Sunday, 25 May 2014 18:29

Home and plant hunting

L to R: 'Woody' the sound man, Tom Mitchell of Evolution Plants, Kaz (sis-in-law), me, Izzy the researcher and Amy the A P/camerwoman for BBC1's 'Escape to the Country', on location in Wiltshire

So now for a bit of real news – I am moving house.  I am leaving London and moving to Wiltshire, just on the Dorset border – new home, new garden!

Obviously I shall be horribly sad to leave my lovely Clapham home, wonderful garden and the wildlife that shares it with me, especially Mr Blackbird and my robins, and also those who visit transiently - no amazing Jersey Tiger moths in Wiltshire I fear.

But my London garden has wonderful new owners who have always wanted to be gardeners - and now will have to be!  They don’t have children so don’t need a lawn/football pitch yet and they have also volunteered to “fish sit” Big Yellow and the others until I have built a suitable pond at the new house. How brilliant is that?

And, of course, I am terribly excited about my new home and garden which is obviously much larger and almost a blank canvas – but more about that later.

This is a roundabout way of telling those of you who saw my Tweet (and everyone else) that the reason I was lucky enough to spend a day with plant hunter Tom Mitchell of Evolution plants, in his private nursery, was because it was my “activity” whilst filming for ‘Escape to the Country’. If you don’t know it, this is a very popular BBC 1 programme that seeks to help people do what the title suggests. They show you three houses (including a mystery house), in your chosen county. You also have to do some sort of ‘local activity’ that matches your major interests – hence my visit to Tom’s place - but not the house move. I have found my new home separately.

However, it was a very special treat. How else was I going to spend a day with a plant hunter in his nursery which was not open to the public when I visited?

On the first day of our three day shoot for the Beeb, Kaz, my lovely sister-in-law (who was my accomplice and advisor on the house hunting), some of the crew, Kaz and I arrived at Evolution Plants and were welcomed and looked after wonderfully by Helen Bailey.

We had to spend the morning filming Tom showing us round, and Kaz and me having to divide and pot on a really rare plant, so I didn’t get to see much of the nursery. However, when Tom realised I was “Rosie’s back garden” and told me he reads this blog (you could have blown me down with a feather!), he invited me back, on my own, for a proper, private, afternoon tour. And what a place it is!

The BBC crew filming Evolution Plants with the, very appropriately alliterative, Ben Budd in the beds

The nursery is pretty huge with polytunnels and beds everywhere, looks onto a beautiful golf course and is right on the edge of a pretty Wiltshire village at the end of a dodgy lane. And it is full of the most amazing and beautiful plants. Tom  has an incredible Paeonia collection, most of which he inherited but the focus is on propagating from the seed he collects from all over the place: from the Balkans to the Caucasus; from Japan to the jungles of Vietnam; from the coastal sand dunes of southern Mozambique to the mountain ranges of western Europe ie all places where the plants are threatened by human activity ie us – deforestation, industrialisation, population growth and suburbanisation, climate change etc..

His mission is to protect these plants, mostly species varieties, by propagating them here and eventually selling them to us in favour of the mass-produced, Dutch grown varieties that fill our garden centres.

He wants us all to grow these purer varieties and turn our gardens into natural arks for the future. His ambition is to inspire enthusiasm for better, more interesting, more exciting garden plants.

If you could only see all the magical and glorious plants he has you would understand why.

Here are just a few photos of his versions of some plant species you will be familiar with. He has hundreds more you might recognise and thousands more you probably won’t.

 

I would die for this fabulous Paeony foliage - Paeonia tenuifolia

 

The better known Paeonia mlokosewitschii (Molly the witch)

 

Geranium Phaeum (wild and as yet un-named) but very stunning! Jo AJ you'd love it.

 

 And just wonder at the beauty of this daffodil - Narcisus nobilis

 

A very exotic grape hyacinth - Muscari Leopoldia comosa, better known as Muscari comosum

 

I am not a fan of double, over the top, Delphiniums. This is a delicate beauty, Delphinium tricron 'ruby falls'

 

And this beauty is Moraea pendula

I don’t know about you but I am becoming pretty familiar with many garden plant species, their hybrids and cultivars. The idea of being able to grow something completely different and unusual is very appealing. I understand that hybridisation can add to flower form and length of flowering time, hardiness etc and create lots of variety but there is something wonderfully exotic, yet simply beautiful, about the plants Tom is growing for us.

And I have discovered, in my 13 years of being a gardener, that I’m a plant addict. This means that overall garden design and planting schemes can suffer. But, for me, the plant variety is more important than the overall effect. It’s just one of those things you have decide about yourself - are you a plant lover or a garden design lover?

Obviously, I love to design with textures, foliage, colour and flowers together but I'd rather do it with rare or unusual plants than ones from a chain based, garden centre down the road.

I also think a good, well throught through, hard landscaping scheme, with designated beds, can help us plant lovers keep our enthusiasm in check whilst still creating great gardens. We’ll see. I am about to create my new garden!

Since my visit to Tom’s place in February this year, the great news is that his nursery has now been opened to the public, the dodgy lane has been re-surfaced and so you too can go and experience some of the joy I had.  Please do.  I promise you’ll love it if you are a ‘plantophile’. If you can’t, you can also buy a few of the plants online at evolution-plants.com.

So, I've finally met a real-life plant hunter whilst 'home hunting' with the BBC, a fabulous crew and the lovely, intelligent, Alistair Appleton as my presenter. I quickly (over an early breakfast) discovered that Alistair shares my love of proper ie cryptic, crosswords and my hatred of the sandwich - so we got on like a house on fire.

Back, from L to R: Izzy, Amy, Chris and 'Woody'.    Front, from L to R: Kaz, me, Alistair Appleton

Those three filming days were definitely a highlight of 2014. We had a ball and I think the final programme might be quite fun telly. Alistair and I sparred on camera.

Back to the move. The new garden offers huge potential and thus huge blog potential.  Essentially I am starting from scratch, so will be blogging on garden design, garden design software, plants choices, pond building, product choices (greenhouses, sheds, lawnmowers, pond pumps etc) and, this time, you’ll be able to share it with me as I create it and as it grows and matures.

Having spent months house hunting in Wiltshire, and thus expecting to newly garden on chalk/limestone, I can’t believe my chosen home is on a stream of Kimmeridge clay that comes up from the Dorset coast. Gosh, heavy clay again - but at least I know it and that my favourite plants (roses, clematis etc) thrive in it.

I also can’t believe that, having insisted on a South facing garden, my new back garden is North facing (though it has a front garden too).

As a result, this blog will also be full of North facing stuff, shade gardening, gravel gardening, and how to plant lots of trees and shrubs while still incorporating a stunning countryside view into your garden design, front and back etc. - so it will probably be much more useful to many of you. I am very excited about creating it and about blogging it.

Also, the updated website will make sure you can contribute and ask questions ie it will have much better functionality than it does now, I promise!

The big move is supposed to happen on 25 June. I can’t wait!

Wish me luck – and I’ll keep you updated. There are a few more blogs coming from here before I move.

PS Evolution Plants is now open to the public Thurs-Sunday, 11.00 – 6.00pm.

PPS The London element of this site will be saved for posterity under a separate tab, when brother Henry and I manage to do this. I am pretty busy at the moment with the move and work.

PPPS The Escape to the Country episode will be shown in Sept/Oct this year. I won’t know exactly when until about two weeks before but I shall keep you informed.