21st Century Plantagenets


Seventeen years ago a pair of BBC reporters, Bella and David Gordon, gave up their London life and moved to a small village in the Loire Valley where they established a specialist plant nursery growing the dry-garden plants that the French didn’t realise they needed until the serious droughts of 2003-2005. At that point the chateaux, communes and municipalities started to give up their thirsty annuals and turned to Plantagenet Plants for the perennials that would transform the public gardens, parks and even the roundabouts of France.

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Their own garden is the testing ground for many of the plants they sell. Nothing is pampered and each plant must prove itself resilient to the heat of summer and the cold of winter.

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Today the wholesale nursery (not open to the public except for an open weekend at the end of September) supplies their plants to designers and communities throughout France producing 100,000 plants a year. Quite an operation for a couple who started with nothing more than some plants from their London garden. I will be telling the full story in the June 2016 issue of Country Living. www.plantagenetplantes.com

Rosebie Morton knows her Roses

Rosebie Morton knows her Roses

I recently had a wonderful day at one of Rosebie Morton’s Rose Days at her farm in a deeply rural part of Hampshire. She is best known as the founder of The Real Flower Company – the company that sends out the loveliest and most indulgent of handmade bouquets of fragrant roses and flowers – all grown on their own farms. Behind that public face is the wholesale business she has evolved to supply the roses, other flowers and foliage for her own company and the wholesale floristry market. The courses are run from her own house and garden next door to the flower farm.

bouquet by Rosebie Morton
bouquet by the real flower company
Real Flower Company
rose bouquet
bouquet by Rosebie Mortonbouquet by the real flower companyReal Flower Companyrose bouquet

Her story is very inspiring. As a young married woman she looked after the sheep on her husband Matthew’s farm – but small three children made this impractical so she decided to ask for a corner of one of the fields and initially planted 60 well-scented roses that in four years expanded to 300, then 1000 and then field scale – when she took over Matthew’s best wheatfield. It wasn’t entirely plain sailing – the soil is dreadful (she says if she can grow roses anyone can), established growers thought she was mad and her early attempts to deal with the Covent Garden Flower Market were very dispiriting because they cheated her unmercifully. Gradually as her knowledge grew she went directly to florists including Wild at Heart, Jane Packer and Paula Pryke who loved the natural appearance and rich scent of her roses. But she began to realize that the more delicate the rose, the more vulnerable it is to the weather and after a particularly traumatic event when a wedding order for 3000 roses was ruined by rain, the roses went undercover – these days there are 30,000 roses growing in polytunnels (the covers are removed in winter). These polytunnels are surrounded by row upon row perennials, shrubs, herbs and annuals that are used in the bouquets and sold to wholesalers, including one supplier at Covent Garden who had the wisdom to recognize a good rose when he saw one.

fields at the rose paddock
more rows of plants at the paddock
rows of perennials
fields at the rose paddockmore rows of plants at the paddockrows of perennials

Our day started with coffee in Rosebie’s garden, sitting round a table decorated with jugs full of beautiful, very fragrant roses which Rosebie used as an introduction to our day. She has a lovely easy manner when sharing her knowledge and by the time we were walking through the paddocks of flowers we were firing questions at her and keenly listening to her answers. I liked her anecdote about Chandos Beauty – the rose she describes as her perfect child because it has all the virtues of fragrance, form, colour and upright habit that are needed for a cut rose – her description has resulted in her frequently being asked for rose Perfect Child. I came away with Margaret Merrill as my personal favourite – I can’t imagine why I haven’t grown it before. I love its soft champagne colouring and the way it opens from a perfect rosebud into a gently double flower that reveals its prominent stamens – and a delicious tea rose fragrance.

Margaret Merrill

Margaret Merrill

Chandos Beauty - aka Perfect Child

Chandos Beauty – aka Perfect Child


Rosebie Morton

Rosebie Morton

As well as enchanting us with numerous wonderful roses, Rosebie dealt with the practicalities of planting, feeding, growing and pruning – describing in detail, or demonstrating, so that we all left wiser by far – and with a wonderful bunch of roses to remind us of a very special day.
Oh, and there was a delicious lunch too.
Courses cost £145 and can be booked at www.rosebiemorton.com

flowers in vase

What I did with my roses when I got home – with added flowers and foliage from the garden.

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The air is full of the scent of roses.


Poppy Paradise

Poppy Paradise

gem coloured poppy
Last year I begged a few seedheads of a dark flowered poppy from a friend in Devon and scattered the ripe seed liberally around the garden. They must have loved the weather this spring and have grown enormous and there are some wonderful variations. It will be interesting to see whether they repeat the performance in the future – I find they tend to revert to something more anaemic – but in the meantime I’m loving the drama of these flowers.flowering poppydeep red poppy