Boots and brollies at Bilpin

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Hardy gardeners prepare to brave the rain at Bilpin

The title of this blog was suggested by a friend who came with us on Saturday to the Collectors' Plant Fair at Bilpin for the very first time. We had described to her the idyllic times we had had at the Fair over the past six years, wandering through the stalls in perfect autumnal sunshine and picnicking under the trees in the lovely garden there with friends, wiling away the hours until the afternoon shadows lengthened across the lawn and we reluctantly headed down the mountains for home.

Rain is any event manager's worst nightmare and there were bucketloads of it at Bilpin on Saturday - the wettest April day in Sydney for ten years. But as a testament to the resilience and dedication of True Gardeners, the crowds still flocked to the venue. I was envious as my companions pulled on gumboots when we arrived; we all donned our raincoats and put up our brollies to enter the fray. A strong cup of coffee revived our dampened spirits and we were ready to start checking out the stalls.

Display by Melanquin Garden Nursery at the Fair

The plants were clearly relishing the rain and the range for sale was better than ever this year. There were a number of new nurseries featured, as well as old favourites from past years. There were specialist sellers, such as the brilliant display of bromeliads at the Melanquin Garden Nursery stall, which really showed how wonderful these plants are for creating a colourful, low-maintenance groundcover all year round. The sheer diversity of leaf colour and texture was quite stunning. Other specialist stalls sold roses, Aloe plants, Geranium and Pelargonium, Helleborus, orchids, Australian natives, rare bulbs, tropical foliage plants and cold climate beauties.

Salvias on display at the stall of Kerry Mitchell at the Fair

There seemed to be a lot of Salvia plants for sale again this year at various stalls, showing their continued popularity amongst gardeners. I purchased Salvia greggii 'Crimson and Black' from the stall run by Kerry Mitchell, who is an expert Salvia grower. This has vibrant red flowers held within black calyces on a compact plant (ht 50 - 70 cm) - a stunning combination that I look forward to adding to a border with some dark-leaved plants nearby.

I was also pleased to see many plants from my latest fad - the Acanthaceae family - available, particularly at the Friends of the Botanic Garden stall. This large plant family contains many suitable specimens that grow extremely well in shaded parts of our Sydney gardens, requiring no special attention. At the Florez Nursery stall, I was pleased to obtain Ruttya fruticosa, an Acanthaceae plant unfamiliar to me. It has orange-red flowers in winter and spring on a scandent shrub (ht 1 m) - the blooms are reminiscent of rabbit's ears, or from another angle, flying birds. I look forward to trying it in my garden amongst other hot-coloured plants.

Visitors browsing at the Fair

I admired the cheerfulness of the stalwart stallholders as they endured the less than ideal conditions, happy to give information and advice about their plants to their customers. I take my hat off to the organisers, who, with the aid of local fire brigade members, calmly coped with a difficult situation, directing traffic, providing shelter for the visitors from the rain and dealing with muddy paths by laying down bark chips. I realised how very lucky we had been to have had such gloriously sunny days for the previous years' Fairs - and how fortunate we are to have such an event held annually in our region to give us the opportunity to see and buy new plants. I was also grateful to my friends for their good humour and great company through the day - making it another 'Bilpin experience' that we will long remember. As for all that rain, as any True Gardener will tell you: it was great for the garden!