Grafton Nursery grows hardy forms of Antipodean Eucalyptus that are ideal for British gardens
Gardeners can be blinkered, disregarding a whole genus because of the faults of a few members. Eucalyptus has suffered this fate, largely because of the thuggish behaviour of Eucalyptus gunnii, the most widely available species, which will grow to huge proportions in a very short time. “There are far better species,” says grower Hilary Collins. “Beautiful eucalypts for small terraces or large pots, those for use as hedging or as foliage for cut flowers, and those for gardeners who want large trees. Even gunnii is gorgeous if it is grown well.”
Hilary’s enthusiasm for the genus is boundless. “Very few trees are as fascinating as these: they are highly evolved and extremely varied. The young leaves are often very different from the mature ones. They are beautiful as well as useful,” she says. And they needn’t get out of hand: most Eucalyptus can be coppiced (cut back close to the base) to encourage new growth with juvenile foliage and to keep the tree compact.
Hilary set up Grafton Nursery ten years ago in a corner of a derelict seven-acre nursery. “We are in year ten of what was intended to be a five-year project to get the nursery up to scratch,” says Hilary. “I have read whatever I can get my hands on and done a massive amount of research about eucalypts.” This research has included hands-on projects in the nursery to see how plants respond to different sowing, growing and pruning regimes.
The plants are grown in peat-free compost in Air-Pots, a system originally developed in Australia specifically for Eucalyptus after it was discovered that traditional pot-grown trees had poor root systems and would often fall over when mature. The Air-Pots system prevents roots from spiralling around their container and is now used throughout the tree production industry. Hilary recommends that Eucalyptus destined for pots be grown in an Air-Pot that is placed inside another container of choice.
Like most growers, Hilary’s favourite plant changes. She currently favours Eucalyptus gunnii Azura (= ‘Cagire’), a new dwarf hybrid, compact and hardy with bright silvery-blue foliage. Among the many tempting forms on show, I spotted a multi-stemmed Eucalyptus paucif lora subsp. debeuzevillei, which has marbled grey-and-white bark and large, leathery, grey-green leaves.
Many eucalypts look exotic, other-worldly even, but wandering round the nursery I was struck by how many would sit comfortably in the British landscape. A screen of E. kybeanensis could be mistaken for an attractive willow, with reddish leaf stems and tight clusters of feathery, white f lowers. It is hardy to -16°C and will grow almost anywhere, even on poor, stony soil.
If you’re new to Eucalyptus, help is at hand: the nursery produces a chart detailing plant characteristics and growing conditions to help gardeners make the right choice for their garden. As Hilary confidently declares: “Whatever your requirement, there is a Eucalyptus for you.”
USEFUL INFORMATION Address Grafton Nursery, Grafton Flyford, Worcestershire WR7 4PW. Tel 01905 888098 (answerphone)/07515 261511. Website hardy-eucalyptus.com Open By appointment only. Please telephone to arrange.
VERY FEW TREES ARE AS FASCINATING AS EUCALYPTS: THEY ARE HIGHLY EVOLVED AND EXTREMELY VARIED