Showing me one...and then asking if I might 'like' a copy of the Woottens of Wenhaston Plantsman's Handbook is akin to offering me chocolate, I am never going to say 'No, not really.'
I had never even heard of Woottens of Wenhaston and thought Plantsman's Guides, as in a very beautiful and informative catalogue of every plant the nursery sells, were a thing of the past, their demise hastened by the rise of the internet. The nursery was established in 1991 by the late Michael Loftus (also known for Neal's Yard) an innovative, idiosyncratic businessman; a maverick whose love of gardening eventually won his full-time attention and gained Woottens a reputation for high quality plants.
This book is a thing of pure beauty, plant descriptions interspersed with exquisite illustrations and all laced with information and wry humour, much more than a catalogue, really a vade mecum for any budding (sorry) plantsperson like me.
I have been looking up some of the plants I have ready and waiting for this year.
I have two Auriculas...just the two so far (thank you Carol, they are wintering nicely) but I plan more and if I end up with anything looking even remotely like this I will be thrilled...
Then there is Hesperis (Cruciferae), which I grew from seed last autumn..
'Sweet Rocket has been grown in England since the beginning of the 16th century. One of the six best cottage garden plants...should be planted in great swathes...
Well I have planted mine in amongst Honesty and Ammi Major in the hope of great mixed swathes..
'The plant was apparently the favourite flower of Marie Antoinette. At the end of her life when the queen was waiting in a squalid prison for the guillotine, the prison's concierge risked her life and brought to Marie Antoinette bunches of Sweet Rocket.'
Of Nigella, some of which I also sowed in the autumn in an attempt to steal a march with some early flowers this year..
'"Love in the Mist" was first introduced into England in about 1570. The Latin name Nigella is a referenec to its black seed. In the 18th Century with its passion for regularity this fairy beauty was considered a curiosity rather than a beauty...'
With any luck mine will flout that and be a hazy mist of beauty in amongst my sea of Aquilegias.
All we can be grateful for is that Woottens is 359 miles and a six hour drive away (get thee behind me mail order) so I can't be in there every five minutes coveting. Mind you, Anna Pavord apparently drove for seven hours to shop there, but in any case danger for me lies much nearer to home.
Interestingly I had come across an old catalogue for our very local nursery, Endsleigh Gardens, in the village archive. Endsleigh an old-fashioned nursery, only five minutes along the lane and to be passed on every journey west. I lived at Endsleigh last summer. Not only looking at all the plants as I pondered what I might like to grow, but also asking advice, and when my 120 Lavender 'Munstead' seedlings suddenly required 120 pots they very kindly heaped my car boot full of them, and for free.
Whilst garden centres proliferate, true nurseries seem to be a rarity. Endsleigh must have originally been the Duke of Bedford's walled garden producing food and flowers for Endsleigh House and a wander around it revealed plenty that I had missed in the past.
Miles and miles of brick walls all bearing every pock and dent of nails and supporting wires hammered in over several hundred years..
...and then I start wondering how on earth all the bricks got there in the first place... an army of horses and carts trundling up and down the steep hills.
I can get carried away seeing the army of gardeners busy with the espaliered fruit trees on those walls and when I read, in Rachel Trethewey's book Mistrss of the Arts, about the Duke and Duchess of Bedford's sojourns at Endsleigh House, and that the menu included nectarines, peaches, melons, plums, gooseberries, raspberries, pears, blackcurrants and redcurrants..well just imagine it.
The walls are now being used in a twenty-first century way... a covered area and the heat from the sun-warmed bricks creating a miniature hot house
Truth be told we nearly lived right in the middle of this nursery. Over yonder the house that we almost bought twenty years ago, getting as far as a sealed bid which was thankfully passed over by the owner for a better offer.
It was nigh-on derelict but we fell in love with its setting and its three perfect children's bedrooms on their own landing, whilst trying not to notice the absence of a sitting room floor and the yawning chasm of a very damp cellar beneath. All well within Bookhound's capabilities to sort, but it was a Listed Building and the garden, having been designed at the same time as Endsleigh House, was also listed. No plant could be moved or cut back or removed without specific permissions, let alone re-landscaped with a JCB... poor Bookhound denied his favourite occupation. Saddened not to 'win' it we immediately found our lovely home just a mile away and all was well, especially the 3/4 of an acre that we now have to mess about in as we please.
So any plant nurseries up your way I should know about, and for which the bank is grateful I don't live anywhere near??