Readers may know of my fondness for unusual nurseries, run by individual owners passionate about plants and with an eye for displaying them in eye-catching ways. Some 30 years ago, a friend introduced me to the wonderful Belrose Nursery, which was one of the very best of these - and I still mourn its passing. There aren't many of these sorts of places left any more. Soulless modern supermarket-like nurseries just don't do anything for me!
Last week, however, whilst attending the superb L'Arche Open Garden Day at Hunters Hill (raising funds for an international charity that allows disabled people to live in communities, and which I hope to write about in the lead-up to next year's event), I came across a delightful little nursery nearby one of the gardens. Located in a tiny walking lane (actually part of the Great North Walk that runs from Sydney to Newcastle), this nursery, Ivy Alley, is a place of inspiration.
Passing through the curtain-festooned entrance, I entered into what seemed like an enchanted world: an oasis-like cloistered garden of an artistic soul who loves to arrange plants in original, creative ways, using vintage items for the display. I felt as if I was in a Victorian-era conservatory, with plants arranged in and amidst an array of quirky garden ornaments, old wares and interesting furniture repurposed to hold plants! Cleverly placed mirrors make the space seem bigger. Old ladders are employed as effective plant stands, as is an antique dressing table and a stacked set of old wooden packing crates. Many of the ideas could be used in compact gardens to make the most of available space.
The nursery specialises in succulents, bonsai and topiary, but there are also interesting shade-loving plants, such as the fascinating pink-flowered Nematanthus maculatus that I bought, a member of the Gesneriaceae family, which includes African violets, gloxinias and Streptocarpus. Most of the plants are grown on site by owner Rachel Gleeson, in a delightful glasshouse at the side of the nursery (pictured at left).
The charm of the nursery lies in showing visitors how all these plants can be used in creative and original ways to decorate a garden - as well as being a source of fabulous 'living gifts' for gardening friends. The visitor is also reminded of just how dramatic and sculptural many succulents can be when placed in a striking container, and how diverse the forms of these plants are. Hanging baskets of unusual trailing succulents, such as Rhipsalis, were particularly interesting to see and made me want to find out more about succulents that can be grown in this way.
Some of the things that caught my eye that day included a high-heeled shoe-shaped planter filled with succulents, a metal garden settee where the seat was a 'cushion' of textured succulents (pictured at left), and planters shaped like heads with plants grown in them as 'hair'. I loved the use of 'found' objects as plant containers: a truly rusty old fruit tin and tall, patterned olive oil tins. There was a wrought-iron frame with a little bottles filled with water attached all the way up - used to hold cuttings of ivy, some of which were forming roots in the water, making me think this would be a fab idea in my own garden to pop in those prunings that I'd like to strike but always forget to pot up before they shrivel. There was such a pervasive sense of fun about the whole place, and I left with my head reeling with ideas, particularly for my verandah at home, which is currently a very boring empty space, frequented only by the neighbour's cat!
This little nursery would be a lovely destination for a group of gardening friends looking for a day out together - visit the nursery then wander the beautiful streets of Hunters Hill, which are currently shimmering in a purple haze of Jacaranda trees, and have lunch at a cafe somewhere.
The nursery can be found by walking down the first little lane on the right in Passy Avenue, Hunters Hill, NSW (turn into Passy Avenue from Woolwich Road). It is open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm. It is closed during winter, however. Visit the website for more information.
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