Off to the fair

Sunday, 13 April 2014

The Secret Garden stall at the Collectors Plant Fair 2014

It's hard to believe that it is ten years since the first Collectors' Plant Fair was held at Bilpin. I've attended every fair during that time, and the excitement about it hasn't diminished over the years. This year was the second time that it has been held at the Hawkesbury Race Club at Clarendon and the organisers have been able to finetune the venue, providing extra catering options for visitors and more seating. There also seemed to be even more stallholders this year, and I gather that 11 of them were new.

Upon passing through the gates, you seem to enter an altered state of consciousness, where your attention fixates totally on the banquet of plants available. Nothing matters but to take in all that is on offer, and to find some new delights for your garden. No matter that there is no place currently to put them in your garden - that seems irrelevant as you reach feverishly for some hitherto unknown specimen with gorgeous blooms or fascinating leaves before someone else gets it! Or for some plant you have been searching for all your life - and there it is sitting right in front of you, just begging to be taken home. Even if various plants are not suited to your own climate, it is a joy to just gaze at and appreciate the beautiful specimens on display.

Perennial sunflowers made a brilliant display at the fair

The range of plants is truly mindboggling and caters for climactic zones ranging from cool inland gardens to warm gardens near the coast. There are exquisite tiny perennials and there are enormous flamboyant tropicals. There are edible plants, there are bulbs, there are trees, there are carnivorous plants, aquatic plants and ferns. As the number of commercial nurseries dwindles in Sydney, the plant fair has become the key place to find rare and interesting specimens.

The plant-holding area full of purchases

The atmosphere of the event is part of its charm - there is such goodwill and enthusiasm amongst the crowds, and it is a great meeting place for anyone with an interest in gardening in Sydney and beyond. The pleasure that plants can bring to people is palpable as you watch the happy faces of those all around you. Finding out what treasures your friends have bought is all part of the fun. Patient stallholders dispense advice to customers all day long, so the experience is a learning one as well.

Fuchsia triphylla Billy Green

This year my haul was a rather eclectic one. I was thrilled to buy an early-release specimen of Salvia 'Love and Wishes' from Kerry Mitchell's stall: this is a new cousin to the lovely Salvia 'Wendy's Wish' and 'Ember's Wish' (which raise funds for the Make-A-Wish Australia charity), with the same shape and size but with dusky purple flowers. At the same stall, I bought a pink Fuchsia triphylla called 'Billy Green' that caught my eye. These long-flowered Fuchsia plants are tougher than the larger hybrid cultivars, in my experience.

Sedum makinoi Ogon

I obtained a couple of shrubs that I have long wanted: from Wildwood Flora an Asian shrub Mussaenda frondosa with large, crisp-white bracts on a wide shrub in summer and autumn; and from Country Farm Perennials a Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum 'Mariessi' - a truly beautiful large deciduous shrub with horizontal branches smothered in white lace-cap flowers in spring. Foliage plants were prominent and I obtained a white-variegated leaf Agapanthus from Addictive Plants and a stunning gold-coloured Hydrangea quercifolia 'Little Honey' from Moidart Nursery. These Hydrangea grow quite well in Sydney's climate and I am hoping this will bring a golden light to a part-shaded area in my garden. Another unusual golden-leaf plant I found was Sedum makinoi 'Ogon', from The English Garden nursery, with a tiny, round leaf that is said to do well in shade, spreading up to 2 m wide!

Cuphea Ballistic

My final purchases were three compact Cuphea shrubs from Yellow House Perennials. I have enjoyed other cultivars of this warm-climate genus with their dainty long-lasting tubular flowers in my garden so I now am the proud owner of a white form ('White Fairy'), a pretty orange one (Cuphea cyanea) and a cerise version (Cuphea 'Ballistic').

Now to find places for these plants in the garden!

Reader Comments

  • By Anne 2518 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 14 April 2014

    I went to the Fair, too, Deirdre on Saturday. Wasn"t going to buy anything but of course did. The range of plants was amazing. Yamina rare plants has some very interesting things on offer but resisted those. Didn"t focus on the Moidart stall though often call in there on my way through southern highlands as they have great plants you don"t see other places. I noticed that fuchsia but did resist that! Thanks for info re the plant sale. Enjoy your break and have a happy Easter. Anne Thanks, Anne. Glad you enjoyed the fair. Deirdre

  • By Tim 2041 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 14 April 2014

    Hi Deidre I didn"t make it to the Fair this year! 3 year old birthday party at our house stopped me in my tracks! Sounds like you bought some special plants! Have a good break. And I hope to have that coffee with you in May! Cheers Tim Thanks, Tim. Hope the party went well! See you soon, I hope. Deirdre

  • By margaret 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 14 April 2014

    Totally agree - the Plant Fair is THE place to be. With the demise of many plant nurseries, it, along with the Cottage Garden club, and private groups, is the source of unusual and hard-to-find plants. I have also visited every year and am always entranced with the great array of plants on offer. It is hard to keep purchases to a reasonable amount, bearing in mind, "where can I fit them in?", but, then, gardeners can always squeeze in a new plant! Glad you had a good day and hope you found some interesting buys. Deirdre

  • By Carol 2430 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 14 April 2014

    Deirdrie, Sounds Very Good, I Am Silly ,My Husband asked me to Go To A Function At Bathurst , I Said No Thanks But I Could Sneak Off To The Plant Fair. Know Where Im Going Next Year Carol From Taree. Hope you will get to go next time, Carol! Deirdre

  • By Sue T. 2566 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 14 April 2014

    Hi Deirdre. You,re right about the irrelevence of having room in the garden.I, too have attended every Plant Fair and it happens every year.... I came homeon Saturday with 15 new plants. This includes 3 or 4 which I bought just because they were "interesting" not because they will do well in my garden. i also brought home some lovely ducks from Metalscape which will be given back to me on Mothers" Day Sue T. Sounds like you had a successful day, Sue. The ducks sound great. Deirdre

  • By Sue 2074 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 14 April 2014

    Wished I could have been there, the feeling of "wanting to buy heaps" because they look gorgeous, challenging or interesting is a well known one, so it was probably better I visited my mother in Adelaide:-) Yes it is very hard to resist buying! Deirdre

  • By Peta 2758 (Zone:9 - Cool Temperate) Monday, 14 April 2014

    Thank you for the lovely blog Deirdre. I"m speaking as one of the organisers. For us the biggest buzz is seeing the specialist nurseries do so well. It"s a pleasure to work hard for them. I came home with really interesting plants - some new releases developed by the grower. The best is a variegated Zantedeschia. Cream/green leaves and flowers, a top variegated tuberous Begonia and a green flowered Hippeastrum. I too bought the Cuphea. "Ballistic" is wonderful - flowers like little space ships.Well done, Peta and thanks for all your hard work in organising another great fair. We all do appreciate it. Deirdre

  • By Maureen 2118 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 14 April 2014

    My first visit - what a Smorgasbord!!Thank goodness I went by train which restricted my buying somewhat albeit intentionally. Ginger plants amazed me. Am looking forward to Allium jesdianum Akulak bulbs Lamley Nursery strutting their stuff!! Hope my Mexican Hat Ratibida columnifera perennial plant comes good also. Loved the golfrn Hydrangea also but alas - training home! As ever thanks for your great blog. Maureen Hope your plants grow well, Maureen. Deirdre

  • By Georgina 2076 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 14 April 2014

    Hi Deirdre, What a wonderful day. I wasn"t going to buy any plants -no space- but of course once I walk through the gate all sense of what I could not fit in went out the window! Enjoy your break and happy planting. Georgina Glad you had a great day. It is certainly a fun experience for all gardeners. Deirdre

  • By Rosemary 2750 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 15 April 2014

    How wonderfully exciting and all legal! Seriously wasn"t buying anything and of course came home with a trolley full. Making notes for next year or net shopping. Stopped only by lack of ATM for cash only stalls. Wouldn"t it be great if it was more frequent? Such a high standard, full marks to The Secret Garden I just have to pop over soon for some more, as I couldn"t carry anymore.

  • By Rosemary 2750 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 15 April 2014

    Rosemary cont"d: Beaut people and best quote from a darling lady to her patient husband "I feel like a dog in a lolly shop, no I mean a meat shop" I had to chip in to say I knew how she felt. Ah well now to planting. Rosemary. Sounds like you enjoyed yourself thoroughly, Rosemary! Deirdre

  • By Gil 2037 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Wednesday, 16 April 2014

    As a stallholder - albeit selling books rather than plants - I find the whole Fair a real buzz. Many happy nurseries and many happy gardeners. Meeting old friends and making new ones. One of my best moments was late on Sunday when a woman said to her husband "Look - there on the Bargain Basement table: one of the herb catalogues we put out from our nursery 30 years ago!" Of course I peeled the $2 sticker off it and gave it to her. Unmissable. Gil Teague, Florilegium Sounds great. It certainly is a wonderful event for all involved. Deirdre

  • By Richard 2112 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Thursday, 17 April 2014

    Hi Deidre, made it there late on Sunday for the fist time in 3yrs, and although I am sure that I missed some fanastic plants, still came away with a few, and some contact details to follow up over the next few months! Yamina had a couple of smaller growing pink flowered cultivars of the Viburnum plicatum, may be something to look out for next time (I managed to resist). Not a good place for helpless plant addicts like us, a bit like an AA bus trip to a brewery!!! Sounds like it was worthwhile. I am still working out where to plant some of my purchases! Deirdre

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