Sunday, 12 April 2015

The Great Comp Spring Fling,
and The Lump of Green

Glorious sunshine, albeit a bit chilly with a gusty breeze, for this morning’s plant fair at Great Comp. Such a fabulous setting, particuarly in spring, when the burgeoning borders and the upper layers bright with camellias and magnolias charm you to a state where you feel able to smile with benignant forgiveness even upon the ghastliness of of the folly-like mock ruins which are a the only jarring feature of this garden. In a few weeks time, drifts of hellebores in the woodland garden will be succeeded by the epimediums and geraniums mac that are gathering strength, while in the more formal areas paeonies thrust purposefully through the soil, rich with deep red hues and the promise of things to come. It’s a great time of the year to experience a mature garden, especially one as well planted, curated and maintained as Great Comp, and the Spring Fling is certainly worth making the effort to get to if you find yourself within striking distance of North Kent toward the beginning of April.

We arrived twenty minutes after opening, to find the first two car parks full and a good crowd already picking their way around the various nurseries’ stalls, spread out on the square and lower lawns. Louise (she of Rude Border fame) met us on the steps between the two sections, clutching our goddaughter Jenny in one hand and a giant pot of alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) in the other. The plan is to get this to colonise a shady area of the garden – it looks like a beast, so I’m sure she’ll have no trouble there, although to be honest it was happily romping away down by the railway line in Rye in full sun when we were there earlier in the week.

Jenny had secured for herself a rather pretty pot of muscari, which is destined for the rockery. Another colony in the making there, for sure. This came from the well-stocked stall of Rose Cottage Plants, on which I also spied the splendidly odd Campanula 'Pink Octopus'. It was on this stand that I first encountered Persicaria 'Red Dragon', which I love, though have yet to plant.

Muscari 'Bling Bling'

Persicaria 'Red Dragon'

Campanula 'Pink Octopus'
I’m always keen to see what Madrona Nursery from Bethersden have brought with them, having still not managed to get to the actual nursery, in spite of it being only an hour or so away. They always have something which has me reaching for my wallet and, today being no exception, I found myself enamoured with a pot containing a lump of purest green. A perfect, verdant dome, I was hooked on this firm, moss-like cushion, and Scleranthus uniflorus was coming home with me. It’s an evergreen ground cover plant from New Zealand, commonly known as Knawel Cushion, and my instincts are telling me will suit a free-draining growing medium, perhaps planted together with a range of alpine plants. Which is just as well, as the next thing to catch my eye was the diminutive-leaved Roaulia australis, another mat-forming apline native to New Zealand. Two plants, then, to add to my haul from Madrona – I made my escape at this point, though not before casting a longing glance at Ranunculus ficaria 'Brazen Hussy'. Surely I’d be nuts to introduce another lesser celandine to my garden when then native variety does so well? I walked away.

Scleranthus uniflora
Raoulia australis
The sheer variety of succulets from Blueleaf Plants was staggering – aloes, haworthias, crassulae, echiveras, graptopetalums, aeoniums to name but a few. Quite rightly the stand was attracting a huge amount of interest – the interior design world seems to have gone mad for succulents, and you can’t open a magazine at the moment without finding glossy lifestyle photos of terrariums or box frames planted with them, the examples on show today being beautifully executed. It’s also interesting to note that Fiona and her team offer a green roof service from their offices in Warehome, on Romney Marsh.

At this stage I cast about with no luck for Pineview Plants, probably the closest nursery to Great Comp with the exception of Dyson’s Nursery in the grounds themselves (run by the curator of the garden, William Dyson, and specialising in salvias, alongside some rather choice hardy and half hardy perennials – worth a visit in its own right). Pineview will be at the RHS Great London Plant Fair later this week, so I imagine they’re busy getting things together for that. I’ll have to catch them later in the year.

Several times I strolled past the stand with a sign bearing the legend “Usual and Unusual Plants”. It seemed to have an inordinate variety of bronze leaved specimens of all different description among the plants on offer. This is a colour for which I have a particular weakness – ideally as a foil to green, though if I’m not careful I shall be over-run with the things. I was tempted by rather fine primula (if I’m honest, I’m a bit fuzzy as to where primula finishes and auricula begins – something I need to look into, as a matter of urgency), then a dicentra – in the end, the charms of Ligularia dentata 'Osiris Fantasie' proved too much to resist. Surely this will be just as delicious to slugs as the L. dentata 'Desdamona' I planted last year. We shall see.

Still on the subject of bronze plants, I thought I’d resisted Brazen Hussy. The crafty little celandine caught up with me while discussing a selection of alpine sedums with Philip Johnson of Johnson's Sweet Peas – we needed one more plant to reach the five-for-a-tenner mark, and the rest is history. I can’t wait to unleash it in the garden (you may remind me of that in a year or two, when it’s become a bronzed menace).

Ranunculus ficaria 'Brazen Hussy'
Sedum album 'Coral Carpet'

Sedum spathulifolium 'Purpureum'
Altogether a goodly haul...but my favourite has to be the lump of green.