A nursery in a garden

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Fuchsias growing in the garden of Kerry Mitchell

I have been busy preparing a talk on the genus Salvia, which I will be giving next Saturday (23 February) at the Cottage Garden Club in Epping, NSW. I will be reflecting on how to choose ones that will grow easily in the Sydney climate and mentioning some of the new ones that have come on the market since I last spoke to the club on this subject almost five years ago - and how some of my ideas on Salvia have changed over that time. To gain extra inspiration for my talk, I headed to Kurrajong last week to visit the nursery of Kerry Mitchell, who grows one of the most extensive collections of Salvia plants in Sydney.

Ornamental grasses in the garden of Kerry Mitchell at Kurrajong

The nursery is set within a lovely garden with many established trees and a stunning backdrop of views to the Blue Mountains. Many of the plants for sale can be seen growing in the garden, in attractive borders showing a keen eye for colour and texture. Kerry, who is very passionate about plants and gardening, researches the natural habitat of all the plants she grows and tries to give each one an optimal position - often moving plants a few times before the ideal spot is found. Parts of the garden have been changed since my visit in October 2010, such as the new planting of a swathe of ornamental grasses to line the driveway, showing how these plants can be used in a hot, dry area of the garden to form a welcoming entrance. She has recently replaced much of her very heavy clay soil with a free-draining soil containing 5mm gravel so that she can grow plants that need very sharp drainage - such as those that hail from Mediterranean regions. As this is a large garden, plants can be given the space that they need to develop their natural form - an important point with many Salvia specimens, which will not reach their full potential if squashed into a tiny space. This is something I do far too often out of sheer greed in wanting to grow as many plants as I possibly can!

Salvia Van Houttei Alans Maroon

I admired some of my old favourite Salvia, but also saw many that were unfamiliar to me. One I had never seen before was a variant of the old faithful Salvia 'Van Houttei', which is a wonderful shrubby perennial with burgundy flowers. This variant is called 'Alan's Maroon' and seems to be in bloom all year round, with more densely packed flowers than the original 'Van Houttei' that have an even more intense and vibrant colour, on a shrub just over 1 m in height. Kerry is constantly adding to her Salvia collection and successfully grows many of the species that are considered 'challenging' in our climate. I learned much during my visit from Kerry's extensive experience and experimentation with so many different varieties. I saw some that I had never heard of before, including pretty pastel blue Salvia amarissima, and Salvia longistyla, which promises deep blood red flowers held in dark calyces in autumn on a nicely rounded shrub.

Plants in the shadecloth tunnel in the nursery of Kerry Mitchell at Kurrajong

Kerry also grows and propagates many other sorts of plants that grow well in Sydney, including roses, Begonia, a wide range of Camellia and many unusual climbers. I saw some fascinating Clematis, the quirky 'cup and saucer' vine (Cobaea scandens) and the lovely golden hop (Humulus lupulus 'Aureus'). She also propagates a number of very unusual shrubs, many raised from seed from seed exchanges. Some I noted were Brunfelsia lactea, a low-growing, highly perfumed shrub, and Agapetes serpens, a shrub with long curving stems that are covered in red bells.

Ruellia species from the nursery of Kerry Mitchell at Kurrajong, possibly a form of Ruellia drummondiana

In a long plant tunnel covered with shadecloth, built by Kerry herself, plants for sale are arranged with the Salvia pots alphabetically along one side and a variety of other unusual perennials down the other side. Fuchsia, grasses and bulbs are also included in her range of plants. This is a great place to find the sorts of plants that simply never appear in the big commercial nurseries. I was thrilled to find a Ruellia groundcover that I had never seen or heard of before (pictured above), with a profusion of pretty violet bells above leaves with a limey tinge. I am always very excited to find a new Acanthaceae plant to grow!

Kerry will be selling her plants at the Cottage Garden Club meeting on Saturday. She will also be having a stall at the much-anticipated Collectors' Plant Fair on 13 and 14 April at Clarendon NSW. Kerry's nursery is open by appointment - phone in the evenings on (02) 45 760349 or 0431 102921. This is a wonderful destination for garden clubs or groups of gardening friends to visit for a lovely day out.