Thursday, June 14, 2012

The 'So I hadn't intended to buy anything at the Crocus sale' story

I hadn't intended to buy much at the Crocus sale - I really hadn't. I said so to my neighbour Ruth as we got out of the car. She just gave me The Look.
The first plants we saw were those that had been grown to decorate the Royal boats in the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant.

Ha! I thought. I am immune to roses and lavender, and no, I do not want a complete knot garden - despite the fact that it had been on a Royal barge.  (It was marked POA - price on application. If you have to apply to find out the price, you can't afford it. The sort of people who can afford it just say, rather grandly: "I'll take it!" and don't worry about how much it costs.)
It's not that I don't like roses and lavender, but they don't fit into my garden, which is a relief. It saves me hours of dithering over rose catalogues. The roses for the royal event were 'Munstead Wood' and 'Darcy Bussell', which were tempting enough, but on the other side of the enclosure were the roses grown by Peter Beales for Arne Maynard's Laurent-Perrier garden at the Chelsea Flower Show. These were Rosa 'Comte de Chambord', a lovely old rose that repeat-flowers (it's the parent of David Austin's 'Gertrude Jekyll'.
Incidentally, Peter Beales are holding their own open day on 23/24 June. It's their annual Rose Festival, held at their gardens in Attleborough, Norfolk, and it sounds like a great day out for rose-lovers.
Every time Crocus have an open day, friends email or Tweet to say that they're going. I never manage to bump into anyone I know, but on this occasion, I did encounter Zoe, which was lovely.
The layout at Crocus is quite straightforward, but they do give you a map to help you find things. Some of the plants are in polytunnels, and some are out in the open, such as this sea of salvias, below.

 There is always a huge selection of peonies at this time of the year (below) and roses. However, although it's a good idea to take a list of what you want (because in theory it will prevent you succumbing to impulse buys), you can't guarantee that the specific variety you want will be available. But that's the fun of a Crocus open day - it's a sort of horticultural lucky dip.

Some of the plants are either roped off or in a closed area (above) and this is usually because they are being grown on, or they are for a particular client. Of course, it's always the plants you can't buy that are the ones you decide you absolutely must have.
Some people ignore the red and white tape and just take the plants anyway, but I think this is bad manners. And there is so much else to choose from, in any case.

When you arrive at the nursery, you're given a strip of stickers with a number on them, and you simply put a sticker on the plant you want and leave it in full view of the guys going round with the trailers. They pick up the plants, take them back to the sales area and put them in a crate with the corresponding number. When you get back to the sales area, you simply look for the crate with your number.
If you think you're going to buy a lot - and especially if you're buying groups of perennials -  it's worth asking for two sets of stickers.

Then you find a trolley (which may involve a little walk around the car parks...), load up your plants and pay for them. Credit cards are accepted, and in my experience the total always seems to be less than you thought it was going to be.
So what did I buy? There's an old joke on the Scottish side of my family, where an Aberdonian visits London for the first time. On his return home, a friend asks him how his visit went. "Och," says the Aberdonian, in tones of great outrage, "I hadna been in London mair than twa minutes and bang went sixpence!"
Well, I hadn't been in Crocus for more than two minutes when I found myself buying an azalea and three banana plants. I followed this up with some dahlias ('David Howard') and a couple of ferns: Blechnum spicant. The azalea was Rhododendron 'Daviesii', which is just the most gorgeous thing - creamy white, with a wonderful fragrance. I'd bought one at the previous Crocus open day, so I just had to have another one.