Gardening Blog: Plant Heritage Fair in Highgate boasts plenty of herbaceous treats

Redmond's Hardy Plants

Redmond's Hardy Plants - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Plant Heritage’s spring and autumn plant sales in Highgate are always interesting because the plants are good and the nursery growers really know and love their stuff.

Dan Redmond & his son Dan who run Redmond's Hardy Plants

Dan Redmond & his son Dan who run Redmond's Hardy Plants - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Peter Lloyd, who organizes the sales, invites nurseries that are as local to London as possible. For years now, we have been featuring one of them each summer. This time it is Redmond’s Hardy Plants, a family business set deep among the twisting rural lanes of North Essex.

It is a beguiling set-up. On a site of about fourteen acres the two Dan Redmonds, father and son, produce herbaceous plants, keep a few hens, some Gloucester Old Spot pigs, have a vegetable patch, an orchard, a mini arboretum, and maintain the prettiest of compost heaps. However, they do not sell from the nursery, being quite busy enough with the growing and the plant fairs they contribute to throughout the season.

“There won’t be much to see,” the younger Dan Redmond had warned me beforehand. But in fact there was plenty to see and enjoy, starting with the show plants in big terra cotta pots set out near the potting and propagation shed, amongst which bees were alighting on the vivid red flowers of Salvia “Royal Bumble”, and on those of Bog Sage, Salvia uliginosa. Bog Sage, says Dan, does fine in dry conditions, despite its name. Its blue and white flowers are held on tall elegant stems, which were waving above the pale lemon yellow petals of Coreopsis “Moonbeam”.

The shed itself is a remarkable construction, an old Nissen hut saved from an industrial site in Dunmow, with windows let into its curving sides, leaving a slit big enough for the bluetits to nest in. All sorts of wild creatures frequent the nursery, some more welcome than others. Near the shed stands the first of the decorative compost heaps, on which throwaway plants go on to flourish, including a huge cabbage ringed with prettily flowering catmint and purple leaved tradescantia. As we walked on from this arresting sight Dan Redmond Senior spoke of how his Loughton-based grandfather had got into the nursery trade as an extension of his success with chrysanthemums at flower shows. The family had helped him turn a hobby into a business producing about 30,000 chrysanthemum plants a year.

Redmond Hardy Plants moved to its current site in 1976, but from the height and girth of the dawn redwoods, walnuts, beeches, pines, American oaks and other trees the family has planted since, you might imagine they had been there longer. The soil is poor, “it’s more or less like this,” says Dan, scuffing the gravelly path we were walking along, but the trees must have found something to their liking lower down. The herbaceous plants, however, are all grown in compost brought in for the purpose.

We reached the stock area where plants in pots stand on ground covered with black light-excluding membrane, sheltered on the windy side by leylandii hedging. To both Redmonds it looked empty. Earlier in the season, they said, this was a sea of colour. But actually there was still a fair sprinkling of herbaceous plants in flower; various salvia, gaura, verbena, coreopsis, rudbeckia, echinacea, inula, lychnis, astrantia, etc. For the Plant Heritage sale on Saturday, 6th September they will be bringing a selection of these and whatever else is looking as though it might tempt the gardeners of North London.

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The Plant Heritage Autumn Plant Fair, Sat. 6th Sept., 10.00 am – 3.00pm, St. Michael’s School, North Road, Highgate, N6 4BG

Also on Sat. 6th Sept., Muswell Hill ( and Hampstead Garden Suburb ( Horticultural Society Autumn Flower Shows

Derry Watkins Special Plants

I can’t pretend that Derry Watkins’s nursery and garden are local to London, but her popular stand at the recent Grow London Fair in Hampstead perhaps gives her honorary local status. Special Plants is down a long grass-grown lane seven miles north of Bath. There, eighteen years ago, Derry and her architect husband, Peter Clegg, bought a derelict barn and some sloping land, which they have transformed.

Derry’s nursery is famed for its unusual, specialist plants and the garden is full of interest, excitingly laid out and with wonderful “borrowed landscape”. Walking around it is an education – actually a shaky one unless you have correctly married up the plant list and plan with what is in front of you. My companions and I were not sure that we had, and spent an agreeable hour admiring and pondering.

Derry, an American, was already a plantswoman when she came to England in 1975. Describing herself as near-sighted when it comes to plants, she says she is happy to have Peter to do all the designing. As a gardener she started with vegetables, but once she had a greenhouse, “fell totally in love with tender plants”. But many of the plants she sells, and most that are growing in the garden are, necessarily, hardy. She also sells seeds and runs gardening courses. A very welcoming and stimulating place to visit.

Derry Watkins Special Plants, Greenways Lane, Cold Ashton, Chippenham, Wiltshire, SN14 8LA tel: 01225 891686

Nursery open 10am – 5pm every day, March – October

Garden open Tues and Wed in the summer (check website or phone up)