There is never a dull moment with our climate. Spring, they tell me – has arrived! The plants certainly think it has, there has never been as much colour in my garden as there is this year. The weather, however, as always lags far behind.
The rain continues, only now we have hail, wind and just to complete the picture, night frosts as well. Good job my garden has a sandy sub-soil, otherwise it would have floated away weeks ago.
We desperately need more sun and warmth. April has been a miserably cold and wet month. This has not stopped me though. I have been as busy as ever. I’m now just waiting with my plants for the weather to turn.
Nor has it stopped a pair of Blackbirds. They have built a nest in my back garden, in the middle of a berberis bush. Being very close to my lounge window, I can see all the action. I watched the hen gather mounds of material for her nest and the care with which she bound it all together. She now has three very unruly youngsters. It is a great privilege to watch all the intimate care both parents take in feeding the young and keeping the nest clean. Soon they will be leaving the nest. It does look rather full now. Mother is sitting higher as each day goes by with three little heads poking out from underneath. Needless to say, Sophie my cat is now barred from the back garden, I don’t wish to witness any bird suppers!
Between the heaving showers of rain, sleet and hail, I have been unpacking my latest deliveries of plants by post. Most discerning gardeners get their plants from specialist nurseries and many, like me, get their ‘hard to find’ plants through the post.
I’m always amazed when visitors to my garden express surprise that plants can actually be sent with letters and parcels. Even more surprise is expressed, when I explain that almost half my garden came with the morning post, but not, I hasten to add, through the letterbox.
Very early on in my gardening career, I soon realised that garden centres, whilst being very beguiling, are not the best place to find the uncommon or unusual and certainly not the rare in the plant world.
Right from the start, I was very ambitious with my initial venture into mail order plants. My first order for plants by post was an old gallica rose, which now is one of the main glories of the garden. I can still remember the carefully packed cardboard box. Inside were lots of polystyrene granules to cushion the plant on its journey. Beneath this, was the rose itself, not looking at its best, but with a good bushy root system. The important root ball was surrounded by moist compost and enclosed by a plastic bag tied at the top to conserve the important moisture.
I was suitably impressed with the care with which this plant had been sent on its journey. Encouraged with this apparently successful foray into the world of mail order plants, I placed more orders.
Now, each year I turn to the post for most of my plants. Garden centres are great for the more familiar plants and the basic stuff, like compost, gravel, pots (now I wonder – pots by post? no I don’t think so!)
In the UK at least, there are literally hundreds of good specialist nurseries to choose from, each having its own particular expertise. Not all are big enough to do mail order, but many do and some have even got web sites as well. The Internet though for most garden retail outlets here is an unknown quantity and hasn’t really caught on in any big way. I get the impression that most of these ‘technophobes’ are really far too busy running their businesses to bother and haven’t yet realised the great potential the Web represents.
So, have I aroused your curiosity? Where does one find the nursery that say for example, specialises in hardy geraniums? Well, in Britain we have a very useful paperback called ‘The Plant Finder’. It’s published each year by the Royal Horticultural Society and lists over 70,000 plants and directs you to over 800 nurseries where they are available. Many of the nurseries also export overseas. It is a vital and indispensable tool for the serious gardener, but a little pricey to buy every single year. So, I buy a copy every other year just to keep things up-to-date.
The advantages of purchasing plants by this method are many and the disadvantages few. Last spring I received an order via mail order for 1000 snowdrops ‘in the green’, that is snowdrops in active growth. Hardly any garden centres offer these bulbs ‘in the green’ in any quantity and any you do see are laughably expensive. Did I really plant 1000 snowdrops? Well yes, at prices around ten UK pounds sterling for 500, how could I have possibly resisted!
So, one advantage is price. What are the other advantages of plants by post?
Well, you can order this year for next, or this spring for autumn flowering bulbs etc. The range is far greater and it has to be said the quality is usually superior too. Don’t forget, many of these nurseries are small family businesses, which actually take great pride in producing a quality product and most of them, jealously guard their hard won reputation for quality and service.
Whilst on the subject of quality and service, this is one thing often lacking in the larger garden centres. Most staff in garden centres know little, or as is usually the case, nothing about the plants themselves. With these small specialist nurseries, the person you speak to is often the person growing the plants. This makes an enormous difference when for example, the plant you seek is out of stock, and then suitable substitutes can be offered. Expert tips on cultivation are often freely given too, something else not often encountered at garden centres I find.
Another attractive feature of these small plant nurseries is the way that most of them started life, as amateur enthusiasts with just a great passion for plants, another obvious advantage to us gardeners.
Many of you I know, have already discovered the joys of plants by post, but for those virgins amongst you I urge to try them. They offer great plants at a price you really can afford together with years of plant expertise, what more can one ask!