Plantsman Matthew Reese visits Lower Kenneggy Nurseries in Cornwall, which specialises in unusual and coastal plants
F or over a decade, I have been making the long journey to west Cornwall for the sole purpose of visiting Lower Kenneggy Nurseries. Situated in rolling countryside, just off the Helston road to Penzance, the nursery is half a mile from the coast. It offers many wonderful, unusual plants and is managed by proprietor and plantsman, Stephen Mules. Stephen purchased four acres of land in the 1980s with the intention of creating a market garden growing a few ornamental plants to support his sideline gardening business. Vegetable production proved to be rather arduous and poorly paid, however, while the nursery side of the business prospered and eventually took over.
Stephen recalls the nursery’s beginnings: “I started growing ornamentals, including a wide range of fuchsias and bedding plants. Gradually, I’ve developed and discovered my identity as a nurseryman, and over the past 15 to 20 years we’ve been specialising in plants for the local climate of west Cornwall.” He points out that the local climate is excellent for growing certain types of plants, but is not ideal for others. “Prairie plants and many roses, for instance, do not do well here. We have a seriously mild, maritime climate. We don’t get hugely hot summers, but have mild winters and significantly greater rainfall than the more eastern counties of England. The temperature difference between the summer and winter is normally relatively small compared with most of the UK.” Although this mild climate means gardeners here can grow a range of
plants that many of us could not consider for gardens elsewhere, the maritime factor has its drawbacks. Wherever you are in this part of Cornwall, you tend not to be further than three miles from the sea, and the salt-laden winds can blow far inland, having a profound impact on planting.
With Britain’s extensive coastline, much of the offering at Lower Kenneggy will thrive elsewhere in the country. Olearias, for example, are among the best plants for providing shelter in a coastal garden. Stephen praises Olearia ‘Talbot de Malahide’ for its smart foliage, large panicles of white flowers and outstanding ability to tolerate salt and wind. Although there are several Olearia cultivars available at Lower Kenneggy, Stephen says that many more are in danger of disappearing from cultivation as they are being superseded in the nursery trade by newer and often less superior selections. In an effort to prevent such loss, Stephen is always on the lookout for older cultivars that have stood the test of time to add to the nursery’s portfolio. There is a strong contingent of plants from the southern hemisphere – Eucalyptus, Hebe, Correa, Grevillea, Prostanthera and Corokia – as well as a range of succulents that will thrive in a position with good drainage.
Although there is an emphasis at Lower Kenneggy on plants that will thrive locally, there are many that will make excellent garden plants in most areas of the UK, whether on the coast or further inland. There are many rare and unusual species, such as the wonderful Buddleja forrestii with its large, willow-like leaves and drooping spikes of scented, milky-mauve flowers, and Griselinia scandens, a peculiarlooking, evergreen shrub that is somewhat reminiscent of a cycad with its stiff habit and shiny leaves and is suitable for a
WITH BRITAIN’S EXTENSIVE COASTLINE, MUCH OF THE OFFERING HERE WILL THRIVE ELSEWHERE IN THE COUNTRY
STEPHEN IS DISCERNING WHEN IT COMES TO DECIDING WHICH PLANTS TO OFFER – IT’S MUCH BETTER TO GROW FEWER THINGS WELL
shady position. More commonplace (though no less excellent) garden plants, such as the long-flowering Geranium ‘Mavis Simpson’, are also considered worthy of selling space. The shade area houses various ferns, including the stunning Dryopteris wallichiana, as well as hydrangeas, camellias and rhododendrons, but the selection is never too huge or overwhelming. For gardeners with glasshouse space, there are plants such as pelargoniums and Tibouchina that require protection.
Stephen is discerning when it comes to deciding which plants to offer for sale:“It’s much better to grow fewer things well than to try to grow everything and not do it properly.” In order for a plant to make the cut, Stephen has to like it and see potential in it. It is also important for that particular plant to fit in with what else is grown at the nursery. A dwarf conifer, for example, would stick out like a sore thumb.
Lower Kenneggy is a rather special nursery that caters in particular to local gardeners, but is also able to provide plants (along with honest and helpful advice) for a wider client base. I, for one, have discovered many treasured plants here, such as the handsome Fuchsia hatschbachii, with its elegant flowers and smart foliage, and Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Beauté Vendômoise’, a lacecap with exceptionally large florets. Visitors will no doubt find their own favourites.
USEFUL INFORMATION Address Lower Kenneggy Nurseries, Rosudgeon, Penzance, Cornwall TR20 9AR. Tel 01736 762959 / 07584 838695. Website lowerkenneggynurseries.co.uk Open March to November, Tuesdays to Saturdays, 10am-5pm.
Above left Hebe expert Marshall Hutchens (left) is bringing his expert knowledge to stock at Lower Kenneggy Nurseries, working alongside owner Stephen Mules.This image Just a small selection of the many plants on sale at Lower Kenneggy Nurseries,which specialises in unusual plants and plants for coastal areas.
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