Driving south to the pretty village of Saltwood for the annual NSPCC plant fair has become something of a tradition in our household. Even Him Indoors looks forward to going, or at least pretends to. We have both been poorly this week – Him Indoors with a cold and me with tonsilitis – but after a recuperative lie-in we set off. Having not been to any of the RHS London plant fairs this year, the opportunity to kick start my plant buying campaign for 2015 was too tempting to pass up on account of a sore throat.
For as many years as I can recall the day of the fair, held in the magical grounds of Saltwood Castle, has been cold and breezy. Today was no exception, but for once we were prepared with coats, scarves and an unnecessary umbrella. Swallows dipped low over the castle’s lawns, a little early to signal the start of summer, but a welcome sight nevertheless. The wooded slopes around the ancient walls grew thick with Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) and late flowering Narcissus poeticus. The orchard, apple trees in full bloom, was artfully planted with Rembrandt tulips, elevating it from the ordinary to the sublime.
The fair is attended by a select band of twenty nurseries offering really top notch plants. For geraniums there’s Hall’s Court Nursery and for herbs, Invicta. The one nursery I cross my fingers will turn up is Decoy from Pevensey in East Sussex, a specialist in shade plants. Last year I purchased Anemonella thalictriodes ‘Oscar Shoaf’, but was not confident it would grow for me. I am happy to report it has thrived, although I think I probably let it dry out more than I should during the summer. This year I went a little wild, as you can see from the list below but, when presented with such treasures, what is a plantaholic to do? Among those that got away this time were Epimedium ‘Spine Tingler’, Cyclamen repandum, Sanguinaria canadensis f. multiplex ‘Plena’ and Athyrium filix-femina ‘Dre’s Dagger’.
There were some tantalising auriculas for sale, including P. auricula ‘Forest Lemon’ (top of post), but I was not buying. Last year’s purchases did not fare well in our snail infested garden; they were munched to within an inch of their lives before winter finished the job. I will try again another day when I have the time and patience required to grow these charming little primulas.
- Anemonella thalictroides ‘Green Hurricane’ – an unusual anemonella with green flowers over thalictrum-like foliage.
- Dryopteris wallichiana – a hardy fern, with upright stems covered in brown-black bristly hairs.
- Asarum delavayi ‘Giant’ – huge cyclamen-like leaves and curious chocolate brown flowers at carried at ground level.
- Pleione formosana ‘Clare’ – that white pleione I had been on the lookout for. Bought in generous potfulls which can be split in February.
- Jeffersonia diphylla – an American woodlander with white flowers and dancing leaves that appear lighter than air.
- Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’ – an advance on the species with brighter red fronds that retain their colour.
The car boot packed with plants, including others bought as gifts (honest!), we headed down a mile along a dead-end to The American Garden (about which more soon) for a spot of rhododendron appreciation. This part of Kent is unique in that a swathe of acid soil sweeps across the chalk landscape, creating little pockets that are just right for growing rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias. Next Sunday I can look forward to the annual opening of Sandling Park, one of the finest woodland gardens in this part of the country, especially if you like deciduous azaleas. Now all I have to do is persuade Him Indoors.