"The fun of the fair"

Last weekend I attended the Collectors' Plant Fair at Clarendon, NSW.
Sunday, 21 April 2013     

The Collectors Plant Fair 2013

On 13 April, two friends and I visited the Collectors' Plant Fair, at its new venue at Hawkesbury Race Course at Clarendon, NSW. It was a superb autumn day, without a cloud in the sky. Previously, the fair had been held at the charming garden of Peta and Peter Trahar at Bilpin for a number of years. Whilst the atmosphere was not the same at the new site - my friends and I used to love to gather together under the big, old trees at Bilpin for lunch and look out across the paddocks to the distant views - the new venue has a lot going for it. It is closer to Sydney and can be reached by train, with a station right beside it. Though the number of stalls was apparently the same as in previous years, they had more room to spread out their plants, and I am sure there were many more plants for sale than ever before. The flat and even grounds were very accessible for strollers and wheelchairs, and there was more space around stalls to look at the plants. There is also a large undercover area, which would have made life easier if there had been rain. The plant-holding area, run by the Bilpin Fire Brigade, was most efficiently run, and it was great to be able to leave our purchases there so that people we ran into during the day wouldn't know exactly how many plants we had bought!

The sheer variety of plants on offer was simply amazing. There was something to satisfy the craving of every plantaholic in Sydney and beyond. From dainty cold-climate perennials to flamboyant tropical plants, from Australian natives to Geranium and Pelargonium collectibles, from African violets to rare bulbs, roses to hellebores, Begonia to ferns ...

I really noticed the number of really unusual bulbs on offer, especially South African bulbs, which do so well here. I seemed to see Veltheimia bracteata - a plant I didn't even know existed until a few months ago - wherever I turned. I saw other interesting species of this genus at several stalls. There were a lot of pots of rare and unusual Amaryllidaceae bulbs, including Amarygia, the name given to crosses between Amaryllis belladonna and Brunsvigia species; Hippeastrum species; Haemanthus; Cyrtanthus and Scadoxus. I succumbed to a (rather expensive) Worsleya procera, the fabled 'blue Amaryllis' from Brazil. I went for a smaller specimen (there were some really huge ones available for fabulous sums) and apparently mine should flower in about five years?! I will report back in due course ...

Another plant genus that was very visible was Salvia - many sellers had them on display and it was truly amazing to see how many species and cultivars are available these days, when just 25 years ago we only knew and grew a handful of them. Kerry Mitchell's stall had a particularly good selection of them, as did the not-for-profit Secret Garden Nursery stall, which I have mentioned previously in my blog. I was also excited to see a lot of Acanthaceae plants at various stalls: that of the Friends of the Botanic Gardens (they propagate many of them from the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney, and have them for sale during the week there); and the Coachwood Nursery stall, which had some very unusual ones I had never seen before, as well as many other treasures, mainly warm-climate plants that flourish in Sydney gardens.

I really enjoyed looking at the stall selling water plants (Wallis Creek Water Gardens) and was intrigued to see the different plants that will grow in or near water - including Ajuga, Schizostylis, Canna, Iris japonica and Acorus species and cultivars. A number of native plants were included in the stock, as well as some beautiful lotuses and waterlilies.

Orchids, bromeliads, edible plants of all description (including a vanilla bean vine, the first I have ever seen), bamboos, desirable shrubs and trees including some really gorgeous maples ... the choice of plants was almost overwhelming at times. It was good to be able to sit down and chat with friends every so often to relieve the brain of 'plant overload'. One of the best aspects of the fair is the chance to run into gardening friends and acquaintances one has met over the years, as it is such a peak event for gardeners in Sydney. Everyone seemed to be having a wonderful time. Is there anything more exciting for a gardener than procuring a beautiful and desirable plant? I hope the fair will continue for many years to come. Many thanks to the organisers for staging such a wonderful event.

 Reader Comments

1/12  Julie - 4510 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Sounds like a marvellous show and isn"t autumn just the best time for gardening! I have been doing similar buying up lately cos my enthusiasm for planting and reorganising beds has been soaring. Just bought a pretty pink justicia from a nurseryman at our local markets. He swears it is sun hardy and will grow in full sun, hence I planted likewise, but when I jumped on the net, read where it is a shade-loving plant. Annoyed and confused when I get conflicting advice. Do you know? Hi Julie, Justicias can grow and flower well in shade but they will also do fine in sun in my experience. The white Justicia carnea flowers may burn a little in too much sun but my pink one gets a lot of sun. Deirdre

2/12  Julie - 4510 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Thanks Deirdre. That"s a relief. Look forward to seeing it thrive.Cheers.

3/12  Peta - 2758 (Zone:9 - Cool Temperate) Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Your blog reads like a slice of Botanica. So glad you loved it! Next year"s date is 12/13 April, same place. My haul included Calliandra portoricensis, the White Powder Puff. Mine came from the Growing Friends. Jane, who volunteers with them tells me that there is only one left in the Sydney Bot.Gardens to prop from. I"ll treasure it as I used to have it in our Sydney garden before moving. Also bought Euphorbia cotinifolia and a gorgeous variegated Dianthus nigrescens...and,and. Yum! Thanks, Peta - and thanks for all your wonderful organisation of the fair. It was a huge success. Deirdre

4/12  Margaret - 2456 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Hi Deirdre sounds like a wonderful fair, hope to get down there to it one day! We have a small plant fair up this way, in Bellingen, that is run twice a year, in Spring the Autumn. I never miss it and quite often find something unique and unusual. I can relate to not letting others know just how much you have bought and maybe something that bit different so I just run back to the car often!! I just hope some of those African bulbs come up this way as the ones I have do well here. Marg.Your plant fairs sound great. Hope you find some of the bulbs you are looking for. Deirdre

5/12  Carmen - 2222 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Deirdre, I couldn"t agree more with you about what a wonderful fair it was. I also had been when it was at Bilpin and whilst the racecourse doesn"t have the charm it was easier to get around. I bought several plants which I hadn"t been able to get anywhere in Sydney on-line. though I wish I had bought the Boophone. I also met the lovely couple from Four Seasons Herbs from whom I have been buying herbs for some time. Incidentally, I"m sure you know the Secret Garden has a fair 4th May. Glad you had a great time at the fair, Carmen. Thanks for the info re the Secret Garden event - now listed in our Local Events section on the home page. Deirdre

6/12  Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 23 April 2013

It was a wonderful day and I also met up with many gardening friends, some I had not seen for a few months. It was hard to make a choice, there were so many special plants for sale, but finally, I settled on a pink Haemanthus, two Ligularias, a Clerodendrum nutans (I think) and yellow flowered plant, whose name escapes me, but I think it belongs to the Acanthaceae family. I would highly recommend that those living far away, make a concerted effort to visit the fair next year. Thanks, Margaret. Your choices sound very good. I"ll need to know the name of that yellow-flowered one, though! Deirdre

7/12  Rosemary - 2750 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Oh Boy!! What a ball. So many lovely stalls and so much closer. I had a golden plant fix (with the hope of even more by mail) and bought two Campanulas and a Babies Tears. A winter Buddleja for my Autumn Winter flowers search. Adiantum Charlotte and variegated, and also tree ferns and great prices. Schizostylus and Anemones to go. Bought more than I intended and will have a list ready with the Veltheimia on the top for next year. Congratulations very well done. Sounds like you did well! Deirdre

8/12  Jean - 4035 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Tuesday, 23 April 2013

At first glance, the Veltheimia Bracteata reminded me of the matchstick pink and blue bromeliads spikes. They are common broms, but when in full bloom look spectacular. I would love to have Veltheimia in my garden. Would it grow in Brisbane? I think they should be OK in Brisbane. Grow near a tree as that will help keep them dry when dormant. They don"t mind shade. Colour can vary a bit. I love that Aechmea gamosepala with the matchstick flowers. Deirdre

9/12  Eileen - 2440 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Wednesday, 24 April 2013

I was here too, with my Son & Daughter inlaw, we had a lovely time and the weather was perfect. Glad you enjoyed it, Eileen. Deirdre

10/12  Gillian - 2073 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Another brilliant plant fair - what a delight. It"s important to support these small, specialist growers as without them our choices would be so much poorer as the likes of Bunnings take over the nursery industry. Thanks, Gillian. It is wonderful to know that so much variety still exists out there for us to get our hands on! Deirdre

11/12  Pam - 2159 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Plant Fair is a great occasion. I have been a few times to Bilpin and love seeing so many interesting plants for sale.One year I preordered by email from a grower, and picked the plants up on the Saturday. I have had Velthemia growing in my garden for a few years - the original bulb was grown from seed. This plant is now producing seed itself, so I am planting them around. Thanks, Pam. Good to hear your Veltheimia is doing well. Deirdre

12/12  Carmen - 2222 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Saturday, 27 April 2013

Deirdre, I have just found in one of your past blogs, May 2012, information and photographs of the Boophone I mentioned. It is definitely going on my wish list for the next fair. That"s great, hope you find it next time! Deirdre

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