Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Mad on Plants: Obsession, Inspiration and Special Plants.

Salvia "Indigo Spires" and Papaver rupifragum.

I must confess that over the last few months I have been at quite a low ebb where the garden is concerned. The scale of the work needed at Tumbledown Farm to get the gardens into any kind of order has finally hit me. I have spent the summer discovering what is here and trying to make a dent in what really should not be. The most depressing thing is the ground elder that has spent ten years or more forming a blanket across the entire front garden. There are well established trees and shrubs galore but the rest is 6ft high nettles, ground elder and huge self seeded buddleias and elders. I can see the potential of the place, but when I am working in Oxford half the week and helping to care for the increasingly rickety Aged P's the rest of the time it all just seems like an impossible task.

Recently I went to try and find a bit of inspiration from one of the places that kick started my passion for plants. A few years ago now when I was living in Wiltshire I decided to explore my local nurseries after coming to the conclusion that Garden Centres were often over priced and full of the same old dull stock. After a bit of online searching I discovered a place only a few miles down the road called Special Plants. I liked the name instantly so off I set in the car to see what I would find. After a terrifying drive down an extremely steep, narrow, windy lane I reached the little nursery. It was worth the drive.

Special Plants Nursery

It is hard to describe how much I love this place; I guess the best way is to say it makes me feel like a kid in a sweetie shop. There are so many beautiful and unusual plants that when I visit the nursery now I have to make sure I do not take a basket with me otherwise I fill it in 5 minutes flat. Instead I trot around the nursery thinking "Ooooh what's that? Oh now that is nice, I really must have one of those, and one of those and ooooh that is very pretty...." and then I fill a basket full! I don't think I have ever managed to leave without a car full of magical plants that I just couldn't live without.

View of gravel garden and blue bed.

On one of my visits to Special Plants I discovered that the gardens of the nursery owner Derry Watkins were open for the day. Not only that but she was going to give a short walk and talk around her garden. So with great interest I went to see what the garden of a dedicated and very enthusiastic plants person looked liked (and since that first visit I have returned several times).

Erythrina crista-galli

Derry is married to architect Peter Clegg. When he had finished converting what essentially was an old barn into their stunning home with views stretching across the hills north of Bath he began to design the garden as Derry was too busy starting up the nursery to make a start on it herself. Clegg created a series of interlocking terraces with lawns, ponds and large areas for plantaholic Derry to plant out. The result is a stunning space in which Derry displays all the fantastic plants she grows and collects from around the world. There are also some particularly interesting architectural features that stand alone such as a large beech roundel with a simple circle of gravel in the centre and a series of box, yew and beech hedges which form shapes in the landscape that Clegg designed to reflect the contours of the rolling hills and fields beyond the garden.

Blue bed.

Derry Watkins is passionate about plants. She is Harvard educated and originally from Connecticut but has lived in England with her husband Peter, for more than three decades. Her energy and enthusiasm for plants is infectious. You cannot walk with her around her garden and not feel inspired. Her sunny personality is reflected in the vibrant cannas, dahlias and salvias that spill out of the borders. I am not going to waffle on for ages about how much I like this garden, but I will say that this really is a very special place, it is intelligently designed, beautifully bold and a plant hunters paradise. My photos here were taken on two different visits to the garden earlier this year in August and October. I have put the link to a slide show with a few more pictures at the bottom.

Anagallis monelli "Blue Light"

View of house

Schizostylis coccinea "Major"

View of upper garden.

View of pond.

Salvia uliginosa

Salvia "Phyllis' Fancy"

View from new gravel garden.

View of garden and sculpture by David Mayne.

Stipa tenuissima "Wind Whispers" and Setaria viridis.

Verbena hastata

Anemone hupehensis

View from pictorial meadow.


VP said...

I'm looking forward to her talk at Bath Uni next year. She piuts the talks programme together, so that's probably why it's a cut above your average gardening club's programme!

Rothschild Orchid said...

Indeed, if I had known she was organising it I would have paid a visit a lot sooner! It's her fault too that I've spent all afternoon bringing in my troop of jolly Salvia's for the winter :o)

Noelle Johnson said...

I think we all get a little burned-out on gardening from time to time. A trip to a wonderful nursery like Special Plants is a great idea to get motivated again. When I visit a good nursery, I feel like a little kid in a candy shop.

Victoria said...

Gorgeous post! I love salvias too! wow..all your pics were many varieties to enjoy! Wonderful job!!

Deborah at Kilbourne Grove said...

A fabulous garden always appears when a plant guru and an architect join forces. It seems these two talents were made to compliment one another.

Anna said...

I enjoyed your post. I have read quite a bit about this garden and nursery recently and it sounds a most special place. I am sure that I would not be able to resist a plant buying spurge if I visited. Would that it were nearer but maybe one day our camper van might point itself in that direction :)

Rothschild Orchid said...

It is worth a visit if you ever get the chance. It is at it's best in late summer. There are many lovely places in the area to visit as it sits on the boundaries of Goucestershire (and the cotswolds) and Wiltshire and Somerset.

I was going to post about it earlier in the summer as it has always been an point of inspiration for me but just as I had sorted out my photo's I picked up a copy of The English Garden only to see the garden on the front cover as that months feature garden. I harrumphed a bit and decided to wait a while before I blogged about it! I'm glad I waited a while as I went back again in October for one of Derry's talks and it was such a beautiful day I managed to get some lovely photo's. It is hard in her garden to know whether to take a photo or just stand and coo over plants!

RO :o)

Dig, Grow, Compost, Blog said...

That is a special place indeed. I do wish I had a special nursery (there's that 'special' word again!) in my neck of the woods. But then again, I don't think I could afford it right now. :-) Good luck with your big project. Try looking at it as just a series of mini-projects. Maybe that will help.

Lucy Corrander Now in Halifax! said...

I wouldn't be surprised if this garden didn't cause you anguish as well as delight.

The top picture is lovely in its own right - very pretty and cheerful.


Anonymous said...

Anagallis monelli 'Blue Light' is breathtaking. It sent me to my reference books to see if it's something I could grow here. Probably not, but I wouldn't mind having a picture of it hung on my wall. Wow! -Jean

Mary Delle LeBeau said...

Getting a garden started with all the other things in your life can be overwhelming. In my small garden I feel I can't get to all the things that need doing and it's frustrating. So I try to take it one step, or, one bed at a time. Loved your garden tour and slide show.

Jan said...

Your photos are so beautiful...the place looks like every gardeners dream! As far as your irresistable urge to buy plants when you're there, don't worry about it. Isn't it healthier to have a plant addiction that most any other addiction you could possibly have? And plants are an addiction you don't want to recover from!

Karen - An Artist's Garden said...

What a lovely tour you have given us. I always buy my seeds from Derry - and would love to visit her nursery.

Tatyana@MySecretGarden said...

Your pond looks so natural, like it was created by nature and was there forever. The last image is breathtaking!

Anonymous said...

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Blue Light flower has amazing colour...

Rothschild Orchid said...

Eeeek another honest scrap award, I better get my thinking cap on for that!

Tatyana, if only it was my pond! I don't normally like ponds that much (although I love frogs and the wildlife associated with them) but this pond is rather lovely. I like the bench by it, if it was in my garden I would sit and contemplate there often.

I just adored that Anagallis "Blue Light" too, the colour is to die for! I have it on my list of seeds I MUST buy :o)

Barry said...

What a delightful nursery... I can see why it holds such a special place in your heart. I most enjoyed my visit here and will be returning frequently!

Rebecca @ In The Garden said...

Lovely blue bed, it's so nice to see so many blue enthusiasts out there, with gorgeous blue blooms. Beautiful blue eyed kitty, I have one too. :) Rebecca