Finding new treasures

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Hippeastrum growing in the garden of Kerry Mitchell at Kurrajong

Readers of this blog may recall (and may even have shared) my sorrow when Belrose Nursery closed last year. With the disappearance of many of the boutique nurseries run by dedicated and knowledgeable plantspeople in Sydney, it has become hard for us keen gardeners to find unusual sorts of plants, as they are simply not stocked by the big franchise establishments that dominate the market at the moment.

So I was delighted to discover on Saturday that a new nursery has opened, within easy reach of the metropolitan area, which stocks a range of rare and interesting plants. The nursery, run by Kerry Mitchell, is set within her large and beautiful garden at Kurrajong, framed by some statuesque old trees and with sweeping views to the Blue Mountains. The enterprise is the culmination of 30 years of plant collecting and acquiring practical gardening knowledge.

An effective combination of Plectranthus argentatus (left) with Ajania pacifica in the garden of Kerry Mitchell at Kurrajong

Kerry focuses on plants that do well in our Sydney climate - I was surprised to learn that Kurrajong experiences the same problems with humidity that those of us living closer to the city have to deal with. It is a joy to be able to wander around her lovely garden borders and to be inspired by the way Kerry has arranged her plantings in pleasing combinations of colour, form and texture. The garden is beautifully maintained but also has a very relaxed, informal feel, with self-seeding annuals and perennials popping up here and there, and plants spilling over garden edges. Attractive vegetables, such as a red-stemmed silverbeet, intermingled with the ornamentals in places.

Salvia microphylla Sensation in the garden of Kerry Mitchell

One of Kerry's passions is the genus Salvia. She has one of the most impressive collections of these plants that I have seen in Sydney, and sells many species and cultivars in the nursery. She has learned how to grow them well, and is happy to share her knowledge with visitors. Salvias are wonderful for our climate and offer endless possibilities for planting schemes. I was pleased to be able to buy a new addition for my own collection - pretty red Salvia adenophora, said to flower over a long period in sun or part shade. Salvia microphylla 'Sensation' (pictured above), which has dainty apricot pink flowers, was much admired by our group.

Rosa Crepuscule in bloom in the garden of Kerry Mitchell in Kurrajong

Kerry also has a huge number of old roses growing in the garden, well integrated into plantings of other shrubs and perennials. A bright blue trellis used as a support for roses is a focal point in the garden. She has a keen interest in unusual and species Camellia, including scented ones, which she has collected from a number of enthusiasts over the years.

One of many the many Pelargonium specimens growing in the garden of Kerry Mitchell at Kurrajong

She includes many drought-tolerant plants, as water is precious in this region. A number of Pelargonium specimens - zonal, ivy, regal and scented - were flourishing in dry spots, all flowering their heads off. South African bulbs such as Hippeastrum and Sprekelia, which do well in parched places, were also to be seen in full bloom, as were tough groundcovers like Gazania and Nemesia, along with many silver-leaved plants that thrive in these conditions - including Artemisia and Lychnis coronaria. In shadier dry places, massed bromeliads, many different Begonia and a variety of Plectranthus are grown and cope well with these conditions. I was able to purchase an attractive groundcover Plectranthus with very furry green leaves and spires of blue flowers, which I had never seen before, and a lovely silvery rhizomatous Begonia.

To grow plants that like moisture, such as some of the water-loving Iris and Hosta, she uses an ingenious technique of burying a plastic household bucket in the ground, half-filling it with water then plunging a potted plant into the bucket, so that a water supply is guaranteed for a long time. Some mulch tucked around the edge of the bucket means that the plant looks for all the world as if it is growing directly in the ground. This also enables her to remove the pots as the plants finish flowering so that something else can be put into the bucket to replace it.

My companions (all keen gardeners) and I all left with some new plant treasures along with fresh ideas for our own gardens. Intending visitors should phone ahead to get directions and to make sure that Kerry knows to expect you: (02) 4576 0349.