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.
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