Perennially interesting

We had an excellent September meeting, with Christine ffoulkes Jones from Hall Farm Nursery. Many of us have bought from them at various plant fairs, and we had another opportunity to do so (ahem).

Hall Farm sales table

Christine gave us an excellent run-through of her favourite plants in her talk, called ‘Perennials through the Seasons’. The nursery isn’t that far away, on the Shropshire border, and before long we were all writing down names of plants we couldn’t live without. Throughout her talk she stressed collaboration with other specialist growers, which was fascinating and meant that she ranged more widely than perennials – indeed, she started with snowdrops.

Hellebores came up,


and she suggested keeping the seeds from the popular garden hybrids as ‘you never know what you’re going to get’. Then there were wood anemones, Anemonella thalictoides (a wonderfully unusual ‘Green Hurricane’), fritillaries, corydalis (a startlingly blue one, ‘Kingfisher’), and epimediums.


These were described as ‘underrated’, which is a real shame because they are so gorgeous – not only do they have the most lovely flowers, but the foliage also colours up beautifully in autumn (Christine reminded us to cut this off in January / February, before the flowers come up).

Summer led her to emphasise the daisy family: anthemis, erigerons, osteospermums,


and echinaceas (which like sun at the base – don’t crowd them, she noted). Throughout, Christine stressed the importance of the garden to wildlife, and pointed out that the echinaceas, lasting well into autumn, are vital. The same applies to the wonderful Inula hookerii, of which she showed a fantastic example that made most of us resolve to grow it immediately. If, that is, we had a large enough space available.

Heleniums – quite a star in Hall Farm’s range – came next. Christine particularly recommended Moerheim Beauty, Sahin’s Early Flowerer and Ruby Tuesday. The latter is shorter and particularly useful if you hate canes as Christine does: ‘if it needs a cane I probably don’t grow it’, she said. This led naturally onto the grasses, and here she was careful to draw attention to something all gardeners sometimes forget to do in the rush of jobs: the need to really look at your plants. She stressed the importance of light through grasses,


and suggested leaving the heads on the plants through winter, only cutting them back in early spring. Then – cut them down ruthlessly!

The year was rounded off with a few more – penstemons and Japanese anemones, for example – and then Christine told us her very favourite plant. It was a bit surprising to some  of us: Verbena bonarensis. She showed a border with a mass planting, and we understood. Lovely.

An excellent evening – and very well attended, given that it was completely vile weather. Many thanks indeed to Christine, and to Hall Farm Nurseries.




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