Our rarest plants?

The rare plant fair is soon upon us and to celebrate, we asked our Head Gardener, Dan, all about looking after rare plants!

Every year we host the Rare Plant Fair, bringing together scores of specialist plant nurseries all under one roof (or rather, on one lawn!). And every year I implore my mom to come along and take advantage.

Now, my mom is a keen gardener – and a skilled one at that – with a back garden crammed full of well-grown, free-flowering specimens. Yet, “Ooh no, I don’t do rare plants…” comes the reply. The implication being that rare plants are actually ‘difficult’ plants and not easy to grow even for an enthusiastic amateur.

So, it’s time to bust some myths – yes, I’m talking to you mother – and look at what the Rare Plant Fair really is all about.

Firstly, just because a plant is rare, it needn’t be an insurmountable horticultural challenge. In fact, many common-as-muck plants can be far more difficult to look after. Take orchids, for example. They’re grown in their millions every year, and sold everywhere from supermarkets to garden centres, yet few people are able to keep them happy, healthy and flowering for more than a handful of months.

Perhaps rare doesn’t equal difficult any more than common equals easy.

Here at Winterbourne, we look after the National Collection of Anthemis. Many of the varieties we grow in the collection are extremely rare indeed: we might be one of only a handful of gardens in the whole country growing them. But they’re usually only so scarce because they’ve gone out of fashion for some arbitrary reason – perhaps they don’t have a memorable name? They are very rarely any more difficult to grow than their more frequently encountered counterparts.

Besides, the Rare Plant Fair really trades in quality plants grown by expert nurserymen, who know exactly what they’re doing and will take the time to chat with you and advise you on your purchase. Some will be plants you can easily buy elsewhere, and others will be more unusual varieties that are harder to source, but the common denominator will always be that they are well-grown by people who care. In this instance ‘rare’ is just shorthand for quality.

So don’t let the word “rare” put you off and please rest assured that I’ve killed scores of plants myself over the years, irrespective of their exceptional status (not even the so-called experts get it right every time!).

Come along and see for yourself. If you love plants, then you’ll love browsing the plant fair and chatting to like-minded people who just love giving out advice and sharing their horticultural experience. You never know, you might even bump into my mom!

Daniel Cartwright, Head Gardener

Prebook your tickets to the Rare Plant Fair