Off to the fair

Sunday, 13 April 2014

The Secret Garden stall at the Collectors Plant Fair 2014

It's hard to believe that it is ten years since the first Collectors' Plant Fair was held at Bilpin. I've attended every fair during that time, and the excitement about it hasn't diminished over the years. This year was the second time that it has been held at the Hawkesbury Race Club at Clarendon and the organisers have been able to finetune the venue, providing extra catering options for visitors and more seating. There also seemed to be even more stallholders this year, and I gather that 11 of them were new.

Upon passing through the gates, you seem to enter an altered state of consciousness, where your attention fixates totally on the banquet of plants available. Nothing matters but to take in all that is on offer, and to find some new delights for your garden. No matter that there is no place currently to put them in your garden - that seems irrelevant as you reach feverishly for some hitherto unknown specimen with gorgeous blooms or fascinating leaves before someone else gets it! Or for some plant you have been searching for all your life - and there it is sitting right in front of you, just begging to be taken home. Even if various plants are not suited to your own climate, it is a joy to just gaze at and appreciate the beautiful specimens on display.

Perennial sunflowers made a brilliant display at the fair

The range of plants is truly mindboggling and caters for climactic zones ranging from cool inland gardens to warm gardens near the coast. There are exquisite tiny perennials and there are enormous flamboyant tropicals. There are edible plants, there are bulbs, there are trees, there are carnivorous plants, aquatic plants and ferns. As the number of commercial nurseries dwindles in Sydney, the plant fair has become the key place to find rare and interesting specimens.

The plant-holding area full of purchases

The atmosphere of the event is part of its charm - there is such goodwill and enthusiasm amongst the crowds, and it is a great meeting place for anyone with an interest in gardening in Sydney and beyond. The pleasure that plants can bring to people is palpable as you watch the happy faces of those all around you. Finding out what treasures your friends have bought is all part of the fun. Patient stallholders dispense advice to customers all day long, so the experience is a learning one as well.

Fuchsia triphylla Billy Green

This year my haul was a rather eclectic one. I was thrilled to buy an early-release specimen of Salvia 'Love and Wishes' from Kerry Mitchell's stall: this is a new cousin to the lovely Salvia 'Wendy's Wish' and 'Ember's Wish' (which raise funds for the Make-A-Wish Australia charity), with the same shape and size but with dusky purple flowers. At the same stall, I bought a pink Fuchsia triphylla called 'Billy Green' that caught my eye. These long-flowered Fuchsia plants are tougher than the larger hybrid cultivars, in my experience.

Sedum makinoi Ogon

I obtained a couple of shrubs that I have long wanted: from Wildwood Flora an Asian shrub Mussaenda frondosa with large, crisp-white bracts on a wide shrub in summer and autumn; and from Country Farm Perennials a Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum 'Mariessi' - a truly beautiful large deciduous shrub with horizontal branches smothered in white lace-cap flowers in spring. Foliage plants were prominent and I obtained a white-variegated leaf Agapanthus from Addictive Plants and a stunning gold-coloured Hydrangea quercifolia 'Little Honey' from Moidart Nursery. These Hydrangea grow quite well in Sydney's climate and I am hoping this will bring a golden light to a part-shaded area in my garden. Another unusual golden-leaf plant I found was Sedum makinoi 'Ogon', from The English Garden nursery, with a tiny, round leaf that is said to do well in shade, spreading up to 2 m wide!

Cuphea Ballistic

My final purchases were three compact Cuphea shrubs from Yellow House Perennials. I have enjoyed other cultivars of this warm-climate genus with their dainty long-lasting tubular flowers in my garden so I now am the proud owner of a white form ('White Fairy'), a pretty orange one (Cuphea cyanea) and a cerise version (Cuphea 'Ballistic').

Now to find places for these plants in the garden!