APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Well, spring rain there has been in abundance, but the dull roots haven’t been doing a lot of stirring as of yet. It’s just been too cold for the poor little things. Our show calendar, however, cares naught for such poetic fancies or meteorological realities, and so we have been out and about over the past month or so, despite struggling to find much that is looking good and in defiance of the weather’s best attempts to encourage the gardening public to stay at home in the warm.
Our first outing this season was over the Easter weekend, our usual three-day visit to Somerley Park for the Craft & Garden held there each year. Easter being early, the weather was less than kind: cold (though not as cold as a few years ago when the plants froze in their pots) and very windy. Storm Katy hit the south of England on the Sunday night and, come Monday morning, two exhibitors had to retrieve their mangled gazebos from two fields away! We were not that surprised, all things considered, that sales were modest, but we were impressed by the resilience displayed by our own gazebo, which took the worst of the elements in its stride.
The following Saturday saw us – or, rather, Rob, as Deb was otherwise engaged – in the familiar surroundings of West Street, Fareham, for a farmers’ market which was graced by some decent weather and enough interested passers by to make the sortie a worthwhile one for us. Conditions were not quite as kind the next Sunday when we set up our stand in the quadrangle at Marlborough College for the Spring Fair: it didn’t rain, as it did – horizontally – last year, but it was pretty damn cold and an icy breeze discouraged much in the way of loitering to admire the plants. But it was certainly better than last year, and for that we can be thankful.
Another market on Sunday the 17th, one of the regular Andover Farmers & Craft Markets, was our next port of call on an actually quite pleasant day (though the temperature never got high enough for Rob to take his padded gilet off). There was a good turnout of traders and the atmosphere was a lively one, but we continue to get the impression that the events aren’t as well known as they should be among the residents of Andover. A pity, as we like them and the setting by the Guildhall.
The final Sunday of April saw us head back up to Marlborough, and then beyond, climbing up on to the top of the downs to Barbury for the RDA Plant Fair, which is held in what must be one of the most spectacular settings we go to during the season. Despite its remoteness, enough hardy souls find their way to the fair to make it a highly worthwhile day for the various stallholders, and we drove back down into civilisation with a fairly empty van. The weather is remaining resolutely wintry despite the fact that May is but round the corner, but we cling on to hope that our big May bank holiday weekend events will prove sufficiently successful to offset some of the big early season bills that blight this part of the year. We will see.
We are perhaps a little late this time in compiling and publishing our top ten lists for the year recently ended, but if you have been avidly following us on Twitter, Facebook or Google+ (you must have a lot of time on your hands if you do!), you will already be well clued up on these matters, as we have been releasing the exciting news on those sites over the past week or so. It is quite interesting that the top ten best sellers and the top ten most searched for plants are two very distinct lists, with only one plant in common, the recent introduction Summerina Orange, also known as Echibeckia (it’s a genetic cross, so work it out). So here are the lists:
Firstly, the top ten most searched for plants on our website are:
1 Drimys (syn. Tasmannia) Lanceolata
2 Campanula Pink Octopus
3 Echium Russicum
4 Thalictrum Rochebrunianum
5 Cordyline Charlie Boy
6 Summerina (syn. Echibeckia) Orange
7 Geum Tequila Sunrise
8 Lobelia Tania
9 Sphaeralcea Childerley
10 Tetrapanax Rex
Drimys, the pretty evergreen shrub from down under which tops the rankings seems to make this list every year, but is up eight places from last year. The other plants with staying power are Echium Russicum, last year’s number one, Geum Tequila Sunrise (must be something in the name) and Sphaeralcea Childerley with its gorgeous apricot flowers. Of the rest, it is interesting to note that, despite all the fancy new varieties that abound, old favourite Thalictrum Rochebrunianum is the one that is up there.
But the more important list has to be the best sellers and here it is in all its glory:
1 Erygium Graham Stuart Thomas
2 Actaea Black Negligée
3 Delosperma Jewel of the Desert Garnet
4 Delosperma Wheels of Wonder Orange
5 Summerina (syn. Echibeckia) Orange
6 Delosperma Jewel of the Desert Peridot
7 Geum Mai Tai
8 Geum Cosmopolitan
9 Dicentra King of Hearts
10 Primula Francisca
The thing that is striking here is the preponderance of delospermas and geums, making up half of the top ten, no less. We can understand why, though, as they are all vibrant long-term bloomers. Delospermas Garnet and Peridot are back again this year, but the WoW Orange we won’t be growing, as we felt that its growth habit was a bit too floppy for our taste. No surprise in finding Geums Mai Tai and Cosmopolitan here (the latter is Rob’s all-time favourite geum), nor, indeed, Primula Francisca which always sells well, despite its rather marmite-like reputation. Actaea Black Negligée is simply gorgeous, so deserves its high ranking, and we are pleased that the hugely reliable Dicentra King of Hearts creeps into the top ten (it just goes on flowering from spring to autumn!). And there, at the top of the charts, sits the charming little Eryngium Graham Stuart Thomas, delicate but undemanding and a worthy winner. We guessed it might be up there, as it accompanies us to virtually every show we do from March to September and always proves popular with the buying public.
And there we have it. With lots of new plants coming on to our catalogue for 2016, it will be interesting to see, in 12 months’ time, if any of them can shake up these lists.
Rob & Joanna – February 2016
Is it really that time of year again? Well, yes it is. Christmas and New Year out of the way, and it’s onwards and upwards into yet another new season, with all its hidden promise and exciting potential. And, of course, the most exciting bit about a new season is the plants, particularly the new ones. So, without further ado, here is the Paddock Plants list for 2016.
Unusually, we have removed more plants from the list (82) than we have added to it (68), but there is a degree of rationalisation in that. Among the 82 we are saying goodbye to are a large number of aquilegias, which seems wise in light of the spread of aquilegia downy mildew, a disease that has caused such widespread problems for the genus. Among the 68 newbies are some really nice campanulas, such as Iridescent Bells and Silver Bells, an exciting new cross in Rhodoxis Fairy Tale, the remarkable recent introduction Sambucus Black Tower, and a return to growing some hostas, which have not featured much on our recent lists.
We will try to highlight some of the new additions on this blog before the season gets fully underway. Mind you, since things usually start to get busy come February, that doesn’t leave long, does it? Happy New Year to you all and here’s to an exciting 2016!
And so, six months after it began in the icy March winds of Wiltshire, the roadshow season has wound its way to a balmy end in the sunbathed depths of Dorset. Seems only yesterday we were setting up in the courtyard at Marlborough College ….. well, no it doesn’t actually, being realistic about it, but nonetheless each season on the road does seem rather to speed by at an alarming rate, leaving us once again to contemplate the descent into winter and all the tidying up, ordering, booking and staring at a computer screen that that brings. The last leg of the 2015 tour saw us in three rather different settings.
The first of these brought us back to the lovely surroundings of Longstock on the Leckford Estate near Stockbridge on the occasion of the Autumn Plant Fair organised in support on the North Hampshire Medical Fund. Just as at the spring event held there, those attending are generally knowledgeable gardeners who know their species and subspecies and who – thankfully, given the time of year – don’t need a plant to be in full bloom to prove its worth. The fact that it was rather on the grey and cool side didn’t seem to discourage them too much, and our sales were brisk, especially before lunchtime.
Brisk is not the adjective we would choose to describe things the following weekend, when we went up to Andover for a third time this year for the Farmers & Craft Market by the Guildhall. Perhaps the public couldn’t find us in the grey mist that enveloped things until late morning, and when they did, they didn’t seem to be much in the mood for plant buying. Ah well, it was mid-September, and it is a fact that, despite early autumn being a great time for planting perennials and shrubs, most people prefer to wait until spring to do so.
And so to the curtain call for 2015, once again the Plant Heritage Dorset group plant fair held in the shadow of Athelhampton House, and in our particular case in the shadow of the grandiose stone dovecote, which provided an interesting background soundtrack to our day. The weather was perfect, a golden late September day of gentle sunshine, but for some reason the denizens of Dorset failed to arrive in the same numbers as last year, and, although we seemed to do rather better than some others, we sold little more than a third of what we did in 2014. Perhaps it was the date, two weeks later than last year, perhaps it was the effect of there having been a plant fair at Mapperton House, not a million miles away, just a week previously: whatever the reason, it was a disappointment for the organisers after all their hard work and for the stall holders who had managed some pretty impressive displays despite it much harder to find things in bloom rather than in, say, June. But you have to take the rough with the smooth, as they say (rather smugly and annoyingly ….. ) and it would be pretty curmudgeonly to complain about spending a sunny Sunday in the picturesque grounds of a 15th century manor house.
So all that remained was to unload the van for a final time, and that was how Rob spent his Monday morning, returning plants to the growing area or using them to restock the sales and display area when he could. In all we have spent forty four days at some event or other in the course of the past six months. That’s six more days than in 2014, so it’s been a busy season. Whether it’s been a more profitable one remains to be seen: once Rob has completed his spreadsheet, all will be revealed. There were times that it all got a bit frantic, with one show merging seamlessly into the next, and potting on and other necessary ongoing jobs getting neglected, which has led us to wonder if it might be better to advertise a bit more and encourage more direct sales from the nursery rather than hare off at every opportunity to some far flung point in Dorset, Surrey, West Sussex or wherever. Perhaps we can ponder that in the coming dark winter months.
Rob & Joanna – September 2015
The last time we posted here May was just underway & we stood on the threshold of summer. It is now the best part of two weeks into September and that summer is pretty much on the way out, if the weather forecast for the coming days is to be believed. And those good intentions about posting on a weekly basis through those golden sunny days? Paving the road to you know where, as you might expect. So ….. a rushed recap of the past four months it is then.
May sees some of our biggest sales days: the St John Garden Fair and the Plant Heritage Fair in two consecutive flat-out days at the start of the month, and the Solent Gardeners’ Fayre right at the end (usually the first Sunday in June, but moved this year so as not to clash with the Garden Show at Stansted). A couple of other events turned out to be bigger than anticipated too. The WoW fair, held on a Thursday at Dummer Cricket Centre, was for once blessed with fine weather, and Rob had to cope on his own with queues of ladies lining up with armfuls of plants. Which was nice. Rather bitter sweet, as it turns out, as the charity has decided to discontinue the event. Which seems an odd decision, given that good weather saw a much improved turnout. Ho hum. Ours not to reason why, we suppose. The other surprise package was the Milford on Sea Gardeners’ Club event held on the village green on a Saturday morning in mid-May. Again Rob was operating in a solo capacity, as Deb decided that getting up at the unearthly hour required to get there and set up before parking regulations came into force was not on, given her work commitments during the week. It was queues and armfuls again, as it turned out, and Rob was happy, if exhausted, at the close of play. We had a new event in the two-day Plant Fair at Upton Country Park in Poole, held in the sub-tropical setting of the walled garden there. There was a feeling among the stallholders that it might have been better advertised: perhaps so, but we weren’t complaining about the brisk business we seemed to do.
Into June, traditionally another big month, but with some new events this year alongside old favourites such as the Unusual Plants Fair at Selborne, Fareham gardeners’ market and a Rare Plant Fair at Birtley House. The opening weekend was in fact a brand new event, Toby Buckland’s Garden Festival at Bowood House in Wiltshire, a successor to his initial foray into event organisation in 2014 at Powderham Castle. We thought it was a splendid location and the show had the makings of a truly great event, as there was lots for visitors to see, do and buy. Some other exhibitors muttered in their beards that they hadn’t done that well, but we were pretty pleased, if a bit windswept in our particular location. Also in its first year was the Craft and Garden Fair at Breamore House in Dorset, held on the final weekend of the month. Again, a fabulous location, and we had a good weekend sales-wise.
The first weekend of July saw a weekend off the treadmill: hurrah! As ever, plans to catch up on lots of fronts, e.g. potting on, came to naught, and all too soon we were back in the fray. Parham was a lovely affair as ever: who couldn’t be happy selling plants in such a location (visit the acres of walled gardens, and you will see what we mean). The other pillar of July is of course the Garden Show at Loseley Park, which sees us venture up into Surrey for three days. This year the weather was as mixed as it possibly could be. Friday and Sunday were basically horizontal rain, with the visitor numbers and sales statistics that you might expect given such conditions. The Saturday in between, however, was as gorgeous a summer day as you could wish for, and the throng of customers didn’t just linger over the plants, they bought them too. We did feel sorry for the seven coachloads of gardeners who came on the sodden Monday: they just picked the wrong day to book by 24 hours. We also returned to Andover for another of the series of Craft & Farmers’ markets (or, rather, Rob did). Which was fine, apart from a keen breeze blowing racks over during set up: not a great start to the day.
The start of August saw another new event for us in the two-day Poole Town and Country Fair, held at Upton Park, though not in the walled garden this time, but in the rather wider expanses of the park itself. It turned out to be a lovely family-oriented event, with lots going on. We had a monopoly of plant sales and consequently did quite well for the time of year: we were just glad that there was no other competition. The following Saturday saw the Ellingham Show: back in our now usual spot on the entrance and exit avenue, we were kept busy throughout the long day, and Rob was especially pleased to find a fresh fish stall that provided him with lobster and crab to take home. Heaven! Yet another new show followed: the South Downs Show in a fold of the (yes) downs in the Queen Elizabeth Country Park near Petersfield. Once again we were masters of all we surveyed and, if visitors wanted plants, we were the only source. So we did fine in the circumstances. Rob’s highpoint – literally – was the epic climb with Penny, Deb’s little Jack Russell, right to the top of the escarpment above the show venue to enjoy the far-reaching views to the coast.
After another free weekend (well, we deserve it) the very last day of August (Bank Holiday Monday) brought us, or, rather, Rob once again bereft of support, to the Emsworth Show. Another new one on us, as it happens. It had been, shall we say, a damp weekend, and Noah, were he still with us, would have been preparing the ark and getting in the animal provisions. So Deb’s phone call at 6.30 am to announce her withdrawal from proceedings wasn’t entirely unexpected, and Rob was entertaining some serious doubts about the whole thing as he set off in sheets of rain en route to West Sussex. However, the further down the M27 he went, the less torrential the rain became, and setting up the pitch in light rain was about the worst of it in the end. Emsworth mustered enough hardy souls to make it all worthwhile, and the only real victim of the rain turned out to be the burger van which got stuck in the mud attempting the leave the field at the end of the day.
And so it is September, and we have just had a show-free weekend before embarking on a mad dash for the off season which starts in October. Perhaps with all the free time that beckons, more regular updates might be on the cards? The jury is still out on that one.
Rob & Joanna – September 2015
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