Cornwall Spring Flower Show 2018

As great days out go, I rank a visit to the Cornwall Spring Flower Show up there with Chelsea and Sissinghurst. It’s a special day for many reasons. The setting alone, deep in rolling parkland at Boconnoc near Lostwithiel, makes it worth a trip from near or far. The Boconnoc Estate has been at the heart of Cornish affairs for over a thousand years. The park, gardens and house wear a mantle of delightfully unspoiled antiquity. From the approach along narrow lanes lined with craggy oaks, one feels transported back to a different era. Look north, south, east or west and you’ll find nothing to connect you with with the twenty-first century, not even a phone signal. Even those whose cars got stuck in the mud on the way into the carpark would have to agree that there are few estates in Cornwall so lovely as Boconnoc.

And then there’s the show itself, one of the earliest in the year and unquestionably the best showcase there is for Cornish specialities, notably magnolias, camellias and daffodils. Entries into the competitive classes are exhibited in the Stable Yard buildings, filling them with colour and scent. All the great estates participate, as well as private gardeners and plant collectors. Not all the entries are top notch, but it’s the taking part that keeps the show alive. Incredibly after such a harsh winter, there was plenty to admire, among the most impressive being a collection of outdoor trees and shrubs exhibited by the hosts, winning first prize and the Rosemary Cobbald-Sawle Cup. The tiered display included generous bouquets of stachyurus, azalea, osmanthus, cherry blossom, Rhododendron macabeanum and pieris (see lead image).

Unlike the big RHS shows, The Cornwall Spring Flower Show is not centred around large, expensive, show gardens, although there were one or two small ones to break up the other exhibits. R&A Scamp’s showcase of daffodils is always a joy and the catalogue a ‘must have’. No time like the present for planning next year’s display! My friends were dazzled by the sheer variety of daffodils available, drooling over the flouncy doubles and split corollas. I prefer my daffodils slightly plainer, and found myself particularly drawn to canary-yellow ‘Arctic Gold’ and diminutive ‘Twinkling Yellow’.

The quality of the nurserymen and women that attend the show is, for me, second to none and more akin to what you’d find at a rare plant fair. If I had to single out a few it would of course include Burncoose for shrubby plants, especially magnolias; Crug Farm Plants for scheffleras; Penberth Plants for proteas, restios and succulents and Barracott Plants for all manner of exotic and architectural plants. New to me was Nicholas Lock, a grower of rare trees and shrubs who was offering the most jaw-dropping array of shrubs and trees. Judging by the twenty-two page plant list, Nicholas has a penchant for buddleias and euonymus, as well as corneas and acers.

Realising that resistance would be futile, I decided to make three of my four purchases here. I can barely contain my excitement at acquiring Buddleia speciosissima, an incredibly sought-after buddleia with felted silver leaves and bright red flowers. I also passed up the Drimys winteri I’ve wanted for so long in favour of a different species, Drimys granadensis, a plant which I’m assured will not grow as large as D. winteri and will therefore be better for my garden.

We had a lovely chat with Selma Klophaus, a Landscape Architect who also turns her hand to growing unusual and tender plants such as echiums, sonchus and dudleyas. Selma explained how she loves to experiment and try new plants, which is very much in tune with my approach to gardening. Along with many other good Cornish nurseries she will be taking plants along to Rare Plant Fair at Tregrehan on June 3rd, and to a new plant fair she is helping to organise at Tremenheere Sculpture Garden on September 9th.

Following Saturday’s wash out, those who made it as far as the carpark were blessed with glorious weather. The spring sunshine was warm enough to allow us to sit outside and enjoy lunch (falafel) and a drink (Cornish beer) and get some colour in our cheeks. I could happily have done the whole day again, only this time with a pick-up truck to transport all my purchases home. Alas I had to restrict myself to what I could manage on the train. Here’s The Damage:

  1. Drimys granadensis – a broadleaf, evergreen shrub or tree native to tropical montane forests in Peru and Southern Mexico. It has large, white daisy-like flowers and green leaves with a striking, silver reverse.
  2. Pittosporum bicolor – otherwise known as Tasmanian whitewood or Victorian cheesewood, this columnar shrub looks nothing like a pittosporum and more like a berberis. The flowers are fragrant and yellow with a maroon flush.
  3. Buddleia speciosissima – A rare species found only on Mount Itatiaia in Brazil where it occupies rocky grassland habitats. It is blessed with silver leaves and tubular red flowers, not unlike those of Nicotiana sylvestris, only scarlet.
  4. Schefflera gracilis – A small, slender evergreen forest tree with fabulous foliage. Hails from Vietnam.

The Cornwall Spring Flower Show is organised annually by the Cornwall Garden Society and is sponsored by Atkins Ferrie Wealth Management.