Saturday saw me heading to Clarendon (near Richmond) for the eleventh Collectors Plant Fair. My friends and I had set off early on an autumn morning that promised a perfect day. And so it proved to be. The fair has firmly established itself as one of the highlights of the gardening year in Sydney: a place to find the rare and elusive plants that are so hard to find at commercial nurseries these days, which more and more seem to be selling a limited range of specimens.
This year the fair had more than 70 plant stalls. As always, it was a sheer delight to see spread before us a banquet of plant temptations when we arrived. Every plant I saw on Saturday was bursting with health and vitality. All the stallholders as usual had presented their wares beautifully to entice the customers, who lose all semblance of sanity once they pass through the gates into the fair. Also as usual, the vendors were more than happy to freely share information on growing their plants; they want their plants to flourish in their new homes as much as we do! Talking to the stallholders, who have such a love of and connection with their plants, is one of the joys of the fair.
Drifting from one stall to another in a happy haze, I felt transported to another realm: a paradise of plants. Just to see such attractive plants is a sheer pleasure, even though many aren't suitable to my own garden. This year I did have a wish list (a sad attempt to rein in impulsive purchases); and I can happily report I found almost everything on that list!
First on my list was Salvia 'Mesa Azure', a delightful compact salvia that I had planted last year but it got overgrown by other plants and faded away. I've since seen it in the garden of several friends, who have raved over it as being long-flowering and tough. It has gorgeous soft blue-purple flowers and grows to around 50 cm tall; and it seems to part of the Salvia greggii/Salvia microphylla complex. It is sometimes called 'Mauve Maiden'. I found a whole lot of these plants (along with many other salvias) on the Secret Garden and Nursery stall, always a great favourite of mine. As well as being a nursery, this not-for-profit organisation, situated at Richmond NSW, provides invaluable training and educational programs for the whole community in horticulture, permaculture, animal husbandry, vegetable and fruit production, along with specialised engagement and training opportunities for school children and individuals with a disability. The nursery is well worth a visit, and will be holding its annual autumn fair on Saturday 7 May 2016. Visit the website for more details.
Next on my list was Rosa chinensis 'Mutabilis'. I don't grow roses in my Sydney garden; this was destined for the garden at the family farm on the NSW Southern Tablelands, where roses thrive. However, this particular rose also does very well in Sydney and I have admired it in the gardens of several of my friends. It is a single rose with copper-coloured buds that open yellow and fade to soft pink and then crimson. The rose-specialist stall at the fair was Green e Roses (based at Galston NSW) and I easily found them, in a spot with welcome shade from what had become a warm day. Their space was lined with a profusion of roses, forming a flowery bower, pervaded with delicious perfumes. I love seeing and smelling roses, and there was a wide variety available. I was pleased to see a row of 'Mutabalis', all in flower, and secured a plant.
I had actually preordered some plants from Yamina Collectors Nursery (based in Victoria), and I collected these early on in the day. The plants were chosen because they are shade-tolerant, a current focus of mine. One was Danae racemosa, an unusual foliage specimen similar to the 'insect plant' (Ruscus aculeatus); both have stems that look like leaves, held on arching fronds. Danae racemosa appears to be taller. Both are suited to dry shade and can spread to form a substantial mound. Another plant was Sarcococca ruscifolia, which I chose because it too is shade-tolerant, with bright red berries in winter - and because its species name alludes to Ruscus! Indeed, the leaves of this evergreen shrub look rather like the Ruscus (and the Danae) and I thought the Sarcococca could look effective with these foliage plants in a shaded part of my garden.
Though I didn't actually intend to buy any begonias, I just couldn't resist buying 'Anita', a fabulous foliage plant with enormous, white-patterned leaves; and a most attractive groundcover rhizomatous cultivar 'Platinum Star', with silvery leaves that have mahogany undersides, which I found on Ross Bolwell's Begonias stall. This nursery (at Annangrove NSW) has an impressive range of begonias, but also stocks other shade-loving plants suited to the Sydney climate.
A new stall to the fair this year was Patio Plants, which I have previously encountered at my local farmers' market at Castle Hill. This enterprise sells fabulous edible plants, and buyers can fill eight-celled punnets with individual seedlings of any herbs or vegetable they like. Grown to perfection, these plants are a boon to gardeners wanting to grow more of their own food, and the range includes many unusual varieties.
The pleasure of attending the fair extends beyond the plants bought. The atmosphere of sheer, unalloyed happiness is wonderful to be simply part of. Running into gardening friends is a major element of the day. It is such fun to hear about what they have bought and how many bags of plants they have put into the plant-minding area! Hearing of '20 bags already' made me feel quite frugal and restrained!
This year marks the first year under new management of the fair. Many thanks to all those involved in 2016, who have ensured that the vision of Peta Trahar and her team will carry on into the future - and that we plantaholics can continue to have our annual fix of new treasures for our gardens. I'm already looking forward to next year.
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