gardening section is but one part and it was good. The nursery stands were beautifully put together, there were quality plants to buy and many things sold out with nurseries reporting lots of new customers rather than just their regulars.

Yet, over the years I’ve had the impression that the gardening is being squeezed, although I’m assured the number of nurseries was just one short of last autumn’s show. The vintage section, once farm and horticultural machinery, now encompasses cars and even caravans, while trade stands are selling everything from handbags to rugs.

It was disappointing to see empty spaces in the flower show area and on the trestle tables displaying vegetables raised by amateur growers, although that may have been due to a tricky growing season.

Perhaps gardening at the Malvern Autumn Show suffers coming as it does at the end of a long year of shows; many of the nursery owners I spoke to looked quite simply exhausted after months of driving stock across the country and staging displays. It will be interesting to see how the addition of RHS Chatsworth next year will affect things; I can’t see how a shrinking number of nurseries can fill ever more flower shows.

malvern autumn show
Nerines on Hoyland Plant Centre’s display

Does this perceived dwindling of the gardening element in the autumn show matter? It should. The two Malvern shows offer the chance to buy from a wide range of independent nurseries to gardeners for whom the likes of Hampton and Chelsea are too far or too expensive.

And autumn should be important for gardeners. It’s widely acknowledged as the best time to plant, giving things time to put down roots in still-warm soil before having to think about fruiting and flowering. It’s also often easier to reshape planting schemes while they are still fresh in your mind rather than waiting until spring.

There have been moves to revitalise the autumn show. Last year’s introduction of a celebration of home-grown flowers and British florists added a much-needed buzz. It was repeated this year and showed just how vibrant September gardens can be; the dahlia display by Jon Wheatley around the theatre stage was also a widely admired injection of colour.

malvern autumn show
Detail from one of the floral garlands

Yet, while the floral exhibits were still innovative and interesting, I felt the ‘Floral Fiesta’ would have been better in one of the many Malvern ‘tents’ rather than being somewhat lost in the ‘tin sheds’ between trade stands selling labels and tools. The Floral Art section is another area in need of a rethink, if it is to attract a younger audience.

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Floral Circus’ flower photo frame was a bit lost in the hall

I also think there is a need for some design element – possibly small scale to fit with many people’s available growing space and to encourage design newcomers; award-winning designer Paul Hervey-Brookes started with a tiny garden at the Malvern Autumn Show.

There’s no doubt the spring festival is on the up, thanks to its partnership with the RHS. It’s now the RHS’s third biggest show, is attracting more nurseries, designers and visitors and Jane Furze has just been appointed as its head after a successful stint as Cheltenham Festivals Director.

The Malvern Autumn Show will also be under new leadership with Diana Walton starting as a new Head of Shows in December. As yet, what are described as “exciting plans” for the show are under wraps. I for one will be watching with interest.

malvern autumn show
There were some great displays but should there be more gardening?

Read about my plant-hunting at the Malvern Autumn Show here

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Malvern Autumn Show 2016

The Malvern Autumn Show has always marked a turning point in the gardening year for me. It’s a time to look back at the season that’s drawing to a close and somewhere to start planning for next year.

There’s the chance to stock up on plants, seeds and bulbs from some of the country’s leading nurseries, pick up tips from experts and marvel at displays of fruit and veg.

malvern autumn show
There will be lots of veg on show

And if monster carrots weren’t enough of a spectacle, this year Strictly Come Dancing fans will get the chance to see Anton du Beke as he dances in the Vintage Village.

I’ve been taking a look at what’s on offer at The Three Counties Showground this weekend.

Time to plug those gaps

malvern autumn show
I’m looking for some autumn inspiration

For me, the very best garden shows have the chance to buy plants and talk to the people who have grown them. Malvern has more than 40 different nursery exhibits in its RHS Flower Show, covering everything from perennials and climbers to bulbs and roses.

Like many, I’ve got some gaps in my borders and plants I’ve spotted during the summer that I want to try growing. So, I will be heading for the nursery displays with my shopping list.

My first port of call will be Green Jjam Nurseries, which specialises in penstemon. I’m determined to improve my late summer colour and penstemon are an easy way to do that and, unlike echinacea or helenium, seem to be ignored by slugs.

malvern autumn show
There should be plenty of asters on show

Hayloft Plants will also be displaying autumn-flowering perennials, Old Court Nurseries will have asters and there are several nurseries with heucheras that give important year-round colour.

I may also be tempted by dahlias from Pheasant Acre Plants, who had a stunning display at this year’s Hampton Court flower show.

Vegging out

malvern autumn show

Vegetables play a big part at the Malvern Show – in size as well as numbers.

The UK National Giant Vegetables Championship has been held at the show since 2013 with classes that include the heaviest pumpkin and longest beetroot.

This year, there are new categories for the heaviest bell pepper and red cabbage.

The show saw three world record-breaking entries last year and there are hundreds of entries for this season’s contest.

Amateur growers will also be vying for prizes in the Harvest Pavilion with Grow to Show, the Vegetable Trug National Championships and the National Vegetable Society’s Midland Branch Championships.

Floral fiesta

Having a cut flower patch is becoming increasingly popular in gardens I visit and the Malvern Autumn Show will again be putting the spotlight on British cut flowers.

malvern autumn show
Jonathan Moseley

Floral designer Jonathan Moseley will be working with some of the country’s leading growers to promote ‘grown not flown’ flowers in the ‘Floral Fiesta’.

There will be demonstrations, talks and hands-on workshops, showing visitors how to make the most of seasonal blooms.

“Autumn is the most magical time of year and for me as a floral designer there is a wealth of rich colours and stimulating textures to work with,” said Jonathan, who was the floral judge on BBC2’s Great Allotment Challenge.

“Visitors can enjoy a riot of sensational colours from bold dahlias in rich reds, burgundies and tangerines to vivacious sunflowers, nostalgic chrysanthemums with that scent so evocative of autumn, all married with some unusual choice blooms from my own Derbyshire garden.”

malvern autumn show
Expect to see squash and gourds used in floral arrangements

Several members of the British flower co-operative Flowers from the Farm will be there, including Great British Florist and Wild Bunch.

Dahlias take centre stage

The flower market of Mexico City is the inspiration behind a dazzling display of dahlias at this year’s Malvern Autumn Show.

malvern autumn show
Jon is promising a dazzling display

Leading horticulturalist Jon Wheatley is decorating the theatre stage with hundreds of blooms, including cut flowers from the National Collection in Cornwall, and varieties that he has raised himself at his nursery in Chew Magna.

Dahlias are the national flower of Mexico and Jon visited Mexico City earlier this year.

malvern autumn show
Cut flowers from the National Collection will be used

“I have never seen so much colour in my life,” he says. “I’m going to try to encompass a little bit of Mexico City’s flower market in it.”

He will be unveiling a new single white called ‘Stroma’ at the show, as well as using species dahlias, dwarf bedders and garden dahlias.

“We’re celebrating the dahlia’s diversity,” he explains.

malvern autumn show
‘Stroma’ will be unveiled at the show

Flowers will be arranged in bands of colour with accent plants such as miscanthus, box, artemesia, and banana.

“It’s not just going to be dahlias and will demonstrate how you can grow plants with them.”

Jon, who has won many RHS gold medals for displays of dahlias and chrysanthemums, will be on hand to answer queries throughout the show and is also giving a number of talks.

Pick up some tips

malvern autumn show
Mark Diacono will be hosting cookery talks

Expert growers will be offering tips and advice in a series of talks at the Malvern Autumn Show.

malvern autumn show
Tom Kerridge

Gardeners’ World presenter Carol Klein, expert veg growers and members of the RHS’ tender ornamental plant committee will be offering help on everything from container gardening to carnivorous plants.

There will also be ideas on how to use your homegrown produce with BBC TV chef Tom Kerridge and Mark Diacono from Otter Farm.

They will be appearing in the Cookery Theatre along with Mark Stinchcombe, winner of MasterChef The Professionals.

The Malvern Autumn Show is on Saturday and Sunday September 24 and 25 from 9am to 6pm.

Tickets are available on the door. More information and details of talks at here

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Cheltenham open gardens

Cheltenham hasn’t taken part in the National Gardens Scheme for many years and now like a fleet of London buses, not one but nine gardens have come along.

Ranging from a tiny courtyard to a medium-sized family plot, they will be opening their gates to the public this week.

When I first started writing about the area, there were gardens in the town that opened for the NGS but when those stopped the county organisation struggled to find replacements.

There have been the occasional events for smaller causes, such as town charities or groups, but nothing for the ‘Yellow Book’.

cheltenham open gardens
Sunflowers are one of the late performers on show

It’s something that’s always puzzled me given the charity’s strength in the rest of the county, Cheltenham’s reputation for its flowers, and the number of keen gardeners it has; the thriving horticultural society celebrates its 75th anniversary next year.

Now, as the 2016 season comes to a close, Cheltenham is back on the NGS garden-visiting map.

I’ve been along to one of those taking part to see what’s on offer.

A surprising discovery

cheltenham open gardens
Malcolm aims for a natural feel to his garden

One of the delights of a group opening in the National Gardens Scheme is that you never quite know what you will get.

Unlike individual gardens, which are vetted to ensure they will provide at least 45 minutes of interest including tea and cake, the plots in a group opening are often much smaller and very varied.

What makes a town group opening even better is that from the street there is often no clue to what those hidden back gardens contain.

cheltenham open gardens
Rosa ‘Malvern Hills’ is something I see quite often in gardens

It’s certainly the case with Malcolm Allison’s Cheltenham house. Planted containers at the front suggest it’s the home of a gardener but there’s little to arouse much curiosity.

I expected something typical of a suburban garden: a patch of lawn, neat borders, familiar plants with possibly one or two slightly unusual things. The reality is very different.

cheltenham open gardens
Salvias are one of the garden’s strengths

For a start, the garden is not neat – but that’s deliberate. Malcolm gardens for wildlife and prefers what he describes as “the natural look”.

“I like it to look natural and the opposite to gardened,” he explains, “but it’s very contrived and I do spend a lot of time on it.”

cheltenham open gardens
Nerines fill the greenhouse

As a result, plants are allowed to self-seed, piles of old wood are placed in corners for insects, seed heads are left for birds and nothing is made too tidy.

Then there’s the lawn, or lack of it. When nurseryman Malcolm and his husband, David, moved in four years ago there was a large expanse of grass but that is now flower borders and even the narrow grass path has been replaced by gravel.

cheltenham open gardens
Salvia ‘Ember’s Wish’

“I arrived with a lawnmower and gave that away after a year,” he says. “The grass just turned into a muddy, slippery slope so I gave it up.”

But it’s the plants themselves that proved the biggest surprise. Yes, there are the sort of things I see in many gardens – hellebores and ferns in the shady areas, pink Japanese anemones on slender stems – but there were many more that were unfamiliar.

There are unusual begonias, including B. fusca from southern Mexico, which has large, almost felty leaves, and B. masoniana, with its distinctive ‘iron cross’ marking. Daphne calcicola ‘Gang Ho Ba’, an evergreen alpine with bright yellow blooms that Malcolm is carefully nurturing and his prized possession Dendroseris pruinata, a Chilean shrubby daisy that is under threat in the wild. He’s grown it from seed and is still waiting for it to flower.

cheltenham open gardens
Dendroseris pruinata is endangered in the wild

Malcolm grows lots in pots, partly to soften the patio and hard standing alongside a shed that he inherited – a second was taken down – and partly because he finds things survive better in containers in the shade than in his clay soil. A 20ft leylandii hedge that was behind the sheds has now been felled but the area is still shaded, not least because of mature apple and plum trees.

Near the house, stone troughs are used to house alpines that would not cope with either the soil or the crowded borders.

A collection of containers at the end of the garden illustrates his love of the unusual and of colour.

“In a shady situation, colour lifts it a little bit and stops it being quite so dark,” he explains, pointing to the orange flowers of Begonia sutherlandii, the coral-red of Salvia ‘Ember’s Wish’, Lysimachia congestiflora ‘Persian Chocolate’, with its yellow flowers and purple, trailing foliage, and the striking Oxalis spiralis subsp. vulcanicola ‘Sunset Velvet’, which has golden blooms above red, orange and yellow leaves.

cheltenham open gardens
Oxalis, begonia, salvia and lysimachia brighten a dark corner

Many of the plants are not hardy and overwinter in his greenhouses alongside a collection of nerines. Others, such as Persicaria microcephala ‘Purple Fantasy’ and Heuchera ‘Lime Rickey’ stay outside.

There are wildlife friendly and ‘green’ features woven through the garden. I nearly missed the small plant-filled pond – the garden is teeming with tiny frogs – there are several water butts, a wormery, and beehives.

cheltenham open gardens
Teasels are found all over the garden

Teasels thread through the borders alongside roses, persicaria, bidens, crocosmia and mallow.

“I love flowers,” says Malcolm. “Foliage is great but I like colour.”

cheltenham open gardens
Dahlia coccinea adds vibrant colour

Orange Dahlia coccinea, and numerous salvias in pots near the house fulfil this role, including inky purple ‘Nachtvlinder’, pale pink ‘Peter Vigeon’, red ‘Royal Bumble’ and blue ‘African Skies’.

The dainty flowers are often lost in large borders but in this small garden – it’s 67ft by 27ft – they more than hold their own.

cheltenham open gardens
Salvia x jamensis ‘Nachtvlinder’

“My vista is only 15ft and in a little garden, a lot of salvia flowers are perfect.”

Malcolm sells plants at Farmers’ Markets across Gloucestershire. See his website for details.

79 Byron Road, St Mark’s Cheltenham, GL51 7EU, is open on Sunday September 18, 2016 from 11-5pm for the National Gardens Scheme. Combined admission is £4, children’s entry is free and there will be teas and plants for sale. Tickets and maps can be bought at any of the gardens. The others are:

34 Cudnall Street, Charlton Kings, Cheltenham, GL53 8HG

Hosanna House, 43 Cudnall Street, Charlton Kings, Cheltenham, GL53 8HL

Milton Cottage, Overbury Street, Charlton Kings, Cheltenham, GL53 8HJ

19 Wellington Lane, Cheltenham, GL50 4JF

Edible Garden, Francis Close Hall, Swindon Road, Cheltenham GL50 4AZ

51 Milton Road, St Mark’s Cheltenham, GL51 7EU

22 Harrington Drive, Hatherley, Cheltenham, GL51 6ER

169 Hatherley Road, Cheltenham, GL51 6EP.

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Harrell’s – a hidden plant paradise

A trip to Harrell’s Hardy Plants usually requires a somewhat furtive return and a look of wide-eyed innocence if the plants that have followed me home are spotted. It’s the kind of nursery where it’s hard to leave empty-handed and I rarely do.

harrell's
The garden is still full of colour

Of course, it’s difficult to know whether to describe it as a nursery. Should it be a garden that sells plants or a nursery that just happens to have a garden? Either way, it combines two of my great loves and I frequently find excuses to call in.

You need to know where you are going though, as the nursery is tucked away in the heart of Evesham and the narrow driveway between two houses is far from promising. What lies behind are the sort of plants that mainstream garden centres rarely stock and the beauty of Harrell’s is you can see them both on the sale stands and also growing in the one-acre garden.

harrell's
Echinacea ‘Raspberry Truffle’

The nursery was started by sisters Liz Nicklin and Kate Phillips in 2000 at first as a part-time venture as both were still working, Liz as a hospital matron and Kate as a primary school teacher.

“The nursery is our replacement for a large garden,” laughs Kate. “We’re frustrated mansion-sized gardeners.”

Indeed, the business grew out of their joint passion for propagating: when they ran out of space at home, they progressed first to selling at WI markets and finally to the nursery.

harrell's
Most of the beds have themes

They grow and sell only what interests them – not that this in any way limits their scope. Each has a particular favourite: hemerocallis are top with Liz while Kate has a sizeable collection of salvias and has just started another of baptisia; she already has each of the varieties available in the UK.

Things are sourced at fairs, other gardens or nurseries and used as stock plants. If they can, the sisters will buy several, putting some in the garden and dividing the others or using them for cuttings.

harrell's
Grasses are one of the sisters’ many favourites

They are attracted to anything unusual: a beautiful double orange crocosmia, variety unknown; the late bell-shaped Campanula ‘Paul Furze’ that has only just come into flower.

As the nursery name suggests, they tend towards those plants that will survive their windswept site on heavy clay soil, though that does not stop them growing a huge range from grasses and dahlias to hostas and erigerons. They have even managed to keep a tender Mandevilla laxa despite a harsh winter that felled a nearby bay tree and rose. The secret, they believe, is the Anemanthele lessoniana (formerly Stipa arundinacea) that grows in front, shielding the roots.

“It’s got its own eiderdown,” says Liz.

harrell's
The Mandevilla laxa survives against the odds

Whatever the reason, the scent from the white flowers is, as Kate puts it, intoxicating.

It seems that as a new interest grabs them, so they make a new border in the garden; it’s a running joke between us that every time I visit they have put in something extra and ‘The Last Bed’ proved to be anything but, with a mini orchard and ‘The Berm’, or mound, later additions.

harrell's
Chicory is seldom seen in garden centres

When I went there recently, they had finally removed all the old carpet under the bark paths – it was put there to supress weeds when they took over the derelict site – and were embarking on a sustained campaign against bindweed.

At this time of year, the Grass Bed is one of the highlights but there is something to see everywhere you look: the delicate seedheads of dierama hanging like tiny pearls over a path; a bed of different echinacea, yellow, purple, a pompom of raspberry red; pincushion scabious in varying shades of mauve, the offspring of the original ‘Beaujolais Bonnets’ and ‘Black and White Mix’.

“We’ve got every colour under the sun now,” observes Kate.

harrell's
Scabious come up in a range of colours

Many of their plants are not favoured by the big sellers because they tend to languish in pots.

“You don’t find chicory in a garden centre,” explains Liz, “because it grows too tall and doesn’t look presentable all the time. Diarama takes too long to grow.

harrell's
Dahlia ‘Sam Hopkins’

“A lot of things we’ve grown almost by default because we’ve seen you’re not able to get them so we’ve got seed or a plant, propagated and then grown more than we need.”

The hemerocallis are a good example of this with Liz raising hundreds from seed sent over by an American breeder every year. Over the years, the sisters have registered several, among them ‘George David’, a strong orange, Nick’s Faith, which is cream with a raspberry rib, ‘Kasia’, which is cream with a peach overlay, and ‘Caroline Taylor’, yellow with white on the midribs.

harrell's
Hemerocallis ‘Kasia’

The garden has had a similar unplanned journey, starting as just a way to trial plants but today as much a garden as any other that opens for the National Gardens Scheme.

“It was originally planted as a stock garden but it just sort of morphed,” says Liz.

“It’s because we can’t help planting plants where they look good together,” adds Kate.

harrell's
Erigeron against yellow potentilla

It means it’s inspirational as a source of ideas while the sisters are invaluable when it comes to knowing how to grow the things they sell, many by mail order, and they give their advice freely.

I managed to resist buying anything this time but only because a looming holiday meant I would not be there to care for any new purchase. A return trip is already being planned.

For more information on Harrell’s Hardy Plants see here

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