Term – in the form of the season-long shows and fairs roadshow – ended pretty much a month ago, so it is about time we got round to reviewing the second half of things, having left off last time at the end of June. A key feature of the second half of the show season is the occurrence of occasional weekends with no event being held, and consequently no looking out suitable plants, primping them up to look their best, then driving them to some country house estate or other in the hope that they find new owners and don’t need a return ticket for the Paddock Plants big yellow van. Which is all rather nice after the hectic madness of May and June in particular. But shows are where we sell a significant proportion of our plants, so we couldn’t afford to sit around twiddling our thumbs too much. So …..
July was dominated by two major shows: the Parham Garden Weekend – two days in deepest West Sussex – and the Garden Show at Loseley Park, a long weekend from Friday to Sunday inclusive up (for us, anyway) in Surrey. Last year these two events were marked by blistering heat and drooping showgoers too toasted to think about buying too many plants. This time, although the weather was in full-on English summer mode, sales were much better, though the Saturday at Parham was much the better day of the two and, for some contrary reason, the Saturday at Loseley Park was the dip between two good days. Both venues boast fabulous gardens and Rob was happy to sneak off for a prowl around them when things were quieter.
Early August saw us staying fairly local with the Ellingham Show held in the vast expanses of the Somerley estate near Ringwood. Asking to be located in the same avenue as last time proved productive, and Rob and Deb were kept busy throughout what is in fact a pretty long day allocating plants to their new owners. There is a good atmosphere to this show, which is hugely well attended (the fine weather helped that, we are sure) and our pitch afforded us a good view of various events involving horses and donkeys, as well as of the rather grand Somerley House itself. Rob fell in love with the gorgeous little Lagotto Romagnolo on the next-door stand: if we ever get a second dog, it would certainly be on the list for consideration. Later in the month we spent our regular three days at Kingston Lacy (though sadly not next year due to a National Trust revamp of some kind), which was as lovely as usual, with the exception of the Monday which was a Bank Holiday washout. A highlight of the Sunday was the arrival on our stand of a humming bird hawk moth which took a fancy to our Buzz series buddleias and spent quite some time hovering around their flower spikes, poking out its long proboscis to access the nectar, much to the delight of ourselves and passing customers alike.
Right at the tail end of August we took ourselves down into Somerset for the second time this season for a Rare Plant Fair at Kilver Court. Rob got himself in a tizzy on arrival when the available pitch didn’t fit our usual configuration of racks and tables: he is a bear of very little brain and changes of plan or routine confuse him very easily. Once he had been soothed and got his head around a different layout, everything was fine, weather included, and we enjoyed a spectacularly good day sales-wise. Nothing nicer than driving home in a near-empty van, we think. The gardens there really are worth a visit and had been featured on BBC’s Gardeners’ World shortly before the day of the fair: good use is made of water in various ways, and there is some truly splendid topiary, all against the spectacular backdrop of the grand railway viaduct.
Into September and we were in Dorset once more, initially for the two days of the Dorset County Show and, a week later, for a Plant Heritage plant fair at Athelhampton House. What a contrast. The Dorset Show is a vast affair with tens of thousands of visitors passing through the hundreds of acres of showground, the fair at Athelhampton a gathering of a few nurseries on a lawn by the house with, perhaps, a couple of hundred people looking around. At which event did we do better? Let’s just say that we took more in one (much shorter) day on the lawn at Athelhampton than we did in both 8 to 6 days combined at Dorchester – and the profit after outgoings was much better, too. Much as we enjoy actually being at the wonderfully diverse and busy Dorset County Show, it’s not a very productive weekend for us, and we will probably be elsewhere next year in the first weekend in September. Athelhampton – it was our first visit there – is a lovely venue, and we will certainly return in 2015, perhaps in the spring as well as in the autumn. Any country house that has the gardener’s loo in a castellated turret has to be worth revisiting. See some photos here.
And that was that for 2014. We passed on the possibility of a final show on the third weekend of September, as we found ourselves struggling to find sufficient numbers of plants in flower or otherwise looking good enough to tempt the late-season customer. So now it’s batten down the hatches for the onset of another winter, get on with all the behind the scenes work that has to be done, and plan for 2015. Next year will, after all, be the best year ever. Don’t we always think that?
Rob & Joanna – October 2014
Well, it’s nearly midnight on the 11th of July and in a few hours’ time Rob will be waking up to set off for West Sussex and the Parham Garden Weekend, and so will begin the second half of the 2014 show season. Because, finally, a few days ago we had our first weekend without an event since the beginning of April – not that we had any opportunity to have a lie in or anything as luxurious as that. But it does seem an appropriate moment to review the roadshow so far.
A Rare Plant Fair at Birtley House was our first appearance of 2014 and it kicked off a very busy month of April in typically cool and breezy fashion. It was more of the same for much of the three days of the Aztec All About Gardening show at Newbury the following weekend, though the final day brought better weather if not better sales: it did seem odd that so many people came to a gardening show with no real intention to buy any plants. We had another three days over Easter at Somerley Park: sadly day two was a complete washout and marked the first time we had erected the sides on our gazebo to keep out the elements. Rob ventured solo down to deepest Gloucestershire for a plant fair at the Coach House Garden near Cirencester – more rain there but at least there were enough hardy gardeners to avoid it being a long journey for nothing. Rain again for the RDA fair held in a spectacular setting on the beautiful if windswept Marlborough Downs, but again hardy gardeners saved the day.
Into May with the traditional opener for that month, the St John Fair at Wintershill: a two vanloads show for us and another successful day (blessed with better weather than April had been able to rustle up). We went up to Stockbridge the next day for the Plant Heritage event and boy, did we do well. Knowledgeable gardeners turned out in their droves and pretty much stripped our stand of plants: now that’s the kind of day we like, with a virtually empty van on the road home. The rain, sadly, returned for the WOW fair held at a new site at Dummer, making it more soggy than successful. And then the wind was the featured element when we attended the Gardeners’ Market in Fareham town centre: when the two tiered racks were upended, scattering pots and plants all over West Street, Rob’s language was not suitable for the under 16s. Another Rare Plant Fair took us to Sharcott Manor in Wiltshire: there were apparently fewer visitors, but we did better than last time, perhaps helped by the kinder weather this year. And May closed with the three days of the Bank Holiday weekend spent in the familiar surroundings of Kingston Lacy which, as ever, provided brisk trade despite it being rather soggy underfoot following heavy rain.
Another traditional landmark, the Solent Gardeners’ Fayre, kick-started the month of June: we had a rather better position than last year, and that probably helped, as we had a really good day despite the increased competition from the larger number of other nurseries. The Stansted Garden Show produced its usual thunderstorm, this time on the second day, which was notable for the fact that attendance was much reduced despite the fact that the weather was really pretty decent once the storm got out of the way. Then it was the Unusual Pants Fair at Gilbert White’s House in Selborne: we love this event and this year didn’t disappoint, with good weather and good sales in that lovely meadow with the slightly unreal looking bank of trees. The less said about our trip to Tilshead for the Midsummer Fair the better. Let’s just note that the bill for replacing bits of the van after negotiating the very very narrow access lane far outweighed the profit made from the 20 plants sold. No, that’s not a misprint. 20 plants. June was seen out by the biennial Dorset Gardens Trust event, held this year at Herringston House near Dorchester. The organisers reported attendance down more than 50%, but our sales were not much below the admittedly high number set two years ago at Waterston Manor. We must be doing something right.
And there you have it. The half term report on part one of the show season 2014: bed beckons of there is going to be a part two!
Rob & Joanna – July 2014
Black, pink and green are the colours in question in this eighth instalment of our series on new plants finding a place on our listing for 2014.
If you like black or nearly black plants, you will like Dianthus Barbatus Monksilver Black, an unusual and very attractive form of the plant commonly known as Sweet William. It forms a compact bushy plant with distinctive, virtually black evergreen foliage and, above that in late spring into summer, clusters of dark maroon flowers that are so dark that they, too, are virtually black. And they’re fragrant, for your added pleasure. Lovely, though it wouldn’t stand out on a dark night, we suppose. Often grown as biennials, these are in fact perennial plants, if relatively short-lived. Worth it, though, however many seasons they last.
You will certainly have heard of Digitalis Illumination Pink. Since taking Chelsea by storm in 2012, this new cross between Digitalis and Isoplexis (from the Canary Islands and which we also grow and sell in its own right) has been deservedly in demand. It has a compact and bushy habit with a semi-evergreen rosette of toothed lance-shaped leaves and spikes clothed with deep pink flowers with warm apricot throats. Very long flowering, which is good news. Thompson & Morgan, who bred this new introduction, stand to do very well out of it and are busy already introducing new colour variations.
Now for Echinacea Green Jewel. There have been so many – perhaps too many – new varieties of Echinacea flooding on to the market in recent years, and green flowers are not to everyone’s taste, we admit, but this Piet Oudoulf introduction might convince even the more reluctant amongst you. Quilled lime green petals surround a flattish and fragrant central cone of darker green, which, set against the backdrop of the equally green foliage, makes for a rather sumptuous appearance. If green’s your thing, this one should be on your planting list.
Rob & Joanna – February 2014
Three very different plants in terms of size and style for our seventh update on what’s up and coming for the new season.
Returning to our lists after a brief absence is Colocasia Diamond Head: this is a real black beauty which will stop those who see it in their tracks. The difference between this one and the more usually seen Black Magic is in the fact that the leaves have a crinkled effect and are beautifully glossy – so shiny, indeed, that we have seen them described as like an oil slick! The leaves are matt initially but suddenly develop their gloss as they mature – it’s a lovely transition to behold. If kept indoors in winter at 10 degrees plus, the leaves will remain. If it’s much colder, the plant will go dormant. Keep it only lightly watered in winter in any case.
Delosperma Jewel of the Desert Peridot is a little stunner, with the emphasis not just on the little, though this is a low growing fleshy leaved plant that will carpet a dry spot and brighten it up all summer with its vibrant sunshine yellow flowers that shade inwards to white with yellow anthers. And yes, it is hardy in a sunny spot with well drained soil. The really long varietal name comes about because it is one of the Jewel of Desert series, so those three words appear in the name of every plant in the series. We know there are good commercial reasons for this kind of thing, but we still really dislike the practice. Somehow it turns plants into a commodity, which doesn’t seem right!
A new and definitely rather special delphinium which doesn’t get too tall and won’t flop, Highlander Moonlight has the usual elegant spires of flower in mid-summer, but the flowers themselves are frilly doubles in lilac blue around apple green centres. Highly desirable. Nice name too, we think. It will do well given plenty of sunshine and moist but well drained soil. Getting to around 3 feet, it shouldn’t need staking, which is a real plus point about this series. This is the plant which persuaded us to grow another delphinium: we haven’t done so in recent years for various reasons.
Episode six of what’s coming this season has got two nice shrubs and a grass for your delectation. We do like bottlebrushes (the shrubs, not necessarily the cleaning implements, though they have their merits too) so are pleased to be growing some Callistemon Perth Pink, which is a rather lovely variety of bottlebrush native to Australia, with a nicely rounded, slightly arching habit and willow-like evergreen leaves. The striking flowers, which appear in late spring into summer, are a refreshingly original shade of soft pink. The park superintendent of Perth named it after the city, which seems a good move on his part. A sunny sheltered spot will suit it best, but, as it is a sport from Callistemon Salignus, Perth Pink should be pretty hardy, only requiring protection in the harshest of winter conditions.
Chasmanthium Latifolium is returning to our lists after a temporary absence, and about time too.We call this grass the mini-bamboo because of the appearance of its stems and leaves. The flower/seed heads are large and oat-like, hence the common name of Sea Oats. It’s also known as Spangle Grass, which is just a wonderful name. This grass looks terrific in a tall pot in which it will stand proud and not flop all over the place, which is very obliging and well behaved of it. We do like it and find it pretty much trouble free. The leaves turn golden yellow in winter, after which you can cut it back, which is pretty much all it will demand of you.
One of the best bits of news for this coming season is that we are listing Clethra Ruby Spice. From the United States, where it is known as the sweet pepper bush, this delightful variety is an absolute stunner of a shrub. The glossy green foliage is nice, but its big moment is those 6 weeks in mid to late summer when it is covered in dark pink flower spikes like so many clove-scented candles. We have grown Hummingbird, the white-flowered variety, for some years but have not until this year been able to offer Ruby Spice other than on an occasional basis. It’s lovely! Exquisite in appearance and in its scent when in full flower. It is puzzling to us why you don’t see Clethras on a more widespread basis in this country: we’ll just keep on doing our bit for them, anyway.
An astrantia, a begonia and two brunneras feature in our fifth preview of plants joining (or rejoining our list for 2014. First up is Astrantia Major Claret. Dried (and non-dried!) flower arrangers will like this one for its clusters of saucer shaped deep red blooms, actually umbels of tiny flowers surrounded by papery bracts, borne over a long period in summer. There are a number of dark red varieties of which this is definitely one of the very best, although we still have a soft spot for good old Astrantia Major Rubra, which is a fine garden performer if not a fashionable plant.
Now Begonia Luxurians is not your common or garden begonia, but a truly luxuriant specimen grown for its spectacular palm-like foliage – each individual umbrella-like leaf can be 12 inches across and is made up of to 16 fingered leaflets. As a bonus, there are clusters of lightly scented yellowish white flowers. It is – surprise, surprise – tender, so needs to be kept indoors in winter. We have a potted specimen at the entrance to our sales area which occupies a corner of a greenhouse in the colder months. It is certainly a prime candidate for a big pot so you can enjoy it out of doors in the summer and indoors in the winter. Being evergreen, it will look good whatever the season.
Brunnera Looking Glass is one of the comeback kids on this year’s list and is joined on it by newbie Brunnera Silver Heart. It’s the leaves that catch your eye in both cases, large and heart-shaped, their silvery surface almost mirror-like. That will do for starters, indeed for most of the year, but in early summer you also sprays of bright blue flowers in the style of forget-me-nots. Silver Heart is a newly introduced variety, reputedly tougher than Looking Glass. It’s probably best to avoid a spot that’s in the sun all day, as that can burn the gorgeous leaves, though Silver Heart is probably a bit more prepared to put up with this kind of position. Slugs do rather like them but are generally not a major problem. Both are lovely and will fill a shady nook rather well.
Rob & Joanna – January 2014
It’s always interesting to check the stats on the Paddock Plants website just to see what’s going on behind the scenes, and we tend to do so on a regular basis. Visitor, numbers, visitor origins, page views, search terms, that kind of thing. And particularly interesting to do a check at the year’s end just to see how the previous twelve months have been out on the wonderful world-wide web. So how was 2013?
Well, visitor-wise, the website attracted in excess of 25000 visitors, which is an attractively big number. Now, of course, a significant proportion of those visits will be web bots and other assorted oddities, but there must be quite a few real people and, hopefully, real gardeners included in that figure. Which is nice. And how did they find us? The real people, that is. Well, it has to be said that most of them were searching for us directly, ie using the search term Paddock Plants, or for a nursery or garden centre in the Southampton area. But a lot of people got to us by searching for a particular plant. So we thought it would be fun to see what the top ten plants were that instigated a visit to our website. Admittedly in some cases they must have been pretty determined, as we did not always feature on the first page of a Google search result. But get to us they did, and here is the top ten plants that achieved that.
1. Scabiosa Clive Greaves
2. Kniphofia Vanilla Orange Popsicle
3. Spiraea Joseph’s Coat
4. Drimys Lanceolata
5. Beschorneria Septentrionalis
6. Sidalcea Purpetta
7. Hypericum Golden Beacon
8. Centaurea Cara Mia
9. Alcalthaea Parkrondell
10. Heuchera Emperor’s Cloak
What an interesting list that is, containing a seemingly random mix of old and newer varieties, of common and less common plants. Clive Greaves is a plant that always does well for us and we sell a lot of it – not sure why, other than the possibility that fewer nurseries grow it these days but gardeners still want to plant it. The Kniphofia and the Centaurea are relatively recent introductions, of course – in the case of the latter, we insist on using two words for the varietal name, as making it a single word doesn’t make sense to us, except perhaps as a given name. Drimys Lanceolata saw a surge in its popularity this year, largely thanks to James Wong extolling its merits in his book James Wong’s Homegrown Revolution, which clearly inspired people. The Spiraea is a long-standing favourite: we use the rather charming Joseph’s Coat moniker rather than call it Shirobana or Shiburi, which may explain why we got those hits. Great shrub, whatever you call it.
Why Sidalcea Purpetta should be such a popular search eludes us, but it’s a puzzling fact and a pretty plant. The Beschorneria is a bit of an oddball plant, as is the Hypericum Golden Beacon – we were pleased to sell some of those to Hilliers, who are putting it forward in trials. The newish Alcea x Althaea crosses are lovely things and looked especially wonderful at the end of last season, when they just sold on sight when we took them to shows. And isn’t it nice to see a good old-fashioned seed strain of Heuchera make the top ten, swimming against the tide of all those fancy new varieties which have arrived on the scene in recent years?
So there it is – our top ten most searched plants of 2013. It will be interesting to see how different the list might look in twelve months’ time and whether Clive retains his position at the top of the charts.
Rob & Joanna – January 2014
Happy New Year! Just to celebrate, here are tasters of three more plants we are offering for the first time in 2014. We are very partial to aquilegias and always try to have a number of varieties available each season: next year sees two new additions to the roster. We also have a liking for astelias and are pleased to be growing one of the best recent introductions.
Aquilegia Canadensis is, well of course it is, the Canadian columbine, though it also grows in the United States, enjoying a setting among woodland or on rocky slopes. It is an elegant and airy plant with divided ferny foliage and, in late spring and early summer, nodding flowers with yellow petals surrounded by crimson sepals with upward facing spurs. It will grow in sun or semi-shade and tolerates most soils. A few years ago we grew A. Little Lanterns, which is a bijou little version of the species, but we though we would give the full blown version a go this time round.
Aquilegia Clematiflora is a distinctive and rather different form of columbine, as the characteristic spurs are absent on the flowers which are more open and semi or fully double, hence the comparison with clematis. The flowers are usually pink, though coloration may vary, which makes it all the more exciting. We do like our aquilegias and this one is quite unlike most of the others. Whether clematis is the best comparison is another matter; perhaps it’s best to just enjoy it for what it is.
Astelias are feature plants with their dramatic evergreen sword-like leaves; those of Silver Shadow have a striking silvery tinge – in fact, it’s the best silver form yet (better than the more usually seen Silver Spear) and a good vigorous one, to boot, so will eventually form a spectacular clump. Stylish in a patio pot. It needs a sheltered sunny spot in fertile well drained soil and dislikes winter wet and extreme cold. If in doubt, protect in the worst weather or grow in a pot so you can enjoy it indoors in the darker months.
Rob & Joanna – January 2014
First, the Amsonia. The parent species is a native of the United States all too rarely seen over here: Blue Ice is a spectacular plant with erect stems clothed in dark green willowy leaves and, in early summer, clouds of starry blue flowers. It puts on a second star turn in the autumn when the foliage colours golden yellow. We have grown other Amsonias before and are particularly fond of A. Hubrichtii. But this is a nice one too, staying on the compact side at around 18 in.
Late-flowering Japanese anemones bring fresh colour to late summer and autumn with their delicate cup-shaped flowers. Rotkäppchen (or Red Riding Hood, as you may know her) has semi-double dark rosy pink flowers, probably the deepest of any anemone. For a number of years we grew the rather similar Pamina and probably sold more of that variety than any other Japanese anemone. We expect Rotkäppchen will be equally popular.
This next one is a bit of a cheat really, as we were selling Anemone Andrea Atkinson at the end of last season. But it is new to the RHS Plant Finder list for 2014, so that’s our excuse for including it here. The lovely Andrea forms a strong bushy plant and sports beautiful single pure white blooms. In some profusion, it has to be said, and over a long flowering period: we were mightily impressed by her performance compared with other whites we have grown in the past.
And here is another trio of plants we will be offering in the coming season – nice to be thinking of such things as the wind and rain continue unabated outside the office window!
First up is Adenophora Gaudi Violet. Part of the same family as campanulas, with which they share some similarities, adenophoras are commonly known as lady bells, which is rather sweet as a name. This brand new variety will push up nice upright flowering stems clothed, from mid to late summer, with pendent bells of a pretty violet blue. Lovely.
Agapetes Ludgvan Cross is an evergreen shrub of arching habit which will amaze and delight from spring into summer with its clusters of pink urn-shaped flowers with striking crimson veining just like some particularly exotic kind of chinese lantern. It will need protection from sub-zero temperatures, but it’s worth the effort. This is definitely one of those ‘ once seen never forgotten’ plants which, as suggested above, merits taking the effort to fleece it in cold winter weather or have it in a pot which can be brought in from the cold.
We like agastaches for their highly aromatic leaves and long flowering period and Agastache Raspberry Summer is another good one. This bushy upright plant, a recent introduction, has spikes of deep raspberry pink flowers from midsummer to the frosts. It’s a Terra Nova introduction and the photo is courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries. Agastaches are best in the sun and like a well drained soil, especially in winter. They are a magnet for bees and other flying insects, which is another good reason for growing them.
Rob & Joanna – December 2013