April is the cruellest month, according to T S Eliot. Well, we don’t know about that, but it was certainly a busy one and, in some respects, a month of two halves. How so? Well, Easter was early this year, so it was merely the 4th of April when we rolled up at Somerley House near Ringwood for the first of three days of the customary Craft & Garden Show. And, unsurprisingly, cold grey and breezy was the order of the day. And of day two as well. The Easter Monday was sunny and a bit warmer, which encouraged more people to think about their gardens and to buy some plants to go in them, but all in all it was a modest three days for us.
After a disappointing three days at the All About Gardening show at Newbury showground last year, Rob had said never again, but what do you know, there was Rob turning up on Friday April 10th at Newbury showground for another bite at the cherry. A special rate for nurseries growing 100% of what they sold was what had tempted him back to give it another go. Day one was cloudy, warmish but very, very quiet. Day two raised spirits somewhat with decent sales despite a cool breeze. Day three brought things crashing down to earth, in some stallholders’ cases quite literally, as a strong cold wind wreaked havoc with gazebos and anything else in its path and dented the sales statistics more than somewhat. By this point T S Eliot was looking to be pretty accurate in his assessment …..
A relatively easy weekend followed, with just one day away from home, at the Farmers’ & Craft market in Andover on Sunday the 19th. This was a new one for us, but a welcome return to the charming centre of Andover in the square overlooked by the old Guildhall, where once upon a time we used to do the late lamented Test Valley in Bloom garden fair. And what a friendly little event it turned out to be. In three hours from 10 am to 1 pm we did rather better than on some of the preceding and more expensive days in the month and Rob was able to get back home in time to unload and then take off to make two deliveries in West Sussex. Now that seemed more like it.
The closing week of April saw Rob trek off solo down to Gloucestershire on Friday the 24th to attend one of the several fairs hosted by Mel Tanner in her beautiful gardens at the Coach House in Ampney Crucis. The weather was much kinder than last year: it was admittedly overcast, but the air was warm and spring-like, which encouraged the visitors to stock up on plants to an encouraging extent and make this the first really successful day sales-wise of the season. T S Eliot words were now looking less appropriate than they had done a week or so ago.
And the Sunday saw us returning to Barbury Racecourse, perched high up on the Marlborough downs and with magnificent views over the Wiltshire countryside, for the RDA Plant Fair. This time the horizontal rain was conspicuous by its absence and, though it was cool and grey, plenty of folk turned out and, more importantly, went home with lots of plants in the boots of their 4x4s. And so April closed on a high note and, with the really busy months of May and June yet to come, left us feeling pretty chipper about the prospects for the season. And T S Eliot back on the shelf.
Rob & Joanna – May 2015
Well, here we go again. Our first event of the 2015 season, the Marlborough Spring Fair, took place on the 28th of March in the rather splendid surroundings of Marlborough College. This was a new event for us but sadly the weather wasn’t exactly benevolent. Let’s just say that this year March seems to have got itself the wrong way round and has come in like a lamb and is going out like a lion. Frequent spells of rain and a strong breeze meant that potential plant-buyers were happier browsing the crafts and gifts on the indoor stands rather than linger over the plants on our windswept display.
And, though we say it ourselves, it wasn’t a bad display despite it being only the end of March and the cool start to spring holding back plant growth quite markedly. A couple of days rummaging around the nursery had allowed us to assemble a decent collection of the usual and the unusual in various stages of development, so it was a pity the weather deterred people from giving them their full attention. Talking of displays, we were quite excited to be using our four new three-tier racks for the first time. Made to order by Castlefield, they are more efficient in terms of space than the tables we had been using previously – 30 2 litre plants per rack as opposed to 24 per table and on a smaller footprint, to boot. They will prove their worth, we are sure, especially at those events where space is limited. Which wasn’t the case this time, as we were the sole outdoor exhibitor and had the whole enormous courtyard to ourselves. Not that we used it all, contenting ourselves with a pitch some 5 metres square with our gazebo in the centre so we could huddle there when the rain swept in.
But enough hardy gardeners braved the conditions to make it all worthwhile, though we couldn’t help thinking that, had the weather been better, we would have despatched twice as many plants to new homes. Luckily, the forecast is more encouraging for the Easter weekend, when we shall once again be going down the road to Somerley for the Easter Craft & Garden Fair. Fingers crossed they’re right!
To see where we are going to be through the 2015 season check this page. We hope to see you at one or more of those venues.
Rob &Joanna – March 2015
As a follow-up to our last post, an alarming seven weeks ago, in which we looked at the most searched for plants of 2014, we thought it might be interesting to check out our season’s best sellers. Not just in terms of online sales, but the those plants that best imitated hot cakes across all our sales opportunities – online, at fairs & shows, and direct nursery sales. And – drum roll, please – the top ten is:
1 Potentilla x Tonguei
2 Delosperma Jewel of the Desert Garnet
3 Delosperma Jewel of the Desert Peridot
4 Colocasia Diamond Head
5 Geum Tequila Sunrise
6 Geum Mai Tai
7 Primula Francisca
8 Angelica Ebony
9 Polemonium Stairway to Heaven
10 Agastache Raspberry Summer
The Potentilla x Tonguei that tops the charts is a best seller of long standing, its compact spreading habit and gorgeous apricot flowers always proving popular at shows. It managed to register sales from March right through to November, which is no mean feat. The two hardy Delospermas that were hard on its heels, the red Garnet and yellow Peridot, conversely enjoyed a heady three-month sales boom from June through August, which is hardly surprising, as they were in non-stop flowering mode for that period.
We were, frankly, rather surprised to find the glossy-leaved Colocasia Diamond Head riding so high in the charts, but there it is, recording strong sales from May to early September, when the last ones of the 2014 batch found new homes at the Dorset County Show. Less surprising are the high positions of the Geums Tequila Sunrise and Mai Tai, which very definitely did the hot cakes thing in the early summer months when they were a frothy mass of blooms. Primula Francisca, with its like-me or loathe-me green flowers, was another dominant force in the early part of the season, as it usually is.
Ditto Angelica Ebony, which is regularly one of our first plants to sell out for the season, and last year was no exception. That black divided foliage is just too irresistible for most people. Polemonium Stairway to Heaven is a plant that looks good from early spring to late autumn, with its wonderful cream and green variegated foliage and clouds of blue flowers for weeks on end, so it has a long sales season and wins its top ten placing on that basis. July and August were the big sales months for the bee-friendly Agastache Raspberry Summer which completes our top ten: it not only boasts glorious deep pink flowering spikes, but has strongly scented foliage as an added attraction.
If you had already read our January post, you may have spotted the fact that there is only one plant that makes the top ten both of plants searched for and plants sold. That is the clearly very desirable Geum Tequila Sunrise. Will it hang on to its double accolade in 2015? The coming months will tell us.
Rob & Joanna – February 2015
Once again we have peered into the inner workings of our website to fish out the data which tells us how people arrived on www.paddockplants.co.uk and from that established the year’s top 10 plants which led them there from Google or their alternative search engine of choice (it is admittedly nearly always Google!). In so doing we were interested to note that website visitors had gone up from 25 000 in 2013 to 45 000 in 2014: there has been a significant surge since the website update took place in the late autumn, so we suspect a lot of that is due to search bots taking an interest in the ongoing changes. Anyway, to the list: here it is, and it’s as random as last year’s, with – remarkably – only one plant common to both lists.
1. Echium Russicum
2. Anemone Andrea Atkinson
3. Epilobium Angustifolium Album
4. Inula Orientalis
5. Anisodontea El Royo
6. Sphaeralcea Childerley
7. Deutzia Strawberry Fields
8. Geum Tequila Sunrise
9. Drimys Lanceolata
10. Anchusa Loddon Royalist
The plant with staying power, albeit dropping 5 places, is the Drimys Lanceolata (or Tasmannia, as we believe we should now be calling it) which does it great credit, as it is a fabulous evergreen shrub. The meteoric rise of Echium Russicum to number one demonstrates the influence of the Chelsea Flower Show, as Alan Titchmarsh included some in his show garden. We are not sure if the same applies to the next two plants on the list, but certainly whites and natural drift planting have been among the trends of the year. Andrea Atkinson is certainly the finest white Japanese anemone that we have experience of, and Epilobium Album, although a bit of a spreader, is a beauty if you’ve got the space. Why the surge in interest in good old-fashioned Inula Orientalis, we have no idea, though we are pleased to see it, but we do know that the legendary plantsman Bob Brown named Anisodontea El Royo as his favourite shrub in an article in Gardening Which, and we were named as suppliers. We didn’t know this in advance, so the subsequent spike in orders rather took us by surprise!
Sphaeralcea Childerley is a real little charmer with its masses of saucer-shaped flowers the colour of ripe peaches, and Deutzia Strawberry Fields (aka Magicien) is another splendid flowering shrub, so perhaps it’s not a huge surprise to see them in this list. Geums are a plant in vogue right now, so much that we keep wondering if they are the next big thing, and Tequila Sunrise is a delight despite sharing a varietal name with seemingly every other plant with a similar colouration. Our specimen in a big pot was in bloom for much of 2014. Although it brings up last place in the year’s top ten, Anchusa Loddon Royalist was a big seller in 2014, and once again this was down to the Chelsea factor, as it featured in at least one show garden. It was probably the most sought-after plant at the plant fairs we attended last year.
And there it is, 2014’s top ten most searched-for plants. Which of them will still feature in 12 months’ time, who can tell. But it will be fun finding out. As a strange footnote, we can reveal that on a par with the Anchusa in terms of searches leading people to our website was Ixia, a South African bulbous plant that we haven’t grown in years. Try as we might, we can’t replicate reaching our website through a search for it. The mysterious world of the search engine! Happy new year, everyone.
Rob & Joanna – January 2015
It’s that time again, that moment when we take a deep breath and say that these are the plants that we think will be gracing the Paddock Plants stand at gardening shows and plant fairs during the coming year, as well as making themselves available online and in our sales and display area in Toothill. There are no certainties, as we all know, in the world of gardening, but these are as near to it as we can get. The list displayed below has got 65 new entries on it (including one or two old friends making a comeback), with 41 plants having taken their leave, at least temporarily.
We anticipate every year by thinking it’s going to be the best ever, with the most interesting plants and the most exciting events, all blessed by the most wonderful weather, and why should 2015 be any different? Of course it’s going to be the best!
Have a look through the list for yourself and see why we think so.
Rob & Joanna – December 2014
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.