A Trip to Larch Cottage Nurseries, Penrith

So many of my Google searches for plants have produced Larch Cottage Nurseries as the top result that when we visited the Lake District in early May 2013, I was eager to see the place for myself. The plant list online was so extensive, I imagined the nursery must occupy acres of land, and I wasn’t far wrong. The front entrance was almost concealed, but once through the gate we found ourselves in a courtyard full of statuary and plants. The nursery was divided into rooms by ‘ruined’ stone walls punctuated by archways, which allowed a glimpse into plant heaven beyond.

The first herbaceous section, which in itself was the size of an ordinary nursery, was mainly filled with alpines. I’ve never seen so many in one place, it was quite an education. I couldn’t resist a beautiful little Soldanella montana, tiny round leaves and bright purple, fringed bell-shaped flowers. Then the herbaceous ranks began in earnest. One entire length of bench, which I estimated at 12 metres, was dedicated to Astilbes. The Astrantia section was exhaustive and included a Larch Cottage-bred variety, a large-flowered clear pink with excellent foliage. I spent a long time at the Euphorbia bench and came away with Euphorbia shillingii, an attractive summer-flowering variety with a narrow silver stripe down the centre of each leaf. I came close to succumbing to several Monardas but persuaded myself out of it when I remembered how they disappear over winter in my garden. Still tempting, though.

It took a long time to explore the herbaceous area. I was amazed at the sheer breadth of choice. I was very taken with a plant I hadn’t seen before; Mukdenia ‘Karasuba’, commonly known as Crimson Fans. It’s related to the Heucheras and has palmate leaves which turn a deep crimson in summer. It was a good-sized plant and I easily divided it into three once I got home. Generally all the nursery plants were of a good size and in first class condition.

The shrub and climber section were very interesting, with many unusual specimens. I chose the oak-leaved Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Burgundy’, which has leaves that darken to purple as they mature, and conical pale pink flowerheads. I noticed a fabulous life-sized bronze sculpture of a ram in the shrub section but the price tag made my eyes pop so he stayed where he was. In fact, the nursery was very well stocked with garden sculpture, from large South-east Asian dancing ladies to classical nudes and even crocodiles.

We had lunch on the balcony of the restaurant, which overlooks the nursery. The food was really delicious, though it took a while to arrive. I had Thai fishcakes with a salad of beetroot and baby leaves with a tangy dressing. It was very civilised having lunch under the vine-stemmed eaves, gazing over the stone walls at the greenery beyond.

Larch Cottage Nurseries is 5 miles out of Penrith and really feels as though it’s in the middle of nowhere. Chatting to a member of staff, we discovered that people visit the nursery from as far away as Manchester and Glasgow, treating it as a day out. The nursery started small and has increased in size as the years have gone by. There is no particular specialism, they have thrived on selling a wide variety of plants (the widest I’ve ever seen). They also run a mail-order service which is much recommended.

I realised once we back in the car that I’d missed the Hostas. I’ll use that as an excuse for a second visit sometime very soon…

Marion Jay.

Larch cottage website: http://larchcottage.co.uk

Click to enlarge the individual photos

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