Tom Mitchell is a man in the grips of an obsession, with a wonderful turn of phrase and an interesting backstory, all of which have contributed to the launch of Evolution Plants his new mail order nursery specialising in plants he has grown from wild-collected seed originating around the world.
The website is a joy to read – hugely informative, extremely tempting and very funny – I can see myself becoming a regular visitor to the site – and a loyal customer. Tom is a trained biologist who veered off course to pursue wealth in the city and six years ago ended up clinically depressed and on ‘gardening leave.’ Pondering his future he googled ‘how to start a nursery’ and was led to the book ‘So you want to start a nursery’ by Tony Avent. Tony Avent’s advice could be summed up as ‘DON’T’, but Tom was undeterred and made contact with Tony who further underlined his message by telling Tom that every banker he knew who had started a nursery has gone bust.
“And so” says Tom “I embarked on the Sea of Insolvency in the hope of proving him wrong.”
For the past five years Tom has travelled the world, resulting in more than 3000 seed collections from temperate regions as diverse as the Balkans and the Caucuses, to northern Japan and the jungles of Vietnam. The seeds were sown and grown on in the nursery with (as he freely admits) varying degrees of success. Now the enterprise has reached the point where the plants he deems successes are saleable plants and we can embark on our own plant hunting as we explore his collection.
Tom is very much a 21st century nurseryman, fully embracing the social media and with a mission to inspire younger gardeners as well as established enthusiasts. I was fortunate enough to visit the nursery for a press event (it’s only open by appointment at the moment) and have already made my selection for my first order which with any luck will help Tom gradually navigate his way out of the Sea of Insolvency – where it has to be said he currently appears to be paddling around rather happily.
What am I ordering? Boophone distichum (great name) an extraordinary bulbous plant with twisted leaves that grow in a fan shape, possibly an October flowering snowdrop, maybe the shade-loving Iris gracilipes, a species hellebore or two…… this could turn into an expensive new habit.
My garden has many shady areas, and after years of optimistically thinking that my favourite plants wouldn’t really object to a lack of sun – and then watching them gradually lose the will to live – I have finally decided to embrace shade-loving plants. This was made much easier by a visit to Long Acre Plants – a nursery that specialises in them. Everything at the nursery is beautifully grown, brimming with health and offers the opportunity to make shady borders really interesting.
I indulged in Actaea simplex ‘Chocaholic’, Persicaria virginiana ‘Lance Corporal’, Deschampsia caespitosa ‘Bronzeschleier’, a lovely crinkle-leaved hart’s tongue fern Asplenium scolpendrium ‘Cristatum’ and Begonia sinensis ‘Red Undies’, so called because of the red undersides to the leaves. A number of these we used in my garden pot makeover here.
I called into the nursery on my way back from seeing the wonderful Penelope Hobhouse, the garden designer. Now in her 80s she said to me
“the wonderful thing about gardening is that you go on learning and learning, no matter how old you are.”
My most recent lesson is that shade plants may not always be as colourful as the sun worshippers, but planted in a shady corner they look twice as good as their straggly predecessors. The nursery is at Charlton Musgrave, near Wincanton and is just a few minutes off the A303, but it is worth remembering that their opening hours are very limited – March to October on Thursday and Fridays only from 9am-4pm and closed 1-1.30pm for lunch. If you can’t get there in person you can buy online from plantsforshade.co.uk
The Plant Company is an independent nursery in West Sussex with a great selection of high quality plants. They actively search out and trial new varieties to check that they are garden worthy. Definitely worth adding to your list of online nurseries.
Merriments Formal Garden
Sunflowers & persicaria in the hot garden
Arches in the style of Monet’s garden
Rudbeckia goldstrum and helianthus ‘lemon queen’
On my way past last week, I called in to see the gardens at Merriments Nursery
at Hurst Green in East Sussex. They were looking vibrantly colourful and I took notes in readiness for my planned replanting next year. If you are looking for colourful inspiration, good plants and a light lunch it is a perfect place to visit right now.