"Another great fair"

I visited the 11th Collectors Plant Fair.
Sunday, 10 April 2016     

Yellow House Perennials had many lovely plants for sale

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.

 Reader Comments

1/11  Richard - 2112 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 11 April 2016

I have missed the last 2 Fairs, so it was fantastic to be able to finally get back this year. It certainly has grown into a bigger event in the intervening period, and it is always refreshing to find an event that actually caters for dedicated gardeners and collectors! Picked up some great Salvias, variegated Clivia, Begonias, Bromeliads, Vireyas, and many other treasures. Unfortunately, I will now will have to try to find space for them all! Sounds a great haul! Glad you enjoyed the day. Deirdre

2/11  Peta - 2758 (Zone:9 - Cool Temperate) Monday, 11 April 2016

How kind of you to thank Peter, Beth and I for founding this event that started quite small on our farm at Bilpin. I"m SO proud of our baby now and looking forward to returning annually. I enjoyed helping out on the Country Farm Perennial stand from Victoria. They were flat out on Saturday. It didn"t stop me sneaking off and buying though! I"m planting a "hot" border so added some spectacular Dahlias, my current fave. Also thrilled to find Cornus alba "Westonbirt" from Antique Perennials. Lovely to see you there on Saturday and glad you were able to enjoy the day! Deirdre

3/11  Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 11 April 2016

Thank you for your wonderfully comprehensive review! I heartily concur with your comments - it is an event not to be missed, and congratulations to the new organisers. I did intend to limit my acquisitions, but, as usual, I was tempted by the many unusual specimens on offer. All plants were very well grown and presented. Thanks, Margaret. I just do not know how I missed seeing you there! Deirdre

4/11  Judith - 2539 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 11 April 2016

Your description of the Plant Fair is beautiful. It made me feel that I was there. It is lovely to read about gardening and plants as well as gardening. I have to have Sallvia Mesa Azure added to my collection. The photos helped to share your experience with us. Thank You Deirdre Thanks, Judith. I hope you can find that salvia - it is very pretty. Deirdre

5/11  Su - 2093 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 11 April 2016

I too loved the Fair. Everything was almost too tempting and I had to be very restrained. Now of course I am kicking myself that I didn"t buy any salvias. The native bees love them, especially the blue banded bees. And I have just the right place for them. Roll on next year! My only criticism - the parking was a nightmare. My husband has to use disabled parking and we were never able to get there. Perhaps next year it will be more organised. Thanks, Su. That sounds horrid about the parking so I hope that will be rectified by the organisers next time. Deirdre

6/11  Pam - 2159 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 11 April 2016

I enjoyed the Plant Fair too. A special purchase for me was Nicotiana mutabilis which I have admired in friends" gardens. My only criticism was that no maps were given to visitors. I had a list of exhibitors from the website, but this did not have stall numbers. I love that Nicotiana! I agree a map of where the nurseries were located would have been helpful. When I got home I realised I had missed finding a few! Deirdre

7/11  Trudy - 2337 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 11 April 2016

This was the first time I have been but I loved every minute met some lovely people and stocked up on salvias hellebores and some gorgeous garden art. Will definitely be back!! That sounds fab, Trudy! Glad you enjoyed the day. Deirdre

8/11  Bren - 2540 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 11 April 2016

Yes I enjoyed the fair too, for the second time. I was more sensible with my purchases this year; I particularly loved some of the wonderful, bizarre and beautiful plants from South Africa. The variety of plants on display is simply amazing, I always think! I too was a bit more restrained this year! Deirdre

9/11  Janna - UK Monday, 11 April 2016

It sounds like you had a very successful trip, Deirdre. It seems only yesterday that I was last there, buying up for my garden, although clearly it was a year ago. I look forward to seeing photos of some of your new purchases in your garden in due course. Lovely to hear from you, Janna. Hope all is going well for you. Deirdre

10/11  Jan - 2130 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Loved the day. Every plant you could imagine beautifully displayed in a pleasant spacious setting, gorgeous weather, places to sit with friends, and this year you could even drive to the plant-minding pickup area. Agree the stallholders list was helpful, and a map would have been even better. All in all an annual event not to be missed. Great you had such a good day! Deirdre

11/11  Helen - 7256 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Reading your blog almost like being at the fair. Great that all these plant lovers are keeping a wide range of plants available - a needed antidote to the rows and rows of this years fashion favourites at the Garden Centres. Rosa mutabilis is a favourite of mine too. I had it in my garden years ago but it didnt thrive in the relative cool & wet here. In bloom it reminds me of butterflies! Thanks for your comment, Helen. The rose is already flowering and you are right, the flowers are like beautiful, fragile butterflies. Deirdre

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