The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Life Gardening -

Irecently asked the as­sis­tant at a lo­cal gar­den cen­tre the va­ri­ety and price of an untick­eted phormium. No one knew and I was ad­vised to come back in a fort­night when Stuart (who knew “a bit about plants”) would be back and could help. Ad­mit­tedly I’d gone to buy chicken feed, so maybe it was a bit much to ex­pect the shop as­sis­tant to know about ev­ery im­pulse buy, and it prob­a­bly serves me right for not go­ing to a proper nurs­ery in the first place, with a real plantsper­son to hand. Let me re­dress the bal­ance and sing the praises of those plant pioneers who pa­tiently prop­a­gate and hy­bridise from nurs­ery beds all over the coun­try, many of whom will be con­gre­gat­ing at Great Dix­ter, where they are hold­ing their an­nual plant fair next weekend, and plants­men and women will be sell­ing and talk­ing about their par­tic­u­lar pas­sions. This is their fourth fair and the team has sourced stall­hold­ers from far and near. From Hol­land, de­scribed as “one of the great plants­men of our time”, Coen Jansen from co­en­jansen­ will bring Dutch wave grasses and peren­ni­als for nat­u­ral­is­tic plant­ing, in­clud­ing the rare Rud­beckia subto­men­tosa ‘Loofahsa Wheaten Gold’. Then there is Tuin­goed Foltz (tuin­goed­, who holds the Dutch na­tional salvia col­lec­tion; and Mathieu Ver­mez from Do­maine de la Source, who will be show­ing his col­lec­tion of asters (such use­ful plants at this time of the year). Swe­den is rep­re­sented by plant hunter Jonas Bengts­son and bulb grower Ger­ben Tjeerdsma. It’s hard for or­di­nary mor­tals to ac­cess such gems, even on the in­ter­net. I was way­laid by pop­stars with sim­i­lar names and con­fused by in­de­ci­pher­able trans­la­tions. It’s a real ac­co­lade for a small nurs­ery to be picked to join this elite, and Fiona We­myss of Blue Leaf Plants in Kent (blue­leaf­ is only open by ap­point­ment (01233 731240). This is her Crème de la crème: the great and the good such as Beth Chatto, above right, will be at Great Dix­ter’s fair; Salvia ‘Dyson’s Joy’, be­low first time show­ing suc­cu­lents in in­ter­est­ing con­tain­ers – I can’t wait to in­crease my col­lec­tion – and she will be giv­ing a short talk ex­tolling the virtues of cras­su­laceae. Af­ter a hor­ti­cul­tural de­gree at Wye Col­lege, Fiona wanted a species that was easy to care for and took lit­tle space on her three-quar­ter-acre plot. She shows sev­eral times a year, but is thrilled to be asked to come to the fair. Wil­liam Dyson loves salvias. He has grown them for 20 years at Great Comp, a gar­den sur­round­ing a 17th-cen­tury manor house near Sevenoaks. En­cour­aged by plant hunter Martin Rix’s ex­pe­di­tion to Mex­ico, he started col­lect­ing and breed­ing the most fab­u­lous ar­ray of colours, in­clud­ing his own va­ri­eties ‘Dyson’s Joy’ and later ‘Dyson’s Gem’ – a clear pur­ple (great­comp­gar­den. He will also be giv­ing a talk, urg­ing us to grow more of this es­o­teric species, es­pe­cially the mi­cro­phyl­las, that will sur­vive the win­ter, and ed­u­cat­ing us to take soft tip cut­tings from early spring on­wards. Neil Lu­cas from Knoll Gar­dens in Dorset is ex­cited to be show­ing his grasses for the first time, to be join­ing “a gath­er­ing of in­ter­est­ing nurs­eries sell­ing to a gath­er­ing of in­ter­ested buy­ers”. His ‘Mis­cant­hus Starlight’ re­cently got a five-star re­view in Which? Gar­den­ing. Visit his web­site knoll­gar­ to view his full list of grasses, grasses for shade, sea­side and water­side grasses with use­ful in­for­ma­tion on when to cut and di­vide. Or travel to Dorset where the fam­ily run nurs­ery pro­motes a wildlife­friendly nat­u­ral­is­tic style of gar­den­ing. This year, worl­drenowned Beth Chatto Nurs­ery will be join­ing the fair. The late Christo­pher Lloyd, owner of Dix­ter, gar­dener and writer cor­re­sponded reg­u­larly with Beth Chatto (pub­lished as a book, Dear Friend and Gar­dener), but this is the first time their plants will be sold to­gether. David Ward, who will be man­ning the stall and meet­ing the visi­tors, told me that they don’t of­ten go out and about, but this would ce­ment their con­nec­tion, show the staff the glo­ries of Dix­ter and keep their fin­ger on the pulse of the lat­est in­no­va­tions in the plant world. The nurs­ery grows more than 2,000 plants, cat­a­logued by their grow­ing con­di­tions – the right plant for the right place. The host nurs­ery will also be open, sell­ing the range of plants for which the gar­den is justly fa­mous, pro­duced by painstak­ing nurs­ery­men and women, who in­no­vate and prop­a­gate to feed the pas­sions of gar­den­ers ev­ery­where. As Juliet Roberts, ed­i­tor of Gar­dens Il­lus­trated says, “Dix­ter is a spe­cial place to visit, but it’s a par­tic­u­lar treat to meet nurs­eries and plants peo­ple of the cal­i­bre that Fer­gus Gar­rett and his team have cherry-picked for visi­tors. They are the crème de la crème of the plant world.” The Plant Fair at Great Dix­ter, Nor­thiam, Rye, East Sus­sex TN31 6PH takes place on Oc­to­ber 5-6, 11am-4pm. For more in­for­ma­tion: 01797 254048; great­dix­

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