At Great Comp with William Dyson

Seven acres of beautifully landscaped gardens in Kent, boasting award winning perennials and more late summer colour than you can shake a stick at. When an opportunity came up to meet the garden’s curator and the man behind Dyson’s Salvias, I wasn’t about to refuse.
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Odd to think that when I was here a few short weeks ago it was raining – a steady drizzle which absolutely necessitated taking cover in the tea shop where, after a restorative coffee and a slice of avocado cake (highly recommended), I felt more able to face the weather. From that June visit, I recall pale yellow sisyrinchiums, pinstriped arisaemas, and a pelargonium that would require a visit to the national collection at Fibrex a few weeks later to identify (the species Pelargonium acetosum, I thought, with its distinctive succulent leaves). Recently, there’s not been much of the wet stuff, and the garden has moved on.

One of the many things I love about the gardens at Great Comp is that, the moment you are through the gate, you’re bang in the middle of the plant sales area and, the exit and entrance being one and the same, there’s no opportunity for you to forget you’d intended to buy something before you leave, as you have to pass it again on the way out. That’s marketing nous, right there. I was met here by Vikki Rimmer who, in her capacity as Great Comp’s PR manager, had arranged today’s meeting (cake had been mentioned, as if the promise of well stocked borders and Dyson’s Salvias hadn’t been enough). I’d jumped at the opportunity, as I’d managed to miss William at Hampton Court, where I knew he’d brought along some recent salvia introductions about which I was keen to hear more.

William is the curator of the gardens at Great Comp, and in his time here has cultivated over 200 varieties and species of salvia on the outcrop of sandy soil occupied by the house and gardens, on the Kent portion of the Greensand Ridge. The gardens present a fabulous spectacle right through from spring, when flowering magnolias rule in the woodland garden, underplanted with hardy geraniums and hellebores, through to high summer and autumn, when later flowering perennials including dahlias, grasses and, of course, salvias take up the baton.

William Dyson at the Great Comp’s salvia border 

Vikki and I had not wandered far into the garden before William appeared behind a trolley filled to overflowing with stock for the plant sales area, including the four new salvias for 2018 – ‘Kisses and Wishes’, ‘Pink Lips (Jeremy)’, ‘So Cool Pale Blue’ and ‘So Cool Purple’.

The red flowered variety with purple stems is ‘Jezebel’.

Salvia ‘Kisses and Wishes’

Salvia ‘Kisses and Wishes’

The latest in the Wish Collection, this is actually a rose pink mutation from the magenta ‘Wendy’s Wish’ – in terms of tone and strength of hue it sits between that plant and the deeper purple of  ‘Love and Wishes’. It grows to 75cm tall and is on the border between tender and half hardy, so some winter protection would be a good idea.

Here it is in a container display, together with Salvia splendens ‘Go-Go Purple’ and the splendid purple leaved Tradescantia pallida ‘Purpurea’.

A container display at Great Comp with Salvia 'Kisses and Wishes' and S. spendens 'Go-Go Purple'

Salvia ‘Pink Lips (Jeremy)’

Salvia ‘Pink Lips (Jeremy)’

This is a new take on the extremely popular red and white flowered ‘Hot Lips’, the red colouring being replaced by a pink, making it more versatile and adaptable for planting palettes other than very hot reds. It behaves in the same way as Hot Lips, with the early flowers coming out fully pink, developing the bicolour blooms as the season progresses. I’m hoping the ‘Jeremy’ gets dropped from the name shortly, as it just conjures unwelcome mental images of the leader of the opposition wearing lip balm – surely not a selling point. Height and width 50cm, half hardy.

Salvia ‘So Cool Pale Blue’

Salvia ‘So Cool Pale Blue’

A hardy variety, with masses of pale blue flowers on a good, compact and bushy plant. This was the salvia introduced at Hampton Court, and it’s been flying off the staging ever since.

Salvia ‘So Cool Purple’

Salvia ‘So Cool Purple’

Also introduced at Hampton Court, the flowers are a deeper purple, and the habit a little more rangey. Equally hardy.

The cool border on one side of the square at Great Comp

Of course, although salvias naturally play a key role, there’s more to the borders at Great Comp than the one genus. At this time of year, I was particularly drawn to the dark leaved dahlias in combination with eryngiums

and also with different members of the Araliaceae, here, in the Italian Garden, with Tetrapanax papyrifer ‘Rex’

and in the nursery with the golden Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’.

It was a fascinating visit, for which I’m very grateful both to William for his time, and to Vikki for setting up. Naturally, it ended in the tea shop, with cake, and a long list of salvias to incorporate into my gardens. I’m particularly excited by the hardy varieties – how about you? Leave me a comment below, or tell me what you think on twitter.

Great Comp is open daily until the end of October. The popular Great Comp Summer Show is this weekend 11-12 August, and a very few tickets remain for Paul Barney’s talk on plant hunting for edibles, ‘Shipwrecks, Bombs & Buggles’.


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Hello! I’m Andrew, gardener, writer, photographer, and owner of a too-loud laugh, and I’m so pleased you’ve found your way to Gardens, weeds & words. You can read a more in-depth profile of me on the About page, or by clicking this image.

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