the peren­nial gar­den

HOW THE FOUNDERS OF ANTIQUE PEREN­NI­ALS NURS­ERY HAVE CRE­ATED A BUSI­NESS FROM GROW­ING GAR­DEN COL­LECTA­BLES.

Country Style - - GARDEN - WORDS CHRIS­TINE REID PHO­TOG­RA­PHY CLAIRE TAKACS

pend some time brows­ing the dis­plays at your lo­cal nurs­ery or roam around a rare plant sale and you are sure to find some un­known trea­sures. Of­ten th­ese botan­i­cal gems have a tag, with a pic­ture of the plant in flower and the cor­rect Latin name, un­der the head­ing: ‘Antique Peren­ni­als — grow­ers of gar­den col­lecta­bles’. The busi­ness is the brain­child of Matt Reed and Mike Mo­rant, who es­tab­lished their successful whole­sale plant ven­ture at Kinglake, about 60 kilo­me­tres north-east of Mel­bourne, in 2001. Since then, they have had a def­i­nite im­pact on the nurs­ery in­dus­try, although they claim to be “just a cou­ple of plant ad­dicts who hap­pen to make a liv­ing out of grow­ing them”. “We like the chal­lenge of try­ing out and rais­ing unusual stuff; we would be pretty bored if we were grow­ing English box all our lives,” says Matt. They have certainly had their chal­lenges, the great­est be­ing burnt out and los­ing all their stock, their homes and pri­vate gar­dens in the Fe­bru­ary 2009 Black Satur­day bush­fires. But they have totally re-es­tab­lished them­selves on an­other Kinglake site — a 4.8 hectare for­mer potato farm — putting the trauma firmly be­hind them. The area’s deep hu­mus-rich soil, el­e­va­tion on the Great Di­vid­ing Range, clean air and reli­able rain­fall make it a great place to grow plants. “We gen­er­ally get an oc­ca­sional light frost in winter but quite a wide tem­per­a­ture vari­a­tion: the hottest day we’ve known was 48 de­grees,” says Matt. But how did the two team up in the first place? Matt and Mike met when they were work­ing at the same nurs­ery in the 1980s and soon be­came aware of the grow­ing interest in what was dubbed ‘the new peren­nial move­ment’ in the gar­den­ing world. They no­ticed how well peren­ni­als were be­ing used in Europe and how un­der-ap­pre­ci­ated they were in Aus­tralia. “It re­ally all goes back to the tremen­dous in­flu­ence Dutch­man Piet Ou­dolf has had on the plant world — he has been a pi­o­neer, not only in planting de­sign, but also in his spe­cial­i­sa­tion in large, ro­bust peren­ni­als,” says Matt. Since 1982 Ou­dolf’s in­flu­ence and ideas have spread world­wide from his gar­den and nurs­ery at Hum­melo, about 125 kilo­me­tres east of Am­s­ter­dam. Ou­dolf has net­worked with botanists and grow­ers in the US, Europe and be­yond, seek­ing out the plants he wanted and bring­ing lit­tle-known gen­era, such as san­guisorba, to a main­stream clien­tele. In many ways Ou­dolf’s work has pro­vided a tem­plate for Matt and Mike. They, too, have trav­elled the world search­ing for rare and unusual plants to in­tro­duce to Aus­tralian gar­den­ers. From vis­its to the Chelsea Flower Show to hik­ing in the Cana­dian Rock­ies and the Ital­ian Alps to see plants in the wild, the pair has been on a learn­ing curve. They rate a 2012 jour­ney to nurs­eries in Eng­land, Scot­land and Wales, in­clud­ing a visit to the renowned Beth Chatto Gar­dens, as their most pro­duc­tive in sourc­ing new strains of peren­ni­als. “Nurs­ery peo­ple and grow­ers are of­ten fairly sur­prised that two Aus­tralians turn up to buy plants; this happened when we went to a nurs­ery south of Lon­don where we got our veron­i­cas­trums.” From the same grow­ers they got a num­ber of dif­fer­ent san­guisorba va­ri­eties. One of th­ese, San­guisorba ‘Cang­shan Cran­berry’, was a huge hit at the 2015 Mel­bourne In­ter­na­tional Flower and Gar­den Show. The story of this plant in­di­cates the level of interest and pop­u­lar­ity in peren­ni­als that the pair has cul­ti­vated. See­ing the san­guisorba at the show, one florist of­fered $250 for some of the dark ruby, brush-like flow­ers, but they were not for sale. When the show was over, Matt and Mike took their plants back to Kinglake where they were nur­tured and di­vided, ready for even­tual re­tail sale. Just this one plant re­veals how plants move around in the botan­i­cal world. This par­tic­u­lar san­guisorba was col­lected by the Amer­i­can plants­man Dan Hink­ley in Yun­nan, China, in 1996. Due to its great colour and height, it has be­come a must-have in gar­dens around the world. Matt and Mike have many more interesting plants from veron­i­cas­trums to mis­acan­thus and poly­gonum. They have even bred an agas­tache named ‘Na­dine’ af­ter Matt’s wife, and an aster called ‘Otis’ af­ter Mike’s son. “We grow what we want,” says Matt, “but we aim to make avail­able gar­den-wor­thy plants, not pot-wor­thy ones! We want to im­prove the nurs­ery in­dus­try with good plants.” For more in­for­ma­tion, tele­phone 0404 006 303 or visit an­tiqueperen­ni­als.com

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