A nursery in the Sydney CBD? Sounds unlikely, but in fact there is a great one slap-bang in the middle of the city. It is the one run by the Growing Friends of the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney, a dedicated band of volunteers who propagate and sell many of the interesting and unusual plants grown in the Botanic Garden.
Most of the plants are grown as tubestock, making it easy for customers to transport them home, and they are ready to take off as soon as they are planted. The range of plants is extensive and the prices are very reasonable. There is a good collection of Salvia species and cultivars, and an excellent assortment of Begonia, propagated from the truly wonderful Begonia Garden not far from the nursery. Begonia are perfect plants for shaded or semi-shaded sites in our climate and many flower for months on end - and they require very little in the way of cosseting or maintenance.
There are a number of succulent and other plants with low water needs, along with a variety of grasses, many native plants and even tree saplings and herbs. The tables in the middle of the nursery are covered with excellent shrubs and shrubby perennials - many of them unusual - that suit our Sydney climate. One the other day that took my eye included Malpighia coccigera (pictured), a cute little shrub from the West Indies, growing to around 1 m in height, with small, shiny, holly-like foliage and pale pink flowers that look a bit like those of the Geraldton wax (Chamelaucium uncinatum).
I also saw plants of the gorgeous blue ginger (Dichorisandra thyrsiflora), a great plant for shaded spots in Sydney gardens. There were quite a few coleus (Solenostemon) plants - these are planted extensively in the garden and give long-lasting colour in a range of hues, and other good semi-tropical foliage plants too, such as Ctenanthe, Alocasia, gingers, Arthropodium and Calathea, as well as many bromeliads - all so useful for shaded areas.
This nursery has the one of the biggest collections of Acanthaceae plants that I have seen in Sydney, reflecting the extensive use of these semi-tropical plants in the Royal Botanic Garden since the 19th century. This link will take you to the plant sales page on the Royal Botanic Gardens website, where you will find a downloadable list of the plants stocked by the nursery, which gives useful descriptive and cultivation information for each plant. Not all the plants on the list are always available, but there is constantly a very good selection offered at the nursery. All plants are well labelled.
With the shrinking of the commercial nursery sphere in recent years, we are very lucky to have this resource, and numerous plants in my own garden have come from this nursery. The proceeds of plant sales are used to fund a range of projects with the Botanic Garden. The volunteers who run the nursery are friendly, knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and will help you with your plant choices if required.
The nursery can be found in the Middle Gardens, near to the Maiden Theatre. It can be accessed off Mrs Macquaries Road, or by following the signs from the Woolloomooloo Gate or from the Succulent Garden. The nursery is open 11.30 am to 2 pm, Monday to Friday, and two Saturdays of every month, 9 am to 1 pm. For further information, you can phone (02) 9231 8182. The Growing Friends will also be having a stall at the Collectors' Plant Fair on 13 and 14 April 2013 at Clarendon, NSW - a highlight event for all keen gardeners.
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