#RHSHamptonCourt – the ‘must have’ plants!

#RHSHamptonCourt is over for another year but what did you bring home with you? Heres some of my flower choices from this years show

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All the beautiful gardens at Hampton Court will have disappeared now, the only evidence they were ever there will be some  slightly yellow but soggy grass, some trampled areas from the thousands of feet that have passed by and some slightly perturbed bees looking for the flowers that they were sure were there yesterday!

If you didn’t get a chance to visit heres a look at which plants caught my eye both in the gardens and the floral marquee

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Firstly out in the gardens, there are always a few plants it seems that every designer includes. Last year it was a very popular dark purple, almost black Agapanthus and Achillea cassis in various scarlets and pink forms. This year it seems the must have plants for Hampton were …

calycanthus x raulstonii ‘Hartlage wine’

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Aka: Carolina allspice or sweetshrub

Named after the student who created the cross, Richard Hartlage. The plants parents are Sinocalycanthus chinensis (Chinese species) with Calycanthus floridus (U.S. species) in 1991 at the JC Raulston Arboretum at North Carolina State University.

It prefers growing in a slightly shady position to get the best performance from it. Lightly prune for shape directly after flowering.

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I think I saw this on about 5 gardens around the showground and on at least 1 display in the marquee and I’m now in love with it!

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Senecio candicans ‘Angel Wings’

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I saw this a few times last year but this year it was in literally EVERY garden! Understandable, its a striking plant. A relatively new introduction with the aid of micro-propping supplies have been bulked up to epic proportions. Its drought tolerant, handy given this years weather, and really doesn’t care what type of soil you have so long as its not sitting in a bog garden.

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Its beautiful silver, felted leaves are its real selling point and also give you the clue it prefers full sun.

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I always spend ages in here as this is the place you’ll see the new, the old favourites and sometimes some stunning rarities

Dibleys always have an excellent display of Streptocarpus and as houseplants go you really cant fault them. They don’t mind indirect light, in fact they prefer a slightly darker corner. If given a feed they will flower almost continuously. Easy to propagate either through division or for the more adventurous spirit through leaf cuttings!

Going through old pics of their display from previous years I see I have photographed this particular variety multiple times so its obviously one im drawn to and at present I only have 1 Strep in my collection I might have to remedy that… although it does have to be said my dad has far more success with them than I do, I think I neglect them a bit too much!

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Going with the tender plant theme another house plant I love beyond words (but have little success with if im honest, I think I love them too much) are the Zantendeschias from Brighter Blooms.

There are 2 main types of Zantendeschia, the taller, hardy types with predominantly white flowers and the tender, shorter varieties with coloured blooms like these below. All will form a rhizome and I think this is where ive mistakenly given up on mine in the past as they have gone dormant and ive thought ive killed them, its also possible ive overwatered them and the rhizome rotted off. Now I know a bit more about them im inclined to try again!

They are happiest at an optimum temp of  25 °C, with growth being suppressed once daily average temperatures persist at 28 °C.

This chap, Zantendeschia ‘Memories’ with the almost black spathe and purple tinted leaf caught my eye, I think it has rehmannii parentage but happy to be corrected by others that know better.

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and this one with a gentler pastel tinted tone Zantendeschia ‘Picasso’

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My last selection on the tender side is this absolute beauty of a monster! This was part of the actual display so would take a while to grow to this size but its not unachievable for those of you who have a conservatory to overwinter it in, or you could just keep several small versions on the go by propagating from it on a regular basis.

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Echiveria ‘Red sea monster’ certainly lives up to its name, looking distinctly Kraken like rearing out of its pot with red edged, wavy, margined succulent leaves and at such a size!! What a stunner!

In fact the whole display of cacti and succulents from Southfield Nursery was a bit special, some of the slower growing varieties being older than me.

Moving onto the hardier plants for your garden I do find myself looking not just for colour but also for scent, a rule of thumb with most scented plants is their flowers will be less showy but there are always exceptions to this rule! These 2 dainty offerings are not overstated on size, in fact elegant is how I would describe them but the scent was heavenly! In our droughty summer they would also perform with very little intervention needed.

Calmazag Nursery had a stunning display of Dianthus but the scent from these two was sublime! D. ‘silver star’ had a slightly larger semi double flower with a raspberry eye, whilst D. ‘Stargazer had a wonderful open flower with a deep purple almost black eye.

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Perhaps Leucanthemums are seen as an old fashioned flower? If they are I don’t care. They are reliable, trouble free and just carry on flowering forever! They always remind me of my mum too which is nice, she used them a lot in flower arranging. Recently I’ve been seeing some doubles and semi doubles for sale which adds a whole new dimension to them. This one, Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Christine Hagemamm’ I spotted on the Hardy’s plants stall. I just love its frilly, frothy centre!

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Hardy’s has always been a great source of inspiration for me *Fan girl Klaxon!* ever since I got into gardening it was always their stall I lingered at longest and asked the most questions at… and often spent the most money at! Both Rosy and Rob have always been exceptionally gracious with their time and patient of me being annoying as have all their staff. I’ve always found something that  draws me so its little wonder that the next few plants I spotted on my list are featured on their display.

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Campanula ‘Pink octopus’ is an adorable bonkers little plant, not a new introduction but its one ive liked for a few years now. Unlike most campanulas where the petals are fused into a bell shape these are held separately and flare outwards in a pastel shade of raspberry pink, great for ground cover in a shady area.

This next one is just insanity though!

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Plantago major ‘Rosularis’ on talking to Rob I discovered this is not a new plant rather just one I’ve never seen! How I’ve missed this I’m not sure but hey, always learning! Its of the same family as the common plantain, which is often considered a weed due to its abundantly fertile habit. This is also the reason the plantagenet family chose it as their symbol. As a general rule I’m not keen on green flowers, they feel a bit pointless to me but I may change my mind after seeing this ruffled spire of loveliness!

Next up are the Salvias and if you want to see them in all their glory the Dyson’s nursery stand is where to head for. William has brought out a couple of new varieties this year despite having an awful winter by all accounts!

‘So cool pale blue’ and ‘So cool purple’ are lovely little short shrubby salvia varieties, excellent for pots and front of the border.

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Now as much as I love Salvias I admit I’m finding it really hard to like this one, over the last few years we’ve seen a number of new Salvias launched ‘Love and wishes’, ‘Embers wish’ and ‘Wendys wish’ being just 3 in the series. This year sees the launch of S. ‘Wishes and kisses’ and for me it falls very short of the mark (sorry). Maybe because the last few releases have been SO special I’m now spoilt? Its flower colour is insipid, none of the vibrancy I expect from a salvia and the calyx colour jars badly with the flower. I’m sure someone out there will love it, many in fact, but I’m not a fan.

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However!

And this is not a new release but an easy to grow bedder S. splendens ‘Go-Go purple’ is a real showstopper in my book! Big flowers, rich colouring, held high above vibrant green foliage, what’s not to love!

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A nutty little Allium for you all now, I saw this being used a few times around the place and also at GLEE last year.

Allium ‘Forelock’ has the most unusual appearance, a tight ball of maroon flowers tipped white which gives a frosted look to the flower head, with a Mohican style effect sprouting from the top!

Reaching half a metre tall these guys are sure to add interest to your borders!

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Last but by no means least!

If you’re looking for something both weird and wonderful look no further than Plantbase UK. Specialising in that something a bit out of the ordinary Graeme’s nursery is a treasure trove of the unusual.

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This fabulous single leaf belongs to Sauromatum venosum, a voodoo Lilly which produces an amazing, if somewhat pungent flower every other year.  If you have a shady spot that needs a wow factor this is just perfect for you!

Tell me what caught your eye this year!

Hampton Court 2018

Hampton Court 2018
Theres so much to see and do at this years Hampton I was plum tuckered by the end of the day
A first view of the gardens and a to do list!
I’ll be adding plant profiles later this week!
#RHSHamptonCourt

 

Hampton Court has always been a favourite of mine, ever since my first view, driving a lorry laden with plants across a dusty, sun bleached field with a herd of deer in the distance. That first experience of an RHS Show was in retrospect an iconic moment in my career. To see a full grown rough, tough man on the verge of tears because his Jacaranda mimosifolia had lost its one flower in transport was memorable to say the least. I often wonder who he was and how his garden got on that year, I do hope he did ok. That was my first sighting of a tree that was to become one of my top 10 trees. The atmosphere on the build was amazing and honestly it made me realise that when I changed careers, scary as that was, I had made the best decision of my life!

Since then I have visited Hampton Court many times, both on build and as a visitor, I’ve always preferred it to Chelsea if I’m honest. It feels less crowded, less frantic. The standard of displays has always been just as good, if not better in some cases. In the past 2 years the butterfly dome has been an enormous draw for visitors, seeing a little girl looking at wonder at a huge butterfly that had decided to alight on her hand was just delightful. Hopefully a memory that might turn her into a future entomologist!

Theres lots of shopping opportunities at Hampton Court too, not just for sundries, gadgets and fancy things but for plants! The floral marquee is as always a dangerous place for those of us with plant avarice. Last year I picked up some gorgeous bits and pieces. Pelargonium ‘Springfield black’ and ‘Lord Bute’ came home and are now gracing the pots in various places at Ulting Wick, performing beautifully. A Colocasia ‘Hawaiian blue’ survived this harsh winter and has grown well enough to be split and is in pots by the front door. As usual I will be keeping my eyes open for the unusual or beautiful, I feel myself increasingly being drawn towards the amazing leaves of Begonias.

Outside there are beautiful gardens to admire and take inspiration from, one designer I’ve come to admire recently has been Charlie Bloom. Her designs are accessible for most urban gardeners. Materials and plant selections that would grace any average back garden and turn it into a paradise. Last year her garden ‘Colour box’ was literally overrun by admiring visitors, crowds standing 5 deep to catch a glimpse of the cheerful simplicity which was obviously something that was easily relatable to. Come sell off time the garden disappeared in minutes!

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Its worth mentioning the ethos behind her work at this point, unlike most show gardens the budget involved was minimal. The entire build was done on a shoestring! Charlie involved several suppliers, friends and volunteers to create her vision. Shes very vocal about this, praising each and every person involved. It really is a team effort, which is a beautiful thing to see. This year is no different in that sense, in fact maybe even more so with various parties such as Nickie Bonn, Stark and Greensmith, Lewis Normand, Art4Space, London Stone and possibly many others I haven’t named, giving time, materials and smiles to create ‘Brilliance in Bloom’. Having followed its creation on Twitter it’s another amazing garden which I’m sure the public will fall in love with.

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One which caught my eye from its design brief mainly due to the fantastical description was the Elements Mystique Garden by Elements Garden Design. It features the work of Belgian sculptor William Roobrouck. Corten steel in gardens seems to be very in vogue at the moment! The sphere which dominates the garden is representing a fallen meteor with a planting scheme representing the heat the plants closest would have suffered, ruptured paving from the impact has a fantasy element that appeals to me.

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There were 3 others which caught my eye

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First the Hampton Court gardens team has produced this amazing Battlefield garden, the sheer logistics in the build are stunning as is the attention to detail. It’s not classically pretty, no, but the feat of shifting tonnes of earth to create huge trenches, phenomenal!

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Even without being told you realise that as you journey through the garden you are travelling through time from a war zone, albeit a staged one, to an area abandoned by man and slowly being reclaimed by wildlife.

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Huge bombcraters, littered with remnants of rusted metal bearing witness to the fierce horror the land witnessed. The wildflowers which colonise the landscape as you travel through the installation are brought to life with dragonflies,butterflies and other wildlife that have colonised the site since the build started. the blasted, dead trees standing sentinel overall.

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The second literally stopped me in my tracks!

One of the most gorgeous Loquat trees I’ve seen in a long time, surrounded by gorgeous exotic foliage. Excellent use of hard landscaping and on a scale that didn’t dominate. As you travel along the garden you are suddenly treated to a blaze of colour carpeting the ground! Bizzie Lizzies!

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Ok, I admit when I read the brief on this garden I turned my snobby nose up… Its true, I admit it…. I take it all back!

Firstly my snobby brain went “B&Q! Making a show garden! Pfft!”…. I am shame

Second “Bizzie Lizzies! Oh god, how 1970’s!” … I am doubley shame

The guys who created this garden have got a well deserved gold medal, hats off, it’s not a horrible dated monstrosity even in the slightest, its gorgeous. Using Buzy Lizzies in such a way as to reflect their natural environment, understory planting in a garden that gives the feel of somewhere way more exotic than south, west London!

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And my final surprise is based on the quality of the plants used and the execution of the build. This one was a creeper in the sense it took me a while to realise exactly how good it was. I spent longer looking at this installation than at quite a few other more spectacular builds. Great Gardens of the USA is a garden of 2 halves

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The use of plants was exquisite, from the wild rugged Oregon gardens to the chic courtyard of Charlestown & South Carolina

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Once you’ve had your fill of the gardens and shopping take a moment to check out some of the workshops and talks being held throughout the week

Firstly, perhaps not one for the vegans (kidding before anyone gets annoyed), plants that eat meat!

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Take the time to have a look at Matthew Soper’s display, from Hampshire Carnivorous Plants. He’s been nominated as this years Master Grower. He is a wealth of information on this fascinating genre of plants that have evolved ingenious methods of supplementing their diet using insects and mammals as food sources. I love murderous plants!

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There are also various fun workshops and experiences to enjoy throughout the week. For those of you that missed the Chatsworth Orchid display there’s a second chance to see an insects eye view of pollinating an orchid! This virtual reality experience is great for adults and kids alike.

If you have kids with you there’s lots of stuff aimed at them like making fairy flower crowns and bumble bees! Also make your own bird feeders and mini gardens that you can take home with you… to be honest, that actually sounds quite fun, I get odd looks when I do these things without borrowing a friends child first, being an adult is so hard sometimes! *stamps foot*

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Anyway, you can dig for fossils, forage wild food, learn how to do a modern floral arrangement then learn calligraphy! With your new found skills you could host the most awesome dinner party to show off your fossil finds. Your menu could be made up from stuff you find in hedgerows with a lovely floral centrepiece and delicately inscribed namecards and invitations… am I right or am I right!

More details of where to find all these things will be available in your programme guide.

In fact there is a ridiculous amount to do, you’re going to be hard pushed to see and experience everything, think of this like an upmarket festival so careful planning may be needed to get the most out of your day. Think of it like Glastonbury for flowers where the “must see bands” are Piet Oudolf, Raymond Blanc, Greg Wallace, The floral marquee and the Kinetic trees!…. In fact that is an awesome band name… someone should use that!

Anyway, pack your sunnys, a hat, a bottle of water and your credit card cos Hampton is on! Enjoy!

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RHS Chatsworth, a grand day out!

RHS Chatsworth, a grand day out!
My new favourite Flower show
I had a fabulous day at Chatsworth here’s why you would too…

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This was my first visit to Chatsworth, both as a venue and for an RHS show there. Given I visit a lot of gardens I have been extremely remiss in not seeing this iconic Capability Brown landscape before now.

This is Chatsworth’s second year hosting one of the RHS monumental shows and it is an incredible feat of organisation and logistics, as are all of their shows! The planning for these events takes real skill and for the designers and nurseries attending it can be the pinnacle of months of planning.

So, what did I have on my ‘must see’ list?

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Naturally Orchids, there is  a huge instalment of over 5ooo, grown by Double H Nurseries in Hampshire.

Chatsworth was once home to one of the most extensive and rare Orchid collections in the world. John Gibson was instrumental in collecting many new varieties from the wild for the Duke of Devonshire and his Head Gardener Sir Joseph Paxton. So this display is something of a homecoming for Orchid lovers.

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Their display of Phalenopsis and other exotic Orchids  has been designed by Jonathan Moseley. There will also be talks and advice clinics to look forward to throughout the week for those of you who love these exotic beauties. For those of you wanting an insects eye view theres also a chance to try out a virtual reality experience of how insects see things!

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What I hadn’t realised, and this is incredibly exciting, is this would introduce me to a brand new series of scented Phalenopsis that have been 25 years in the breeding! I feel very honoured to now be the proud owner of 2 of their 3 new scented varieties. There are 3 which will soon be launched into supermarkets near you and they really are mouth wateringly gorgeous. Look out for ‘Diffusion’ with purple/pink petals, this beauty is a holder of the RHS AGM. Along with ‘New life’, another RHS AGM holder, whose petals are a delicate pink with a yellow lip. Finally ‘Sunny smell’ who’s blooms have a tropical, cheerful feel in yellow with shades of pink.

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Next up on my ‘must see’ list

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Paul Hervey-Brookes  has designed the Brewin Dolphin Garden, which I’ve been following with interest on Twitter for the last few weeks. For the last couple of years I’ve followed Paul’s journey, you’d have a harder heart than mine not to be touched by the sorrows hes been through yet his courage throughout it all has been inspiring.

His credentials both as a horticulturalist/botanist and a designer are utterly stunning! His work seems to consistently reinvent itself. He takes each new challenge and seems to look at it in an entirely different manner from the last, totally ignoring the idea that a garden designer has to develop a ‘style’ which can often box a designer into a corner, their popularity dependent entirely on the whims of fashion. If I seem a bit of a fan girl here its because I am, even if you ignore the fact he’s one of the Pershore club like myself, its his ability to seamlessly slip from cottage garden frothiness to brutalist modernism with incredible ease and always picking exactly the right plants to complement the hard landscaping involved.

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This garden has been inspired by a lost Chatsworth village, a disappeared part of local history that stood in the way of Capability Browns plans. The village now just a ghostly memory that haunts the land reappearing when weather conditions allow the grass to dry out and its streets and houses are laid out once more in the turf, only to vanish again when the rains come.

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The hard landscaping reflects local traditional building materials and methods, whilst the planting uses many plants we will all be familiar with. One comment made, not by myself, was that he manages to stitch them together in such a way that the plants themselves look new and exciting, which I thought was an excellent description!

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Inside the cathedral like space, which seems so hard from the outside there is a feeling of warmth and serenity, its like hiding in plain sight. You get glimpses of the world beyond but are totally hidden within its structure. Its also worth mentioning the finishing detail for an area which few will actually see up close is absolutely stunning even down to the beautiful vases of flowers on the tables.

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The insect life also loved the garden giving me the best view of a Mayfly I’ve ever had!

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I also have a new favourite fern, sadly I don’t know its name but it looks stunning with this Astrantia

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Surprises from around the show

I had a look at the show gardens where I fell in love with this one by Phil Hurst called “The Great Outdoors”. I loved the planting of bright colours giving it a feel of vibrance. The hard landscaping includes dark wood decks which appear to float over deep pools of water. The main path is a beautiful ochre that looks a bit like crushed sandstone. This leads to a wonderful structure, that I hesitate to call a pergola purely because of its jaunty shape, in a restful green oasis. For a small space there is so much movement going on here yet it doesn’t feel overly busy and its something that could easily be transferred to a small urban garden.

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Next up were the long borders where combinations of plants stole the show

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And of course the plant marquees and nurseries around the site, I did succumb to one or two beauties!

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One of the main things that struck me as being distinctly different to Chelsea and Hampton was a feeling of inclusivity, if you used to go to the Malvern shows about 10 years ago this is how they felt. It truly does feel family friendly, its not a set for people to pose for the press, it has educational, fun stuff. Large spaces for your wild things(children) to run free. Lots of gorgeous stalls selling art, fabrics, jewellery… pretty much everything you could ever think of! Yes there are beautiful show gardens and installations, yes there are amazing nurseries but there’s something very different, very special about Chatsworth and I think I’ve found my new favourite show!

 

Return of Pops Plants!

An exciting visit to Pops Plants nursery, home of the National collection of double Auriculas.

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Imagine a small normal suburban street, it could be any street in England, with a row of upmarket terraced Victorian houses. From the outside, anonymous, utterly normal. You could never guess what an amazing, magical delight could lurk in the back garden….

This is exactly what I found when I visited the lovely historic market town of Hitchin in late November. Hitchin was somewhere I knew well as a child, mum adored shopping there. I think the last time I visited would’ve been about 25 years ago and as I drove in there were some parts that seemed incredibly familiar, that funny road junction that dad hated, the old wooden beamed house that leans out precariously towards the road but subtle changes have taken place. As they always do in towns you haven’t seen in a long while, a new sainsburys, coffee shops where once a haberdashery once was. It’s always an odd feeling, vaguely twilight zone.

I had come with a purpose though!

My love of Auriculas had drawn me to this quiet, sleepy town. A chance follow on Twitter from a chap called Tom Morey, I noticed his @ as I scanned his profile and for some reason it rang a bell with me but what got my attention was the most gorgeous Auricula on his Twitter feed. I asked its name. Turned out it hasn’t, as yet, earned one…. An Auricula can’t be named till it’s won a show, Tom replied saying he would be entering it this coming year! He seemed a lovely chap & his feed was full of pretty Auriculas so I followed back… the penny still hadn’t dropped as to the significance of his @

A few days passed, I chatted to another chap ive known online for about 10 years now, Rhizowen, and the subject of my destroyed Auricula collection came up. I was living in a flat that had a communal garden, quite frankly it was awful but that’s by the by, my precious Auriculas which had survived multiple house moves, neglect and vine weevil attack were sat outside my flats windows. A small little ray of sunshine for me in what was a bleak place. One day on returning from work I filled my watering can and wandered outside, noticing the mow men had been and cut the grass, I turned the corner…. Horror!

A crime scene, destruction, wholesale mutilation… I stood not quite comprehending what I was seeing, it made no sense. Shattered terracotta fragments littered the grass, small shrivelled baked shreds of what could once have been plant material, compost and gravel strewn across the floor under my window and strips of black plastic pot …. Gradually the full horror sank in, the mow men had mown my Auriculas, gone straight over the top, pots and all!

To this day the wholesale destruction still amazes me (& breaks my heart) I’d had some of those plants since starting Ryton! Sibsey in particular was the love of my life but now gone… anyway, back to the present day!

Tom popped into the conversation empathising with my grief then did something totally unexpected and hugely generous! He offered me some of his Auriculas! My jaw literally hit the floor. The conversation rapidly switched to DM where on talking to him further the penny finally dropped… @Popsplants2, his twitter handle. Bear with me here, Pops Plants were a huge name in Auriculas for any number of years and I’m 99% sure that it was from them I bought Sibsey at the Malvern show. Pops Plants were owned by Lesley Roberts & Gil Dawson, they were not only responsible for holding the national Auricula collection but also for breeding, introducing & showing many new varieties … Their show medals would be tucked around the doorframe in the kitchen Tom tells me…and i was now talking to Lesley’s 2nd cousin Tom who had taken over the collection of doubles when herself & Gil decided to retire earlier this year! This was an opportunity to go and see the collection that I just couldn’t miss!

So off to Hitchin I went!

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Tom and his business partner Susi Clarke took on responsibility for the collection in May 2017 after receiving full tuition from Lesley & Gil on how to look after and propagate the collection. Susi’s husband built the most wonderful standing out Auricula house and it’s from here that Susi and Tom are rebuilding Pops Plants (hence the Twitter handle). It’s a remarkable undertaking for 2 people with full time jobs, families and a shared love of Auriculas.

They are currently building their stock of Auriculas up, mainly doubles at the moment but looking to expand into the fancies, striped and self’s and have just listed with the RHS Plant Finder. They also will be running a mail order business via their website popsplants2.co.uk

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‘Bittern Bounty’

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‘Cardinal Red’

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‘Forrest Bracken’

All of this plus holding down full time jobs & family lives keeps them very busy but you will still find them selling their plants at various fairs and markets! Here are some of the upcoming dates

Hitchin craft market – 16th Dec 2017

Southern Auricula show, old barn hall, Great Bodeham – 28th April 2018

Rare Plant fair, Winterbourne – 20th May 2018

As more dates are added to their calendar they will be added to the website so keep checking in!

Some of the original plants from pops plants can be now seen at Hampton Court.

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‘Avon Bunny’

Tom & Suzi also told me some hints and tips for growing Auriculas, a couple of which id never heard of before! Firstly, there is a thing called ‘Auricula finger’ this is not as entertaining as it initially sounds. Auricula leaves are covered in very fine hairs, when you’re potting on a lot of them, or have particularly sensitive skin that is prone to irritation it’s advisable to wear latex gloves as the hairs can irritate. Apparently the feeling is akin to pins and needles. Ive never experienced it myself but then I’ve never had to handle as many Auriculas as they do…. Also, I have the skin of a rhino & the only thing I’ve ever reacted to is fig sap, a nasty phototoxin!

Also the farina (the white dust often present on Auriculas) can cause a mild rash on particularly sensitive skin or through prolonged exposure. As with all plants there is a small chance that you can react so don’t worry overmuch about these things, more just be aware.

We had a chat about the shows too, they can be incredibly competitive! People love their Auriculas and in order to be able to name an Auricula it has to have won at a show which means that if you see a named variety it really is the best of the best!

This can sometimes lead people to resort to tricks which I would never have believed! The poor judges have to look out for things such as icing sugar or talc being used to accentuate farina or hairspay or glue being used on the anthers to make them more prominent! Madness!

As for the care of your Auriculas, Tom describes this as being ‘wilful neglect’ which I think describes my methods with both Auriculas and Orchids & is incredibly successful.

I often hear people saying they struggle to keep them alive and 90% of the time it’s because they love them too much. To understand their history is the key, they are bred from true alpine dwellers, high up In the mountains. Cold isn’t a problem for them, they happily survive below freezing temperatures and although they look dainty and frail are truly tough as old boots but drainage is key to their survival. Their ancestors grew in rocky positions, with only the barest sprinkling of topsoil, one of natures true survivors!

My Auricula Mix

There are probably as many different mixes as there are growers but this is one that I’ve found works incredibly well for me. I’ve found over time that although they will grow in plastic pots they thrive in the traditional terracotta you tend to see them exhibited in. The terracotta allows them to drain and breathe so much better than plastic and if you’re growing them outside without a frame above to keep rain off then it becomes even more important.

 

 

First, I start by selecting a small pot, this is important as whilst they build up a root system it means they don’t have to sit in cold, wet compost, an absolute killer for them.

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Second, I add a good layer of drainage, I use horticultural grit, this allows for the bottom inch of the pot to drain freely. If you don’t have this ready to hand you could use pebbles, gravel or even hydroleca (expanded clay bobbles) or at a push polystyrene, basically anything that won’t hold water and has sufficient gaps for water to pass through quickly and easily.

Next I mix the growing medium itself, I tend to use a peat free compost, in this case Dalefoot compost. Dalefoot is made primarily from composted sheep’s wool… yes, sheep’s wool… and its awesome!

Unlike other peat free composts it has a wonderfully smooth consistency, no chance of getting splinters in your fingers here and it doesn’t have an overly acidic level to it which can sometimes be a problem with other peat free mixes due to their high levels of pine bark.

To this I add generous amounts of grit, as a rough approximation about 40% but I do it purely based on sight and feel.

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As an extra help, to retain more nutrients within the mix I add some perlite. Perlite is a type of volcanic rock. It should not be confused with vermiculite which is very similar but retains more moisture. The nutrients will be absorbed by the perlite which the roots can then affix themselves to but will still allow for water to pass through easily. I adore perlite, it has so many uses, from sowing fine seeds, taking cuttings to mixing into composts for pelargoniums, orchids and of course Auriculas!

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Next I add a little bit of magic! Forget miracle grow which is basically sweeties for plants, I want my plants to grow big and strong on the horticultural version of my mums hotpot! Don’t get me wrong, chemical fertilisers have their place but should be used sparingly if at all. The problem with them is not just the environmental impact they have but also what happens to a plant raised on them. Imagine the plant is your child, you’d feed them good solid food, right? Something that would give them the energy to grow, all the major food groups and trace elements, vitamins etc. Yes sweets give them energy, they run round like maniacs for a few hours but then the sugar crash! Grumpy, sulky, tearful… and that’s just the parents!

I want these plants to put down roots first then bulk up vegetatively. If I do this right, come spring I will get an amazing display of flowers.

Here comes the science bit!

In order to encourage a plant to put on vegetative growth I need to make sure it has plenty of Nitrogen, preferably released slowly. For this I use pelleted chicken manure. I’ll be honest with you for the first week a sensitive nose can detect a certain whiff of farmyard but it very quickly dissipates & isn’t overpowering. For the 11 plants I made this mix for I used under half a cup, it really isn’t necessary to overfeed.

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Then I add another great Organic food, powdered seaweed. Packed full of trace elements it has an average NPK of 1-0-4… I say average as it can vary slightly given that its an organic food.

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NPK stands for Nitrogen, Phosphor & Potassium, the 3 main nutrients needed by plants… other than water & air, of course. Each has a different role to play and a good way to remember their uses by the plant are

  • Nitrogen – leafy growth
  • Phosphor – flowers
  • Potassium – fruit & root

With these added I now mix thoroughly. (those of you who are on the ball will have noticed in the pics I did this backwards!)

When filling the pot I allow a cm clearance from the compost to the base of the plantlet, this will be top dressed with more grit to level with the pot. This has 2 main advantages, again drainage, so moisture doesn’t sit round the plants neck and cause it to rot off. Secondly, and this is something we haven’t touched on yet, the main reason that last 10% are lost… the dreaded Vine Weevil!

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I have found a good layer of grit puts vine weevil off laying its eggs as direct access to the soil and therefore the roots is prevented.

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Also it has an aesthetic purpose, it just looks right, with Auriculas it’s all about the show!

A final note about Auriculas, they can suffer from a few problems, as I mentioned before vine weevil. Prevention is always better than cure in this case so treat with Nemasys vine weevil prevention as soon as the soil temp is above 15 degrees in the spring and then again in autumn before temperatures drop. If your plant starts looking a bit wilty despite watering then tip it out and check its roots for the beastly little grubs & squish them to death if you find any!

Another is root aphid, this can be an awkward one to deal with as they hide right inside the base of the rosettes. You have 2 real options here, one use a systemic insecticide (with great care that other pollinators are not present so either very early morning or late evening) the benefit of a systemic is it gets into the “bloodstream” of the plant & will continue killing the sap suckers for up to 10 days breaking their lifecycle. Contact insecticides rely on you being able to target the pest which can be difficult if you can’t get to them.

Your second option can risk the plant a little it involves taking the plant from its pot, disposing of the compost and washing the base of the rosette in just very slightly soapy water. When I say wash, I don’t mean scrub the plant rather just sluice it completely. Why soapy? Because soap acts as a wetting agent, it makes water wetter. Greenfly breathe through tiny tubes on the side of their body called spiricles. Water has too much surface tension ordinarily to flood these spriricles but the addition of a small amount of soap allows it to flood them and drown the aphids. Just 2 or 3 drops of washing up liquid to a litre of water is sufficient. Rinse under running water and repot.

Watch out for soft yellowing leaves, this indicates the plant has too much water.

Dry crispy wilty leaves, not enough water.

I hope you’ve found this helpful and are now inspired to grow your own Auriculas, don’t forget to follow @popsplants2 on twitter & check out their website!

Here’s a few other things I’ve written about this subject if you’d like to know more…

Primula auricula, the beauty & obsession

A short history of auriculas and description of ‘Show’ auricula standards (part 2)

Auriculas part 3, Alpines, Doubles, Borders & Seeds