Yesterday, after several abortive attempts, I finally managed to drag Him Indoors to Derry Watkins’ Special Plants Nursery at Cold Ashton, near my home town of Bath. Although Derry’s nursery is tucked half way down a steep hill below the village it’s evident that the settlement was aptly named. The view out towards the Severn Estuary and Wales is beautiful, but it’s a chilly spot. At the end of Greenways Lane – one of those byways that has a strip of grass in the middle and golden dandelions at the edges – we arrived to find we were the only customers. The nursery team had found a warm, sheltered spot for an alfresco lunch. I felt slightly guilty intruding on their break but, as I hoped, there were many wonderful plants to distract us.
Derry Watkins has a reputation for tracking down rare and interesting perennials and grasses, many of which have been tried and tested in her own exposed garden. Like me, she also has a penchant for tender perennials, pointing out that they often flower for much longer than their hardy counterparts. I particularly wanted to get my hands on the white form of Geranium maderense, which Derry refers to as ‘Alba’. I have a single plant of ‘Guernsey White’, yet to flower, that I raised from seed, but wanted more. Having bagged two Albas, we went on to explore the rest of the nursery. Three Digitalis canariensis, two Zaluzianskya ovata, an Impatiens omeiana and an Impatiens kilimanjari x pseudoviola ‘Pale Pink’ later, my wallet was bare. (The latter I hope to propagate and grow in the light shade of the passageway that leads to our front door.)
Special Plants Nursery had already lived up to expectations, but then, as I cast a discerning eye over one last bench, I spotted Chorizema ilicifolium commonly known as the holly flame pea. I was smitten, but alas only the display plant remained. Thankfully this lanky Western Australian native with its holly-like leaves and neon blooms is easily raised from seed, flowering when only a few inches high and continuing on to about 3ft at maturity. The plants require the shelter of a cool greenhouse or conservatory but reward with copious flowers from March until October.
Seeds of Chorizema ilicifolium are available from Chiltern Seeds. As soon as there is any space available on my windowsill I’ll be sowing some!