Friday, 7 February 2014

Silver-leaf plants, absinthe and rare plant nurseries

Designing a Mediterranean garden (in the line of work) has been fun, creating a semicircle of sage, a near-circle of rosemary and silver-grey lines of olives, globe artichokes and silver wormwood. Continuing the plants-that-are-used-edibly theme, and consulting my mother’s battered, beloved tomes, brought me to a wormwood called Artemisia absinthium, used for making absinthe, available from one mail order nursery in the whole country ( - or so I thought. Paths edged with dwarf French lavender bring the scale back and bring it all together. All these plants will do well here; silver reflecting excess sunshine back from the leaves, just like in their home by the Mediterranean. Green veg and edible flowers will in-fill and give colour. English lavender will be used in many other parts of this large country garden too; the unifying theme.
This week a lecture took me to Mount Macedon (French gardens I’d seen; some were Mediterranean) and while in the west I gleefully visited Dicksonia Rare Plants (Mount Macedon), Frogmore Gardens (Blackwood Rd, Newbury) and Lambley Nursery (Lester’s Rd, Ascot). I picked up various silver Artemisias for my silver and raspberry border – which I’ll plant after autumn rains have come - and a cerise Monarda called `Donnerwolke’ (above) which contrasts with them superbly. Similar in colour, but slightly less saturated, is Agastache `Sangria’ which I bought for the pink and purple beds.
I never thought I could buy a cerise-flowered plant and maybe this Monarda is really pink-cerise but it’s interesting what colour is needed for contrasting with the silver: too pale and it’s all too wishy washy.
(Veronica `Red Fox’, on the other hand, was way too pink; with that name I’d expected a perfect raspberry foil for my silver.)
Returning home and repotting my new plants I looked at the labels more carefully to find, to my surprise, that the Artemisia `Lambrook Silver’ I’d bought (from Lambley Nursery), silver, lacy and fine, is a form of that rare Artemisia absinthium, that plant I’d learnt of just the week before.
A friend has asked me about rare plant nurseries, and the latter 2 sell wonderful perennials, while Dicksonia Rare Plants, on the main road, sells every rare plant imaginable from bulb to tree to creeper by the knowledgeable Stephen Ryan. Opposite is a nursery with some woodland treasures including some good Epimediums.
Closer to home (for me) are Gentiana Nursery (bulbs, perennials, rock garden rarities) on Monbulk-Olinda Rd, Olinda, and closer to Olinda, Cloudehill – which may still have some interesting plants, depending upon what Diggers (the new owners) have decided to do there; the garden will still be beautiful. For rare and interesting trees and shrubs I go to Yamina Rare Plants in Monbulk.
Rare cool climate bulbs are available at the mo’ from Hill View Rare Plants (mail-order; the range of Crocus alone is breath taking) while Cloverhill Plants and Lynn’s Rare Plants sell delicious woodland bulbs and perennials mail-order through much of the year.
Frogmore Gardens and Lambley Nursery send plants by mail too but its fun to look and browse in person, see the garden (if open), seek advice. And buy plants of course. Then return home to a hot dry garden which feels like a desert, with penstemons burnt to a crisp, water-repelling soil, perennial hibiscus opening with a reluctant sigh. `Must the show go on?’ it says. Lambley’s have many Salvias which seem (relatively) drought-proof. Maybe I’ll go back and get some of those.

Jill Weatherhead  is horticulturist, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead  Garden Design. (

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