On Saturday July 2nd, my mum and I visited the Crocus Open Day. This was a new experience for me, although my mum had been to a post-Chelsea sell off previously so knew the ropes.
We had an early start in order to be at the nursery at 9:30 sharp as the gates opened. We were neatly directed to a parking space and made our way to the entrance, where we were greeted cheerily by Mark Fane, who checked that we knew how it all worked, and handed us our strips of stickers.
Let battle commence!
I was immediately struck by the scale of the operation: rows of plants stretching out in every direction. Some areas were clearly marked as out of bounds, holding collections of plants for orders. Beyond these, long paths passed between beds holding lines of plants, mostly well marked, and ready to be selected, stickered and placed on the path for the staff to pick up on their trailers and drive back to the collection point by the entrance.
Some of the pots had rooted themselves through into the ground beneath; we had an entertaining time wrestling achillea pots up from the bed. After removing a snail, and a few oxalis seedlings from our chosen pots, mum and I had begun proceedings with a pot apiece of achillea millefolium ‘Lansdorferglut’ stickered and placed on the path.
We continued to wend our way up and down the rows of plants, trying to keep track of how many plants we had already selected (counting the spaces on our sticker sheets!) and watching some often rather lovely accidental groupings regularly wheeled past us on their way back to base.
There were some rather stunning colour combinations on the ground too, whether deliberate or happenstance. I loved the pink flowers of these heuchera ‘Rave On’ against the blue steel sea hollies. I resisted the impulse to seize one of these eryngium, in the knowledge that I had two recently bought young varieties waiting to go into the garden already, and at least one seedling slowly emerging from seeds sown earlier in the year.
One of these heucheras was swiftly collared and stickered by mum, and later I rather regretted not picking one up myself as the pink flowers of her plant sung out against the deep purple spires of the salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ that I chose. ‘Rave On’ is now on my hit list for future purchase…
I made my first agapanthas purchase here too. An unlabelled plant, with four or five dark buds forming, which I suspect will be blue. Perhaps I should have picked up one of the labelled, or already flowering plants, as there was no discount for unlabelled plants or those not in bloom.
That brings me on to my only slight niggle of our morning at the nursery: having found our way towards the far end of the grounds, we were walking along rows of perennials that were much less advanced than previous rows. We wondered whether they would be cheaper, generally being small plants with some foliage but no blooms showing – some neatly clipped, where applicable, to an inch or two above the top of the pot – but alas none of the staff that patrolled that end of the grounds knew. I ran up and down the long rows, asking three or four of the bright-jacketed friendly helpers, but although they were all unfailingly polite, they all shrugged and apologised in their broken English.
At this point, I made something of an error of judgement. Having passed pots of the beautiful dark-leaved anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’ earlier with lofty white flowers floating above on their long stems – this the plant that escaped me at Malvern, being sold out by the time we came to make our purchases – I was suddenly convinced that the pots I saw here with small dark rosettes of foliage, and no sign of flowers, would surely be a bargain. Alas, when the time of reckoning came, my small anthriscus cost me just what one of the bigger flowering ones would have, being in the same sized pot (2L we eventually worked out). I almost ran back to the start at that point to see if there were any of the flowering ones still unclaimed, but two hours had elapsed by the time we reached the “checkout”, and it seemed rather churlish. It will catch up in time, and still seems a good healthy plant – and probably travelled better than a tall specimen in bloom.
Having made our selections, and sent all our potential purchases off back to wait for us (somewhat anxiously, as last year somebody stuck their own sticker over one of mum’s and she lost a poppy that was rather wonderful. Too wonderful, apparently, for some unscrupulous beggar to keep their hands to themselves, alas), I convinced mum to wander around the shrub section with me, speculatively looking at hydrangeas.
I fell head-over-heels for a hydrangea paniculata ‘Bombshell’ with delicate flower heads of palest green and cream nodding over a good frame of stems and leaves. This was at catalogue prices, and blew my allotted budget for the day’s purchases, but after a small cooling down period, I still couldn’t resist. I carried it back to the pick-up area, where we found our collections of plants neatly grouped in trays, and a very helpful member of staff was immediately on hand to price them up and take payment, before another friendly chap wheeled them all to the car for us.
As we got back to the car, I found a text message from my husband on my phone: “cue subliminal message: we do not need any more plants, I repeat, we do not need any more plants”. I laughed and sent my reply “too late, budget spent!”.
A very enjoyable morning, and one I would certainly repeat: their system worked really well, it’s lovely buying plants without having to haul them around with you – although of course it does invite you to buy more than you realise – and there was always a member of staff in the vicinity, although it would have been nice if they had been a little better informed on the plants and pricing.
Driving back with mum, and later storming along the M4 back to South Wales, the achillea and salvia were nodding gently in the rear view mirror (with the parcel shelf relegated to the floor to make room), and I couldn’t help but smiling at their beautiful pinks and purples. I’m sure they are going to bring us a lot of pleasure here too, along with the other handful of plants I brought back, most of which are currently waiting patiently in their pots.