In parallel with the mercury in my thermometer, the spring seed, bulb and plant catalogues are starting to drop, drop, drop onto the doormat. A film of thin, clear plastic is all that stands between me and the treasures proffered within. Even in my Night Nurse-saturated state I feel excited by the prospects for my garden in 2016. I will scour the latest brochures’ pages from front to back, two or three times, before beginning to mark my choices in ink. This year my seal of approval is a scruffy, yet jaunty, Barbie-pink star.
The first catalogue through the letterbox was sent by Burncoose Nurseries, a fine Cornish establishment owned by the same Williams’ family that gifted gardeners of the temperate world Camellia x williamsii hybrids, as well as countless rhododendrons and magnolias. Burncoose is one of those rare nurseries that stocks a huge range of unusual perennials and tender shrubs as well as prodigious collections of camellias, rhododendrons and magnolias, as you might expect. Although their main business is mail order, I am fortunate to pass by the nursery a couple of times each year, picking up rare beauties such as Ozothamnus rosmarinifolius ‘Silver Jubilee’, Tradescantia ‘Purple Sabre’ and the New Zealand rock lily, Arthropodium cirratum ‘Matapouri Bay’. This year I am sorely tempted by a new postbox-red salvia called S. ‘Embers Wish’ from New Zealand (below); coral-red Crocosmia ‘Limpopo’ and pink Agapetes ‘Ludgvan Cross’ AGM, a faintly reptilian and other-worldly-looking evergreen shrub which requires acid soil (uh-oh!).
For the last few seasons the bulk of my bulb orders have been going to Jacques Amand (Living Colour Bulbs). Their range is extensive, particularly if one is in the market for something unusual or unpronounceable (“Sprekelia formosissima anyone?”, “Well thank you, just the one!”). Having had rude success with pleiones (I am still not exactly sure what I am doing right) I fancy trying out purply-pink P. ‘Aurita’ and buttercup yellow P. ‘Forrestii’. The prices are eye-watering at first glance, but equate to less than three London pints, which is my comparison-cum-justification of choice for anything less than £30. (Should you not be au fait with the cost of a London pint, it’s currently in excess of £5 in most establishments where I live.)
I am planning to line the narrow pathway to Polegate Cottage with a collection of sun-loving nerines. Like the pleiones, they have indicated that they get on with my style of gardening, so I am going to encourage them with the purchase of four more varieties: N. ‘Isabel’ (deep-pink); N. ‘Ostara’ (just-pink); N. ‘Companion Mr John’ (purple-red); and N. ‘Vesta’ (shell-pink). One can spend an awful lot of money on nerines, which is a risk if one’s planting outside, so I am going for a careful balance of quantity versus choiceness.
Last on today’s wonder list is Sarah Raven. Judging by the size of this spring’s catalogue, business is booming at Perch Hill. Sarah opens her catalogue with dahlias, a very personal selection centred around her favourite palette of apricots, corals, oranges, plums, aubergines and decadent reds. It’s here that I stock up on tubers of my favourite Dahlia ‘American Dawn’: get in quick because they sold out in 2015.
Tickling my fancy this year are D. ‘Magenta Star’ (very much for the back of the border); D. ‘Mambo’ (reddish-mauve anemone-flowered dahlia) and, talk of the town introduction, D. ‘Darkarin’ which Sarah describes as having flowers the colour of a ‘beautiful, faded velvet cushion’. Spot on. A dahlia I love the look of but am struggling to place is D. ‘Labyrinth’. Sarah admits she never thought she’d like it, but it reminds her of the Queen Mother’s hat. Those romantically ruffled petals are straight from a milliner’s sketch book. Last on my list is a variety I admired at The Salutation last year, the wonderfully relaxed and irreverent D. ‘Walzing Matilda’.
The challenge now is to work out how to smuggle all these bulbs and plants past Him Indoors. With building work looming all spending is under the closest of scrutiny, despite my pleas to have shoes, shirts and plants excluded from the austerity. We may not have door knobs, but we will have dahlias. All unnecessary consumption is met with a deep, bank manager-esque frown. On top of that the garden at Polegate Cottage will be completely off-limits, which means, yet again, that the dining room at The Watch House will have to serve as a temporary nursery. Still, if God had meant us to be sensible or frugal he wouldn’t have invented credit cards, would he?
I’d love to hear what’s caught your eye in the spring catalogues and how you plan to spend your precious gardening budget this year. TFG.