Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Delightful Bluebell Nursery

Staphylea holocarpa 'Rosea' - one of the plants we purchased,
our plant has plenty of flowerbuds already.
Yesterday has been such a wet and miserable day, with thick grey clouds completely covering the sky and the rain continuously pouring in, it's not exactly atypical of the British weather, in fact its the opposite and times like this you'll just have to give up doing things outdoors in the garden and do something else.

Perfect timing though, not that we were planning to do some gardening yesterday but rather we opted to take the time to drive up to Ashby de la Zouch to visit and collect a few plants I've had my eye on at the Bluebell Nursery.

Bluebell Nursery, with its rather misleading name, is actually an award winning, family run nursery that specialises in trees and shrubs. Many of their plants are rare and unusual, and a large selection of them were introductions from abroad by various plant hunters through the years. And as explained to us during the day, they don't actually sell Bluebell bulbs, nor do they have swathes of them in their arboretum in the spring, but the name was derived after the 'Bluebell Pub' which was the original access way to their first site many years ago. And they were also one of the first nurseries to buy their own domain name '', hence the name had to stick.

Knowing that this nursery actually specialises in rare and unusual trees and shrubs, I was really looking forward to visiting them, thinking of all the goodies I could find there!!

Now, as most of their plants are deciduous during the winter (and it is still winter here), the photos I've taken won't do this nursery justice as most of what you'll see are leafless stems and branches in pots, grouped neatly together in their polytunnels. For such a type of place, a visit in the spring or summer is much more recommended when the specimens are all in leaf and it'll be better to check out the plants properly before you buy them. But with a bit of know how, and a clue to what you want to buy before you visit, then purchasing whilst a plant is deciduous shouldn't be a problem. And being a friendly, family run nursery that do most of the propping themselves, they are very knowledgeable of the plants they sell, and the plant sales area is neatly arranged, which gives you confidence that whatever you're buying is the real deal and correctly labelled even if it is still leafless.

As soon as we arrived we were greeted by the owner Robert Vernon, who kindly took us around the polytunnels and showed us around the arboretum, discussing certain individual specimens including their provenance as well their overall performance planted out in the ground. It was drizzling all throughout our walk in the arboretum and we had to maneuver our way into the muddy paths due to the continuous heavy rain the night before. Despite the rain we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, talking about the plants and discussing what makes them unique and special. The arboretum was atmospheric and they have plenty of rare and one of a kind specimens there, definitely worth coming back to and seeing again in the spring, looking forward to it!

Daphne odora 'Geisha Girl' - a stunning specimen that illuminates its own spot. Daphnes are notorious for being too sensitive and can suddenly die with any form of root disturbance, even with the act of planting it out. But this one is apparently one of the exceptions to this and is a good performer.

Hedera pastuchovii 'Ann Ala' - an Ivy collected by Roy Lancaster in the Caucasus region, and named after his friend, the late Ann Ala. A gorgeous Ivy that looks more like an aroid than your typical Hedera.

Viburnum rhytidophyllum 'Variegata' - proof that variegated plants are not to everyone's taste, they've had this for years and they say that I'm the very first one to actually ask for it. The photo doesn't do it justice, it looks much nicer in person

Aesculus pavia 'Koehnei' - beautiful form even when leafless
Afterward, we were introduced to his wife and co-owner Suzette who took us in one of the glasshouses and showed us some of the plants that are not displayed on the main plant sales area, and gave us a glimpse of the behind the scenes operation of the nursery. There's plenty more rare goodies in this area and it made it even more difficult to choose which ones to get now and which to leave till later in the year.

The UK has had an exceptionally cold December last year, the coldest since records began and most gardens and nurseries were badly hit because of this. Their location has gone down to -18C on some nights, with some daytime temperatures not going above -8C. Only the glasshouse was heated to a minimum of -4C so the poytunnels experienced the same low temperatures as the exposed areas had. They have a few casualties dotted around (which you would barely notice until they pointed them out) but most of their plants look absolutely fine. So any plants we spotted looking healthy, having sailed through such low temperatures in an area that is significantly colder than ours, can be relied on for cold hardiness.

So what goodies did we go home with? A couple of the plants I've featured above, plus a few other bits and pieces, including two plants that I've spotted there that wasn't on my list but was instantly smitten the moment I saw it there:

Magnolia virginiana 'Moonglow'
Magnolia virginiana 'Moonglow' - our readers from North America might recognise this as the Sweetbay Magnolia, usually found in the east coast and is a new introduction here. I didn't recognise this as a Magnolia at first glance, I thought it was an unusual Eucalyptus (embarassing enough!). I just love love the colour and sheen of the leaves: green with yellowy tinge that seems to have a faint glow, but the best part is the underside of the leaves, very glaucous and silvery and incredibly tactile, like caressing a velvet cloth. I also love the potential habit and form of this plant, I've got the perfect spot for it already!

Mahonia gracilipes (Dan Hinkley form)
Mahonia gracilipes (Dan Hinkley form) - this a gorgeous Mahonia and very garden worthy, with it's bluish or pewter shade leaves and glaucous, waxy/chalky undersides to the leaves. We already have the original Roy Lancaster form introduced in 1980 so we acquired this different one from them which is from a later collection made by Dan Hinkley. Despite being the same plant, both forms are worth acquiring as they have distinction from one another, and both are equally attractive.

There was so many other treasures there that I had to leave behind, but another thing to look forward to on our next visit in the spring. Hopefully it'll be sunny and warm and can take lots more photos with bright light. So watch this space :)



  1. Dear Mark and Gaz, On seeing your posting of Bluebell Nursery I tried to work out when I first came across them and I realised that it was some 25 years ago at the Malvern Show in Worcestershire. It is an enormous tribute to the owners that they have maintained consistently high standards over this lengthy period and have always been able to delight and surprise with their new introductions. I am not surprised that you were tempted to buy and that you plan a return visit in the Spring.

  2. It really looks like a wonderful place and am rather impressed at their longevity in this terrible time of so many nurseries disappearing here in the US.

  3. I really like that last mahonia. I have a penchant for that soft bluish shade in plants...much more so than for variegated plants. There is a patch of bush on the road near here that I have been meaning to photograph. It is all eucalypt saplings that have regenerated after the bushfires two years ago. They are all this colour. It is on a bend in the road and a difficult place to stop ... but now I have seen this post I will make the effort of parking and walking back one day soon. That nursery looks fantastic and the people seem very dedicated and helpful. Lucky you!

  4. So many cool plants, some of which I have never heard of...and the fact that they have made it through -18C weather gives me hope that at least some of them might be viable choices for our rather frigid climes here in the American Northeast and Midwest.

  5. I'd guess seeing a nursery out of season is a good part of judging how well they look after their plants. I also imagine there is a special atmosphere when it is quiet which makes for an extra special visit.


  6. Edith, what a lovely thing to hear that you have come across them some time ago at Malvern. They are a very knowledgeable and dedicated couple and I can vouch that the standard of the nursery and plants are very high.

    Donna, it's the same situation here, with many of the smaller nurseries being affected by the economic downturn and closing down. I guess with them being in the business for so long they have made ther mark in the horticulture business here and has an established customer base which helps.

    Hazel, when you get the chance do post those photos, would love to see them :)

    CG, by them specialising in hardy trees and shrubs, most introduced from North America and from high altitude collections from Asia, they weren't affected by thehard freeze we had here, unlike some of the nurseries.

    I agree Esther, the rain can't be helped but it's a well arranged nursery with an adjacent arboretum that's well kept.

  7. Sounds like a perfect day. I love that ivy. And the mahonia. And the magnolia... Glad I don't have any room or I'd be tempted! I will settle for enjoying your plants vicariously.

  8. Hi Mark & Gaz, just the sort of place Myra and I would like to stroll round, preferably on a Spring or Summers day. The Daphne odora 'Geisha Girl'does look very interesting. There are some plants with variegated leaves which I am not quite so fond of, normally perennials.However it seems that a lot of people who are not keen on variegation also don't like bright flowers. Well you would think that an evergreen plant with variegated leaves would give the desired contrast which is necessary in my mind for a non flowering garden. Also liked the Mahonia gracilipes, very interesting.

  9. A visit to a good nursery is a perfect way to stay sane during grey winter days!

  10. I'm always happy to read your blog. It's nice to know other people are as throughly lost to the green buzz as myself. It seems even in the dead of winter I'm tending my "crops" and preparing for the next spring. I love collecting plants, and somehow there is always room for more. How this is possible when one lives in a limited space I don't know.


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