Plant shopping

One of the many things I love about my job is that I get to buy an awful lot more plants than would be the case were I buying solely for my own garden. I may not benefit from seeing these plants growing to maturity in the beds and borders at home – at least, that’s not the idea – but it does nevertheless give me the opportunity to indulge in regular bouts of horticultural retail therapy. Tax deductable, to boot. This isn’t the first time I’ve shared with you the contents of my shopping basket through the blog, and it’s reasonable to assume it won’t be the last. Plant porn might be entirely innocent, but it surely seems addictive.

To Hassocks this afternoon, keen to see how Ed and Josie are getting on at Garden Sage now the larger plants are in place (you can read about this new nursery in West Sussex here). I’d been impressed with the display on my first visit, but it’s amazing what a difference the addition of the upper story of mature trees and shrubs makes within the polytunnels! There’s been a fair amount of rejigging, Josie told me, as several of the larger specimens have already been sold and delivered to customers – not bad going for a business in its first month.

But I was here for something considerably more modest. With an eye to the coming season, one of my clients had made mention of lupins – something which simultaneously gladdened my heart and caused a feeling of slight despair – the former as I love both the exuberant flower spikes and the tiers of whorled foliage (particularly when accessorised by a drop of dew at the centre of the palmate leaf), and the latter because the garden in question is the very front line of a battle fought with ravening rabbits, excavating badgers and voracious slugs. Still, if we play it safe in such locations we’d have to put up with a garden of euonymus, choysia and the smellier of the hardy geraniums which even the rabbits won’t touch, and one of the reasons I was brought in was to move away from that. Lupins it is then, even if we have to cage them for the first few weeks, and scatter non-metaldehide slug pellets about (coffee grounds have been suggested as an alternative, which is an excellent idea, although I don’t drink enough of the stuff, and have yet to find a friendly cafe that will donate their leftovers. Watch this space, though.).

I bagged a  selection consisting of the white 'Noble Maiden', which I’ve grown before, the pink and white 'The Chatelaine', and blue and white 'The Governor' (surely the London cabbie’s favourite plant). They’re all part of the 'Band of Nobles' series of Lupinus x russelli, bred by lupin supremo George Russell in the middle of the last century and possessing the RHS Award of Garden Merit. Nurse them through the early vulnerable stages by keeping the beasties at bay, and you’ll be rewarded with an impressive presence in the border, reaching 90 to 120 cm in height.

Lupins in the 'Band of Nobles' series

Lupins in the 'Band of Nobles' series

The lupins were the reason for my shopping trip. But, of course, I was waylaid but something else, and couldn't avoid taking home with me these beautiful hellebores. Helleborus x sternii - creamy green flowers with a grape red blush to the back of the petals, quite breathtaking in groups, though to be honest these three will probably be split up and integrated into mixed hellebore plantings in different sites, even though it's tempting to keep them for myself! 

Helleborus  x  sternii

Helleborus x sternii

And finally, as I was about to leave, Ed thrust this spectacular trillium at me as a ‘thank you’ for helping unload the big Italian plant order a few weeks back. Fair payment indeed. This is Trilium kurabayashi 'Ruby Realm' – a very Ed plant, hailing as it does from Oregon, where Mr Nugent spent part of his horticultural apprenticeship. My biggest concern is keeping the plant slug and snail free while it gains the necessary strength to see of the hungry blighters. I’d best get on to the local coffee houses.

Trillium kurabayashi

Trillium kurabayashi

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The Garden Sage

Last weekend, Ed and Josie Nugent turned a long-held dream into reality with the launch of Garden Sage Nurseries, a new nursery in Hassocks, East Sussex. I may have missed the grand opening, but I was keen to visit, and they soon had me lending a hand.
The Garden Sage

A new horticultural venture is a cause for celebration in itself, but doubly so when you happen to know that the venture in question has been rattling around inside your friend’s head for some time. Ed had mentioned Garden Sage to me in passing several years ago, initially as an idea for a service offering gardening advice and assistance that would be flexible enough to allow Josie to work it around caring for their young family, with Ed helping out whenever his duties as plant manager for a local garden centre would allow. That the concept has touched down as a fully fledged nursery in its own right comes as no surprise when you consider the couple’s combined 42 plus years of experience, Ed’s spent latterly in horticultural retail, and Josie's as a landscape gardener in London, and then senior gardener at the National Trust’s Scotney Castle in Kent.

Ed unloading a delivery of trees and shrubs

Ed unloading a delivery of trees and shrubs

I arrived just in time to witness the unloading of a huge lorry full of mature trees and shrubs. Not your run of the mill stuff either, beautiful Malus 'Evereste', huge pleached hornbeams, and shapely standard wisterias, to name but three. Ed’s honed his eye for fabulous topiary and expertly-trained trees over the years as he’s visited many a European grower, so it should be no surprise to see such wonders arriving here, though it might seem wondrous to some to encounter specimens of this quality on a commercial unit off the A293. Just one more reason to visit.

Josie and Ed will deliver these monster plants to your address, but there’s plenty of smaller fare should you want to drive away with something for your garden. As the temperature steadily rises over the coming weeks, the scent of sarcococcas will be replaced by the fragrance wafting from the benches of Mediterranean subshrubs, the lavenders, rosemarys, but if you’re after something a little different, you could snag yourself some Antipodean charm with Grevillea victoriae, a tough, low maintenance relative of the proteas, with silver-grey leaves, and clusters of red flowers in summer. “It’s a great one for catching out my students on plant IDs” says Ed. “The leaves look a bit like brachyglottis/senecio, but then you get these crazy red flowers.”

Silver grey leaves of  Grevillea victoriae

Silver grey leaves of Grevillea victoriae

Benches of lavenders and Mediterranean subshrubs

Benches of lavenders and Mediterranean subshrubs

Back outside, where the shrubs share a space with the larger trees and trained fruit, I spied another ideal plant for bringing some colour to the back garden. Very probably we’re all a bit tired of that landscaper’s favourite, Photinia x fraseri 'Red Robin', but it's smaller cousin, 'Little Red Robin', is relatively unused and, to my mind at least, presents a far more charming prospect.

Photinia  x  fraseri  'Little Red Robin' with it’s red flushed new growth

Photinia x fraseri 'Little Red Robin' with it’s red flushed new growth

Growing to no more than 3 feet in height, it exhibits the same flame red colouring on the new leaves as its larger relation, but the foliage as well as the plant, is much more compact and delicate. It will tolerate hard clipping, ideal for a hedge, or even topiary. I’m desperate to see it planted somewhere with Nandina 'Flirt', so desperate that I’ll probably have to do it myself, just as soon as I can find an appropriate location for a black, dark green and red colour scheme.

Ed explains to me how he and Josie are aiming to create a nursery with a difference. “So often, when you succeed in tracking down something a little out of the ordinary, you come home with a couple of sticks in a 9cm pot, but you often need a fair bit of skill and know-how to nurture a plant at that stage through to maturity. We want to present customers with interesting plants that they may not have come across, but in more usable sizes, to give what they buy the best chance of survival.” Presumably, then, this means there are plans to do a lot of growing on. “Absolutely. I’m in the process of assembling a rather posh Cambridge glasshouse for that purpose, and we have the option to expand into the tunnels behind the current nursery plot. Eventually at least fifty percent of the stock will be grown on site.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly given Ed’s background, there’s a real understanding of the retail experience here, no more so in evidence than in cafe space, where you can find the most excellent coffee. Here customers will be able to take a break, mull over their prospective plant purchases and discuss their gardening requirements with Josie or Ed in a comfortable setting. “We also wanted to provide a space in which landscapers and designers would feel happy to bring their clients, where they could discuss their plans with the plants in front of them, and where we’d be on hand should they want to talk through alternative solutions, or the finer points of sourcing something particularly special.”

It’s early days yet, but you can feel the excitement in the air at The Garden Sage. I drove out of the car park feeling energised with a huge smile on my face – which may have been attributable to the triple espresso I’d had from the coffee maker. But I think it’s more likely a result of seeing a gardening dream become a reality, and the prospect of everything to come.
 

A cheery sign greeting the first customers

A cheery sign greeting the first customers

Who can resist a monkey puzzle?

Who can resist a monkey puzzle?

Having bought from Ed many times over the years, I can testify that his stock is always in tip top condition

Having bought from Ed many times over the years, I can testify that his stock is always in tip top condition

Josie, doing all the heavy work

Josie, doing all the heavy work

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Garden Sage
Allwoods
London Road
Hassocks, BN6 9NA

Opening hours
Mon - Sat: 8:00am - 5:00pm
Sun: 11:00am - 5:00pm

gardensage.co.uk