Thursday 14 May 2015

South Pennine HPS: National Collections and Favourite Plants from Avondale Nurseries

I have been wanting to visit Avondale Nursery near Coventry for a while. As luck would have it, Avondale, in the form of Brian Ellis, came to me, or rather, to give a talk at the South Pennine Hardy Plant Society last week.

Avondale is a national collection holder of not one but three plants, those being: Anemone nemorosa, Sanguisorba and Symphyotrichum novae-angliae, the new name for Aster novae-angliae. What follows are my notes (any mistakes are mine) on Brian's national collections, some of his favourite plants and some helpful tips in growing these in our gardens.

Anemone nemorosa
Also known as Wood Anemones, these are the first of Avondale's national collections. Brian has about 80 different varieties of these, though he grows them in pots as otherwise they tend to grow over each other. They like the shade, such as under a tree canopy, they don't like over-watering. You can put in them in the sun for show for short periods. Propagation is done in autumn, when you cut up half inch roots and pot these on. The cuttings won't flower the next year, but in the subsequent years you will get a bigger a plant with lots of flowers.

I particularly liked: 'Good Blue' ex Hazel Kaye with true blue flowers, Lucia with lilac-blue flowers, Ice and Fire which opens white then goes pink as it ages, and Glen Gold with it's yellow leaves.

There was also A. nemorosa 'Stammerberg' and 'Green Fingers' which he grows more for novelty. These are quite frilly flowers, and I thought the flower looks liked they had emerged from the leaves and retained some of the leaf in them. Odd, I wasn't sure if I liked, though I'm not really a fan of filly flowers in general.

We were also shown some Anemonella's, something of which I've recently started to develop a romance. These are apparently not easy to kill but they are slow to grow. You grow them like Wood Anemones. A. thalictroides 'Snowflakes', a delicate semi-double with pure white flowers, particularly attracted my attention.

There are a lot of Geums out there and apparently 15-20 a year are being introduced, which Brian thought might be too many. G. Rivales varieties like poor soil and grow at the edge of woodland. G. Tutti frutti one of Brian's seedlings, with wavy petals that he says changes every day, eventually flattening out.

I was very taken with G. 'Chipchase' which has ivory flowers with a greenish-white centre, sadly none available on the stall for me to take away this time around...

Astrantias were covered briefly, but of course beautifully. Brian named A. Venice which has a mid-red colour and a vigorous repeat flowering habit, as one of his top three varieties. Apparently the A. major ssp. involucrata types, such as 'Avondale', a white-pink with green edges, can take up to 3 yrs for flowers to get to size.

Eryngium Although these can be tall plants, Brian advises that these should be planted at the edge of a border and not in middle of border where they get lost. Eryngiums don't like being wet, but conversely don't do well in pots as they would need lots of water and feeding. So free draining, will dig it's roots in, got it. They need to be propagated from roots, not seed.

E. 'Dove Cottage Hybrid' is a bit different in that it creates a dome shape, rather than flowering on stalks like most Eryngium varieties. It can be very blue and apparently catches the eye of everyone who visits the nursery. The blue comes from being dry, so in a wet summer the flowers are much greener.

The second of Avondale's national collections. Sanguisorba's are very promiscuous, hence there being a lot of varieties available. These are propagated in Spring from root cuttings, though this isn't always made easy as they often just have tap root. They like the same conditions as Heleniums, that being moist in spring, dry in summer. Don't feed too much nitrogen as you will get foliage not flowers.

S. 'Ivory Towers' is one of his top three. This flowers for weeks, is very tactile and the flowers cascade gently. Plant it near path as it leans over, and not at back where flowers don't properly develop. Another feature, it dies well! And their introduction, S. 'Raspberry Coulis' also goes over well and keeps it colour even when you come to cutting it down in October.

S. obtusa 'Chatto' is low growing, whereas S. 'Martin's Mulberry' can get quite large, about 6ft (180cms) and is one you can see through. I really wanted the latter, but don't have room in the ground. I asked "are Sangisorba's ok in pots?" Sadly for me, a most definite "No!" Brian said that maybe I could grow low-growing Chatto in pots, but generally you cannot water them enough in pots and they simply don't do well.

For some reason I think of Phlox as a sun loving plants, but no, it turns out they like shade. Sunlight bleaches its colour and the flowers last longer in cool shade. It also likes good soil that doesn't dry out. Phlox is not susceptible to cold and will grow ok in areas of hard frosts.

If you want the best Crocosmia red, you want C. Mex we were told. And is much better than Lucifer as it doesn't fall over. A word of warning on C. 'Star of the East', it sends out runners and you cannot be sure where it will come up.

As a fan of H. 'Sahin's Early Flowerer', I was interesting to learn that Brian prefers H. 'Luc', which has darker and bigger flowers than Sahin. It certainly looked very handsome and I might give it a go when I can find some space. It was also interesting to learn that the common name for Heleniums, Sneezewort, came about because when the British arrived in the US, it was used it for snuff. So now we know.

Aster novae-angliae
Ok, Symphyotrichum novae-angliae... The third of Avondale's national collections. These varieties are split in spring, like a sunny spot and space with air so they don't get mildew. You can do Chelsea chop on these to delay flowering.

* * * * *
Not everything Brian talked about has been captured here. In part, I focused on plants that interested me the most. Although I like Asters (I'm sorry, but I can hardly get my tongue around Symphyotrichum) but this point in the evening I was slightly overwhelmed as there was a lot covered. Brian has extensive knowledge of all the plants he grows - it was a lot to take in! I'll just have to look forward to hearing Brian talk again in the future so I can learn more about Asters from him then. Brian knows a lot about his plants, and it's worth hearing.

Avondale don't provide a mail order service so you need to either visit them at their nursery in Coventry, at a plant fair, or when giving a talk to similar groups to my HPS. You can order plants in advance to be picked up when you attend a plant fair or talk, which is how I got hold of Miscanthus oligostachyus 'Afrika'. I was going to get Miscanthus nepalensis, but chatting to Brian on Twitter earlier in the day, he recommended 'Afrika' as being more reliable and with the best red foliage, turning earlier than most other grasses. I was sold. And will need to look out for him attending a plant fair near me so I can get hold of some of the other gems that I've discovered I need.

Oh yes, you can follow Brian on Twitter: @Avondale_Brian.