Our final talk for this season came from Brian Ellis, purveyor of marvellous plants and co-proprieter (with his wife Steph) of Avondale Nursery, just south of Coventry Airport. Brian and Steph both have art college backgrounds, which was evident from the quality of his photographs and choice of plant combinations. He began the talk by explaining that he enjoys the challenge of recreating the semi-wild look in a garden by using plants which make don’t make nuisances of themselves by seeding everywhere or running invasively. He recommended well-behaved umbellifers such as white-flowered Seseli libanotis and the gorgeous, feathery-foliaged Ligusticum lucidum. The strong stems and long-lasting flowerheads of sanguisorbas also featured, from those with claret-hued bobbles such as Sanguisorba ‘Martin’s Mulberry’ to the pendulous fluffy white-pink catkins of a new Avondale introduction, S. ‘Strawberry Frost’. Intermingling plants like these with grasses such as Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’, M. nepalensis and the beautifully plumed but sometimes tender Stipa pseudoichu, brings a rhythm and atmosphere to the garden and extends the season way beyond midsummer.
Brian demonstrates the effectiveness of his plant ethos in the Avondale Library Garden, a sizeable area adjacent to the nursery where visitors can see the eventual size and habit of their purchases (very useful, and often leads to further temptation!). Although the Library Garden is primarily intended to inform, it is further evidence of Brian and Steph’s artistic background; they both have a good eye for what works in a border.
Brian emphasised the importance of good foliage from plants like Smilacina racemosa, with its pleated hosta-like leaves, and the gold-leaved form of Uvularia grandiflora. The huge leaves of Tetrapanax were impressive and he explained that it wasn’t so difficult to grow, provided it has a shady position and shelter from cold winds. It may die back completely in winter but sends up babies around the base once the weather warms up. The ghost-grey stems of clump-forming, newly introduced bamboo, Borinda papyrifera, were very attractive but the eventual height of 4-6 metres may be off-putting to the average gardener.
Plant sales were brisk and it was generally agreed that Brian’s talk was an excellent way to round off the Herts Group’s winter season.
Don’t forget the Seedling Swap on April 18th – your chance to snaffle a few freebies for your summer display! Parking is available in the public carpark behind The Bull pub in Wheathampstead. See the Spring Newsletter or visit the Programme Page for further details.