Tuesday, 22 July 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: All the fun of the fair


Oh we are loveably good at plant fairs in England. And probably in Scotland, Wales and Ireland too, but I don't know because I've never had to go that far in search of a good one. (Feel free to send me notes from any cross-border stunners; I can always be persuaded.)

My mum and I went to one in Selbourne a few weeks ago, and I've just got round to sorting through the pictures. I love the intensity with which people at plant fairs shop. They are like consultants visiting patients on the ward round, taking notes and indulging in low whispered conversations.

I'm also fascinated with the way that a plant fair tells you so much about gardening fashion. The small nurseries already know what we are all looking for having observed in detail exactly what sells, as well as what they have to cart home unclaimed.


I spent a good deal of time eavesdropping, because it's useful to find out what the plant fair crowd are going wild for, and also just because it's fun. Dieramas, for example, were a massive hit at Selbourne. Conversations about how to get them to flower echoed around the fields, as they are tricky customers at the best of times. Evidently the secret is partly just waiting - like peonies, they are fusspots who will hold out for several years after disturbance before they finally deign to grace the garden with blooms. 


Another plant that's everywhere this year is Astrantia, of all shapes and colours. This one is "Buckland" but I also loved George's Form, very very pink, and Roma which is a Piet Oudolf find. Apparently Margery Fish was onto Astrantias back in the 1950s: I, sadly, have been somewhat slower to catch on.

And in terms of late herbaceous interest, I could see that selling like local hot watercross buns were:


Gauras aplenty. What a useful plant: good with dry conditions, deliciously pretty and apparently not even that tasty to slugs.


Thalictrum "Ellin" - a really gorgeous tall one, and "Hewitt's Double" as the name indicates, double pink flowers, giving slightly more oomph for your money.


Eryngiums of many shapes and sizes, but particularly bourgatii (very
bright blue) and another good one called E x zabelii "Jos Eijking".


Penstemon "Sour Grapes" I fell hard for this bluey-mauvey lovely.


Salvia turkmenistanica var "Mojito" (trademarked name, no less! Ooo, get him.) The plant has been described elsewhere as smelling like a housemaid's armpit: I was too blinded by total smittenness to notice.


My best all-round stand actually belonged to the volunteer group of gardeners from Gilbert White's house at Selbourne itself. "Wakes' Weeders" sell only plants that would have been available in the late 18th century, with a wonderful range of digitalis and 18th-century veg, all in tip-top nick too. They run the plant sales at Selbourne all year round, so you could visit any time this summer and peruse their range.


Just one more thing. Never forget you actually have to get the whole lot home. And plant it. These ladies had five wheelbarrow loads, and a little bird told me they'd been at another plant fair the day before. Ladies of the multiple plant fair, we mortals who felt guilty about buying more than one thing can only salute you.

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