Here's a variation of the email I sent out to my mailing list customers this morning...
I realized just the other day that I haven’t been in touch with my customers lately, so I decided it was high time I extracted myself from hibernation and got on with it! Apologies if you thought I had disappeared off the face of the earth – I can assure you this is not the case. I have been flat out keeping up with all the business of family life, madly sowing seeds, pricking out, potting up and planting gardens. In fact I don’t think I’ve been hibernating at all….perhaps just wishful thinking on my part!
I've recently sown seeds of some of the plants that grow fairly fast but need the promise of early spring weather to get going quickly. I've discovered from previous years that there's not much point sowing them any earlier as they tend to sulk if the weather is too cool, even under cover. Things like Verbascum phoeniceum, in white, rose and dark purple, Silene dioca and S. alba (I think this used to be known as Melandrium), Eryngium planum including a new cultivar called 'Silver Salentino', Nepeta tuberosa (both the low and tall forms), Penstemon smallii etc, all seem to benefit from sowing now, rather than overwintering young seedlings. So I now have lots of potting to do....many of these are growing like mushrooms!!
I've just finished potting up all the lupin seedlings into punnets, so they should be ready for sale in a month or so - these are the Russell types, in individual colours, fantastic fillers in the garden as they have nice foliage and the added bonus of flower spikes that create a little vertical accent. I've also started potting up the Queen Anne's Lace seedlings, this first lot are Ammi majus 'Graceland' reputed to be particularly good for picking as they have long straight stems with less side shoots. I would think this could also make them less rumbustious in the garden! Well here's hoping anyway....I do love the wild look but Queen Anne's Lace can sometimes take wild and unruly to a whole new level. I will of course have some of the traditional variety and the green form to offer later on...
Also on the potting-to-do list is Nepeta parnassica which I think is an absolute treasure, flowering from early summer right through until early winter. Whilst it is beautiful and useful, I find better known Nepeta 'Six Hills Giant' tends to become almost too dense when it flowers, flopping terribly in the rain and smothering everything around it. In contrast, Nepeta parnassica has a less condensed form, still plenty of flower stems but they are quite upright spikes with stronger stems and a more graceful appearance. I'm looking forward to planting more of this one in my garden.
In the land of cuttings and divisions I have all sorts of different cuttings at various stages of growth, mostly Salvias, many which have recently been potted up, and there are plenty waiting in the wings as well. Cuttings can be fickle at this time of year, but with my glasshouse up and running I'm hoping they continue to grow well. I've potted up Salvia 'African Sky', S. univerticillata , S. gesneriiflora 'Compact Form' and various others, plus Penstemon 'Stapleford Gem' with its stunning mauve and iridescent blue flowers. I have a variety of Aster and Helenium divisions already done and potted, including the popular 'Lord of Flanders' - they are just waiting for some better weather to get them growing and looking good in their pots before I add them to the list. The Echinacea are still dormant of course, but I have plenty of stock to work with so am busy dividing and potting when I can. Most of them have overwintered well, any that don't make it aren't worth worrying about really as there is so much diversity of colour within the genus now that there will always be something with more natural vigour to replace those that don't make the cut. (ooh this just reminded me that I have a punnet of excitement to pot up...in the form of Echinacea pallida var. simulata - haven't grown this one before!). There's always more to dig and divide....Rudbeckia, Aster, Persicaria, Sanguisorba etc etc...a neverending list, very enjoyable though, seeing how each variety has fared in the garden. Some do better than others of course, and there are always failures or disappointments which need to be worked on.
Anyway, with the arrival of August has come the first spring bulbs. My Narcissus ‘February Gold’ is positively glowing this year. My clump has even managed to ‘stage’ its blooms so they are evenly spaced, with shorter stems at the front of the clump, gradually lengthening towards the back. I’m not quite sure how or why this has happened but I’m not complaining, they look fabulous! I’m also impressed with a newly acquired daffodil, ‘Kapiti Talisman’, a tazetta type with (usually) two flowers per stem. They are good strong flowers that seem to stand up to the bad weather very well, bright and cheerful and with a good scent too.
My clumps of Lachenalia reflexa have almost finished, but they have lasted for ages this year, having been in flower for nearly a month now. Such a stunning shade of bright lemon-yellow with a hint of green.
Anemone pavonina has just started, and will no doubt continue to put up more flowers as the season progresses. This is a stunning plant for a trough or small corner of the garden. I have three different colour forms so far, all in the pink/lilac range, and some seedlings from a red form coming on as well. I will have to save seed and get some seedlings started for selling in the coming years as they really are something special!
Here's a wee slideshow of various photos taken over the past couple of weeks, including those mentioned above, plus a different Bergenia which is looking slightly unusual at present. Last year it had large pale pink flowers....perhaps it needed time to settle in as it now has white flowers. Time will tell.
The Salvias are a mixed bunch at present – some have that distinctly ‘wintry look’ where they are basically hiding away any signs of growth until someone turns the temperature up. Others like ‘Waverly’, ‘Indigo Spires’, S. elegans ‘Sonoran Red’, S. confertiflora and S. canariensis var. alba are still doing okay, particularly if sited in a warm corner. Salvia karwinskii is just coming into bloom, about to light up my daily life with its spikes of vibrant watermelon flowers. So unique to have a Salvia that loves to flower in winter and early spring! The wee birds and bees will appreciate it too I'm sure. I quite often update my Instagram and Facebook pages with photos while I'm outdoors, but finding time to update the photo gallery on my website can be a little trickier. For those of you who use social media you can find me on Instagram as @kateseaflowers and on Facebook search for Seaflowers Nursery or click on the little blue F icon near the top of the homepage here on my website.
Here's my list of recommended plants for a range of coastal conditions in New Zealand, as discussed with Tony Murrell this morning on RadioLive Home & Garden Show.
For those with free-draining sandy soils: generally soils like this have low fertility, Many gardeners think they have to change this and try to feed everything, but in reality there are many plants that do best when they’re not overfed.
Achillea, or yarrow – these guys will flower for months, just trim off any spent flowerheads to keep more coming. Range of colours available.
Eryngium planum – not called sea holly for nothing, these plants thrive on poor soils and the violet blue stem colour intensifies in hot weather
Perovskia or Russian Sage is a really tough deciduous perennial, which thrives in free-draining soils in full sun, smothering itself in silver leaves and blue flowers in summer. Silver foliage is usually a good indicator that plants like less water and more sun.
For smaller gardens try Catananche caerulea or Cupids Dart, in blue or white, it has narrow greyish leaves and beautiful papery flowers on upright stems 30-40cm high.
There’s a few tough, hardy Salvia species that are brilliant in coastal situations. These three Salvias all have one thing in common – they all originate from the South African coast, the Cape of Good Hope. The first is S. aurea or S. africana-lutea as it was previously known. It forms a slow-growing shrub with silvery green leaves and unusually beautiful large rusty-brown flowers. It’s also one I recommend for coping with heavier soils too…as long as it’s not too wet in winter.
Salvia lanceolata is another, slightly smaller growing species, also with unusual coloured flowers, this one has rose-pink tinged warm brown flowers…sounds weird but is very beautiful in full flower. Again it has silvery green leaves.
Salvia scabra is the third tough cookie which I recommend for coastal plantings….a wiry, stiff-stemmed but bushy plant with many long-tubed lavender blue flowers all summer long.
We often think of Campanula as being only suitable for traditional perennial borders, but some of them are tougher than they look. Campanula carpatica, C. glomerata and C. rotundifolia are all good choices to try in coastal gardens.
For those gardeners that live in areas with heavier soils but want something bright or pretty, try these beauties...
Asters…you can’t go past them really. Choose tough varieties that multiply well….I grow ‘Calliope’ and 'Hi-Jinx', and A. novi-belgii hybrids in white and lavender, 'Coombe Violet', etc. They do well because they have reasonably shallow root systems that spread out slowly across the soil, so they’re not trying to break their roots through the hard clay pan in order to get nutrients.
The perennial sunflowers or Helianthus are similar. My favourite is 'Lemon Queen', but there are others like 'Golden Pyramid' and 'Table Mountain'
Rudbeckias (not to be confused with Echinacea, which have a woody tuberous root) are another favourite for heavier soils in exposed conditions, try Rudbeckia fulgida and it’s cultivar ‘Goldsturm’, or Rudbeckia laciniata for some height. Some of the annual cultivars like 'Prairie Sun', 'Irish Eyes' and the newer 'Chim Chiminee' are also great fillers for hot sunny areas.
Stokesia laevis or Stoke’s Aster, great for smaller gardens and despite many attempts I’ve failed to kill one yet….they come in white, blue and creamy yellow, form low clumps of evergreen, narrow foliage and they flower for ages.
With Tony I talked about plants for sunny gardens, but what about shade, or damp?
Try out some of these ideas in your own microclimate…
Hellebores….as long as you don’t divide them up and move them about too much they are incredibly tough and once established will do remarkably well provided they get the odd whiff of fresh water. The only thing that really kills them is prolonged dry. Let them self-sow too – they’ll pop up where they are happy.
Heuchera….not the coloured leaf hybrids but some of the original species like H. micrantha, H. americana and H. maxima perform really well in shaded areas and have the vigour that modern hybrids sometimes lack.
Bergenia – these tough plants will thrive on partly shaded banks with little or no maintenance., providing both foliage and flowers.
Clivia, providing you don’t get frosts they are fantastic under trees near the coast! I love mine and have grown some different colours from seed to extend the clumps even further.
For damper places try Persicaria (Polygonum), Lysimachia and Filipendula, these genera are reliable performers that can cope with a bit of damp and neglect.
What have I been up to? Well apart from fighting off the headcold which seems to be taking hold of almost every 2nd person in the district (possibly an exaggeration…) I have been busy sending cartons of plants off to customers all over the country. Most of them have gone to warmer areas of course, as spring still hasn’t sprung in many regions to the south….but this can change in the blink of an eye, as one of my customers brightly said the other day, “we’ve been removing layers of merino all day”. (After they had been suffering through a seemingly endless period of bitter cold and damp, while I swanned around in 18 deg and shorts and t-shirt).
Anyway, I’ve got plants taking off all over the place, so my list and website updates are happening almost weekly at the moment. They probably need to though to keep up with demand, as it seems as soon as I’ve listed some things they are snapped up by eager gardeners. It is really satisfying for me knowing that I’m supplying plants that people truly want to grow….of course it can also be quite disconcerting when I think I’ve grown plenty of something and they’re all sold out within a day. Leaves me wondering how many I should have grown instead!
This week I have potted up various new lines, which should be ready in a few weeks…punnets of Queen Anne’s Lace, Ammi majus; the infamous Red Orach aka Atriplex hortensis var. rubra which is used quite extensively overseas as a striking accent plant with deep beetroot-red foliage; some more of that exceptional Great Dixter Poppy with the amazing name Papaver dubium ssp. lecoqii var. albiflorum (and interesting to note that it’s pink, not white, even though the name suggests otherwise). I’ve put Helenium ‘Butterpat’ into individual pots, it really wowed me last summer as it had been severely neglected but put on an amazing show and was very tall but didn’t need staking at all. Also into pots this week went Aster ‘Hi-Jinx’ a must-have one for me that mixes happily with other perennials or equally as well with smaller native shrubs; Centaurea jacea, not one I’ve grown yet but I’ve become happily addicted to these plants, knapweeds as they are known. They’re not weedy at all of course but seem to produce endless amounts of cornflowers all summer which the bees and butterflies love. Echinacea purpurea ‘Mellow Yellows’ a new seed line which has all the vigour of the true species but in a beautiful range of soft to bright yellows. The seedlings have shown good strong growth so far so I’m excited to see how they perform in the garden. Lobelia x gerardii ‘Vedrariensis’ has just been potted up too. Great for those partly shaded areas where you still want some colour, I find this one is pretty tough and sends up multiple strong stems smothered with vibrant purple flowers.
I’m sure there’s others I’ve potted up….but here’s a sneak-peek of a few of the plants on next week’s update…
White honesty, Lunaria annua f. albiflorum I had a customer looking for this last year as it provides a good light colour for part shade and self-sows easily. The attractive seedpods are an added bonus. Leucanthemum (Shasta Daisy) ‘Phyllis Smith’, big white and slightly unruly looking but such a good long-flowering plant. Rudbeckia laciniata a giant for the back of the border, I’m a sucker for big daisy flowers and this is a favourite. Salvia nemorosa ‘Rose Queen’ a reliable performer in sunny, free draining soils, great for smaller gardens or even pots. There are bound to be others on the list of course….
I’ve just been on RadioLive Home & Garden Show this morning chatting to Tony Murrell about perennials that are tough enough to cope with coastal conditions in New Zealand. Tony was in fine form this morning and we had a thoroughly enjoyable talk, if you missed my list then I will post it as a separate blog, in a more condensed form!
In the meantime, it is a glorious day here but I must stay away from the nursery and do some housework instead! Enjoy your weekend…
This blog is based on notes I prepared for my interview with Tony Murrell on The Home and Garden Show, Radiolive 24th February 2018. Tony and I were discussing caring for Salvias, and in particular pruning to shape and how long to leave flowers on before trimming to encourage more to form. There’s always so much more to discuss than we have time for on the radio, so below is my extended version of advice on this subject.
Salvias are fantastic plants – whether you’ve got a hot dry Mediterranean type garden or a shady, damp woodland area, there’s a Salvia for virtually every spot in your garden.
When we’re talking about caring for Salvias, and in particular pruning, it’s easiest to divide them into 3 specific groups.
Woody stemmed Salvias
These are shrubby types, they can be low growing or can get quite large. Salvia greggii and microphylla hybrids are the most well known, and gardeners will be familiar with the Glare series and more recently the So Cool series, as examples of this type. Others in NZ are those that originate from South Africa, like Salvia ‘African Skies’, S. aurea (previously S. africana-lutea), and S. lanceolata.
Generally they flower from late spring until late autumn in New Zealand, so it’s hard to know when to trim or prune them. Because they flower for so long they can easily become woody and straggly.
To maintain the shape and encourage bushy growth and more flowers, lightly trim or tip prune a couple of times over summer. If you want to keep flowers showing during this process, then trim only the second or third flowering stem back to the first obvious set of leaves. Next time around do the stems that were left from the first pruning.
Or if you don’t mind the slightly bare look for a couple of weeks then you can do it the quick way and use hedge trimmers – don’t worry that you’re cutting flowers off, plants will soon recover. Aim to create a nice rounded shape, slightly higher in the middle than at the edges of the bush. At the end of autumn give the bush a better prune by about half, again aiming for that rounded shape.
Deciduous Herbaceous Salvias
Sounds like a mouthful but really it just means those plants that shoot direct from the base, but can in some cases reach great heights and can develop woody stems throughout the growing season. Then all the leaves fall off in winter leaving bare stems.
Examples are Salvia mexicana ‘Limelight’, S.elegans the Pineapple sage, S. ‘Waverly’, S. leucantha the Mexican bush sage and S. ‘Indigo Spires’.
Flowering times vary greatly in this group but to maintain the best shape I recommend tip-pruning after the first flush of flowers. This often encourages the plant to produce a second flush of flowers and it’s after this that the timing of the main annual pruning becomes extremely important….and observation is the key. Only prune the plant back to ground level if new growth is showing at the base. Otherwise you will kill it.
In frost-free areas this may mean that the main pruning can be done at any stage in autumn as new growth happens more readily in warmer climates. In cooler regions you might be best to wait until spring before pruning, but if the plant is very tall you can trim the stems back by about half until new growth shows in the spring. If you get frosts then you will need to mulch and cover the base of the plant as well.
Herbaceous Perennial Salvias
These types form a rosette or clump of leaves at ground level, then send up flower stems from the base. Some are evergreen, some winter-dormant.
Examples are Salvia nemorosa, Salvia x superba or S. x sylvestris and their hybrids such as ‘Caradonna’, ‘Rose Queen’ and ‘Mainacht’; Salvia verticillata, S. transsylvanica ‘Blue Cloud’ and S. pratensis or Meadow Sage are other examples.
Caring for these Salvias is slightly easier. In spring simply tidy up any old leaves from around the base of the plant to get rid of any overwintering bugs and unsightly brown leaves, then once the first flush of flowers has finished, cut the spent flower stems back to ground level. Most will send up more flower stems and these can be cut back to the ground again when finished in the autumn.
Annual Salvias: The focus on the topic of pruning today was mostly about perennials, but no doubt many gardeners will also be growing annual Salvias as well (or bedding Salvias). These are marketed under a variety of names in NZ and whilst some are genuine annuals, many are short-lived perennials that are frost tender, so grow them in pots, or take cuttings in early autumn.
Examples include Salvia farinacea, such as ‘Blue Bedder’, ‘Select Blue’; Salvia splendens types, such as ‘Purple Lighthouse’, ‘Red Velvet’, ‘Van Houtei’. Plus Salvia coccinea varieties like ‘Brenthurst’, ‘Lady in Red’ and ‘Snow Nymph’.
These varieties need regular tip pruning to keep them bushy and to keep the flowers coming. As with any plant if you let them set seed they frequently feel like they’ve done their job and don’t flower as well, so the trick is to keep them dead-headed.
Earlier this month the plant study group that I am a member of held their monthly meeting, and the study topic was tomatoes. As usual it was a great meeting with so much interesting information brought along for discussion. Everyone agreed that my Mum (Pauline Bassett) should provide a copy of her tomato growing notes so that they could all try her methods and see how they got on this year. Mum has been growing tomatoes in her garden for as long as I can remember (and I obviously caught the bug from her, as I have been growing them in my garden(s) for more than 20 years). Heirloom varieties became popular with us fairly early on as we love the different sizes, shapes, flavours and textures that they bring to the table. Being able to pick a rainbow of tomato fruit each summer for a multitude of uses in the kitchen is a real joy (excluding those that never make it inside because they are like lollies in the garden of course!).
Lots of different methods for soil preparation and plant treatment have been tried over the years, with varying rates of success, but I'm pretty sure Mum has it down to a fine art now and produces a healthy crop every year. With her permission I have included her growing notes below, so that others may benefit from her knowledge.
Every gardener is different of course....and I have made my own adjustments to her methods. Yesterday I finally found time to get the bulk of my tomato plants in....in addition to the 3 that I planted a week ago, I planted another 21 different varieties yesterday. Still have another 6 to plant, which will give me 30 tomato plants – I must be bonkers.
Anyway, my plants get something similar to Mum’s concoction.....1/2 cup of Anlamb milk powder (when in need...use what’s available), a handful of blood and bone, and each plant surrounded by a mulch of wilted comfrey leaves, slightly buried under the soil, to provide extra minerals. (Comfrey is high in potassium, which tomatoes really need). Compost and lime was applied to the soil last week. Now that it's rained and the soil is damp each plant will also be fed with soil microbes (beneficial soil bacteria and fungi) and liquid seaweed fertilizer mixed with water. My soil has been damaged over the past 6 months due to the extreme wet and replacing these microbes makes sense to me, as it should help to restore the microbial balance needed to fight plant diseases and pests.
Anyway, here are Mum's notes.....
Pauline’s Tomato Notes October 2017
The plants need good soil. Put stakes in first, on a straight string line. I use bamboo (length 180cm), solid stakes, bang them in with a waratah standard rammer. I grow mostly indeterminate plants, 70cm apart in the rows, 80cm between the rows. This year there will be three rows of four plants, plus Scorsby Dwarf and Yellow Canary on the edge of the garden – they can hang out there!
Each planting hole is prepared using a trowel with the hole close to the stake, preferably on the northern side of the stake (the most sun). The magic mix for each planting hole is:
½ cup whole milk powder (calcium, combats blossom end rot)
Handful blood & bone (the plants need an early boost of nitrogen)
Tablespoon Epsom Salts (anti fungal)
Neem granules or kawakawa leaves (to give pests a fright)
All of the above seems to work but it could be just muck’n’magic! However I have had better results with this mix in comparison to commercially prepared tomato plant food. I stir the magic mix around in the hole and then plant into it, ensuring that the lower hairy stem up to the first leaves is buried. In other words, normal planting rules are broken – the plant is put in at a greater depth than when it was in its pot. Roots will form along that hairy portion of the stem thus giving greater stability and ensuring better uptake of nutrients.
Some years I have made evil concoctions from comfrey leaves steeped in water for foliar feed, but usually I use liquid fish fert about once a fortnight when the tomatoes start to set. I stop the fish fert once they start to ripen, nothing worse than a fishy tomato in a salad! I do mulch with piles of seaweed close to the plants and when I can get it, I use ‘sea mulch’ (mix of leaf-mould and fine red seaweed) between the rows.
My plants are kept to a single leader where possible and I take the laterals off religiously. In conjunction with this I keep the plants tied as they grow upwards, using stretchy plant tie material, figure of eight so there is material between the plant stem and the stake, but tied not too tight. Well in theory I do this, but I have been caught out. Ignore them for a few days and they go mad. Sometimes a plant will grow two leaders and by the end of the season I can have some interesting jungle gyms of tomatoes. However I work on the premise of keeping the plants and tomatoes off the ground, tied so they cannot break, but with good air flow around them.
Mostly this works! Good luck all tomato growers.
Here's the notes I made from my chat with Tony Murrell last Sunday morning on Radiolive, The Home and Garden Show. We caught up last week and discussed perennials that every garden should have - and managed to whittle them down to a shortlist! I have also added the audio link from our live chat....
Must-have perennials for gardens all over the country (According to Tony Murrell and Kate Jury)
Salvia leucantha, or Mexican bush sage – a really generous plant with numerous long spikes of fuzzy flowers over a long period, usually purple or violet, but lilac, pink and white flowered varieties are available as well. The calyces can compliment or contrast the flower colour which adds to the interest. They are all stunning and can even grow in large pots, cut them back in spring after frosts have passed and they will bush up again quickly. As well as the purple S. leucantha, keep a look out for varieties such as ‘Midnight’, ‘Santa Barbara’, ‘Velour White’ and ‘Velour Pink’, or ‘Spring Joy Gold’ with golden tones to the new spring foliage.
Penstemon – Border Penstemons fill out spaces quickly in spring and early summer, then cover themselves with flowers in summer and autumn. They come in virtually every colour – try ‘Raven’ or ‘Blackbird’, ‘Sour Grapes’, ‘Purple Passion’, ‘Garnet’, ‘Hidcote Pink’, ‘Snowstorm’, or pretty ‘Emily’ and beautiful ‘Alice Hindley’. Easy in any average garden soil, don’t overfeed them, just give them a dressing of compost once or twice a year. Interesting fact with the border varieties is that those cultivars with very wide leaves are not nearly as hardy as those with narrower leaves. If you’ve got free draining soils try some of the smaller species too, like Penstemon heterophyllus ‘Electric Blue’; P. digitalis varieties like ‘Pocahontas’ or ‘Husker Red’ have great foliage, or my favourite species P. smallii which combines pretty leaves and upright stems of equally gorgeous flowers.
Aster - I just can’t go past these for their usefulness in the garden in late summer and autumn. They come in a full range of heights from dwarf varieties for edges and small gardens to tall willowy clouds that suit the back of the garden or wildflower areas. Flowers are mostly pastels but there are a few hot pinks and bright violets as well. They are tough, easy and reliably hardy, and the pollinators and butterflies love them. I love the bright colours of Aster novae-angliae ‘Harringtons Pink’, A. novi-belgii ‘Coombe Violet’ as they really standout, the white A. ‘Herbstschnee’ has beautiful medium white flowers that fit in anywhere, and the small flowered varieties like A. ‘Coombe Fishacre’ and A. ‘Hi-Jinx’, or the closely related Boltonia asteroides and its variety B. a. var. latisquama which is so tough and has tall clouds of palest lavender-pink flowers.
Kniphofia – Red Hot Pokers - Often forgotten until the flowers appear these guys are great for filling gaps as they form fast-growing clumps and have long-lasting flowers which the birds love. They add vertical shots of colour which can create contrast in the garden – try them with similar shades or fire things up by pairing them with clashing colours….hot pink dahlias and fiery orange Kniphofia are always a good talking point. They also come in yellows, reds and cream of course, try some like Little Maid, Percy’s Pride or the traditional Winter Cheer. They look great paired with other flowering perennials such as Dahlias, Asters and Campanulas which bush out and cover the sometimes unsightly foliage of the hot pokers. Taller grasses also work well with them for the same reason.
Daisies - not marguerites, although they are also useful, we’re talking big and bold and bright here. Rudbeckias like R. fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ and the bright lemon yellow of R. laciniata, big white Shasta daisies like ‘Shaggy’, the bright autumn tones of the tried and true varieties of Heleniums like ‘Waltraut’, ‘Moerheim Beauty’ and ‘Butterpat’ (I have found some of the more modern types are not as vigorous and hardy in our gardens – unfortunately we don’t yet have the large selection of cultivars that are available overseas). Echinaceas come in every colour imaginable nowadays, and those with Echinacea purpurea or E. pallida blood in them tend to produce hardier plants that last the distance – try the species above, or look out for their hybrids – there’s always new ones being released and hybrid vigour has been closely looked at in recent years. I am trying the gorgeous looking E. purpurea ‘Green Twister’ this year for that very reason. Two recent favourites which I am impressed with – Centaurea, the perennial cornflowers, tough and reliable with showy flowers, try C. macrocephala, C. dealbata and C. phyrgia); and Stokesia laevis or Stokes’ Aster, I have several varieties in the garden, ranging in colour from blue to white to lemon yellow, all have which have proved to be low maintenance, resilient and beautiful. All good qualities in a plant!
As this is my first ever Blog post I thought I would write about how my love affair with plants began, and how it has developed over the years to become a business rather than just a hobby.
My first memory of growing something myself was when, with Mum’s help, I turned our old sandpit into a small garden when I was about 7. I grew beautiful Cosmos taller than me, with blue morning glory’s and my favourite, the dwarf Echium plants, in all sorts of blues and pinks and violets.
After that my plant choices were quite strongly influenced by what I could grow from seed. My Nan, also a very knowledgeable plantswoman, lived in Taumarunui and had large concrete troughs, filled with all sorts of treasures, mainly alpines and dwarf bulbs and the like. She grew lots of species from seed Cyclamen, Anemones and Dianthus to name but a few, and I spent many hours poring over books and seedlists, probably trying to keep up with her and Mum. She eventually gifted me my own subscription to the NZ Alpine Garden Society, which I have maintained ever since.
I grew tiny little Dianthus species, dwarf Aquilegias were a favourite, species Delphinium, Helleborus, and Penstemons native to various parts of the US. Infact anything resembling Penstemons was on my wanted list for a while.
Throughout this time, I was always learning, and I think the books and seedlists encouraged me to use the Latin names with confidence. I guess I always loved the written word, and languages in general, so I was never concerned about referring to plants by their proper names, although people did and still do, look at me as though I’m swearing at them.
Eventually, whilst working part time as an office manager, I also ran small nursery business in Te Kuiti, in partnership with my mother. We grew and sold all sorts of things from vege seedlings, potted colour, to perennials and bulbs. But this was in the days before the internet changed how we buy and sell, so sales were limited to local garden centres, and eventually I got married and moved away, so the business was eventually wound up.
Around this time I discovered the genus Salvia, and joined the Salvia Society, which I was a member of until it amalgamated with the Auckland Bulb & Perennial Society many years later. Initially my knowledge of Salvias was very limited, and I was surprised by the seemingly endless array of species and cultivars. There are reputed to be around 900 species in the world would you believe! What attracted me the most was that there seemed to be a Salvia suitable for any style of planting, in any soil type or climate. I started off with the basic ones available at the time, and have steadily built up my collection to around 100 different types, always losing some along the way and gaining others. They have so many appealing characteristics – long flowering, bright colours, attractive to bees and butterflies. Some have scented foliage as well which is lovely, although some can be quite pungent!
When I arrived here on the Thames Coast, I needed to figure out a way of supporting myself and my family. Working in town was one option, but working from home was even better as it allowed me the flexibility to be around when my children needed me.
My parents said to me one day….think about what you are good at, and do that. So I did. I worked out a business plan, and went from there.
I started selling plants via mail order in September 2014, and haven’t looked back. I knew that my plants were something different, something that people were always looking for, but were generally hard to find. I also knew that the way I grow them produces healthy plants that grow once they get out in the garden. The pot sizes were also important - they are kept small enough for gardeners to handle easily, and plant the plants in the garden without digging to China to fit it in, but big enough to produce a quality plant with a good root system. So I was looking at filling a niche market, selling rare and unusual perennials, and specialising in Salvias. I then branched out into selling bulbs once a year, as there is a high demand for the special and rare bulbs that I grow as well, and I seem to have amassed a huge collection of those over the years.
There is always the temptation to sell vast quantities of things to landscapers etc, but I have kept focused on my customer base of everyday gardeners, and will continue to do so as I love keeping them all supplied with quality plants.