Gardening: Leahurst Nurseries’s mix of innovative and old school gardening is bearing fruit

paeonia cambessesdesii

paeonia cambessesdesii - Credit: Archant

Ruth Pavey visits the new thriving site and finds a wide range of plants imported from as far as South Australia.

Lyndon Osborn & Simon Milner At Leahurst Nurseries Arkley
© Ruth Pavey

Lyndon Osborn & Simon Milner At Leahurst Nurseries Arkley © Ruth Pavey - Credit: Archant

As I drive out of London heading for the M3, around Hanworth the road passes a melancholy sight, a considerable range of greenhouses falling ever more to ruin. It must be one of the family run nurseries or market gardens that used to encircle London. Will the next stage be demolition, redevelopment, goodbye to another fragment of London’s gardening past?

With this in mind, how pleasing to be introduced to another edge-of-the-city site, Leahurst Nurseries that is full of life – chaps, dogs, hens, bees, tree ferns, aeoniums, agaves, cyclamen, tulbaghias, pelargoniums, mud, uneven pathways, works-in-progress, old cars. It is set up as a traditional working nursery, where you need to ring to make an appointment, and the only scented merchandise you will be offered is living plant material - Pelargonium radula possibly, or Pelargonium tomentosum.

There are, however, aspects to this business that are not old fashioned. New Zealander Lyndon Osborn got into importing tree ferns as enthusiasm for them, and for the internet, were on the rise, and has since established a business that covers garden work and installation as well as supplying imported tree ferns, and growing many other plants. From March to November, he also holds a stall at Columbia Road market in Shoreditch. Needing more space, Lyndon arrived at Leahurst Nurseries when it was still run by a grower who had put in a working lifetime producing bedding and pot plants. After a while, Lyndon took over the whole nursery, although he lovingly maintains the old signboard with its red and green plastic lettering.

Lyndon was out on a job when I visited, so Simon Milner showed me round. Simon, whose role at the nursery seems to lie somewhere between right hand man/freelance nurseryman, got to know Lyndon through being a customer of the Columbia Road stall. His former job, as head of office at Westminster for an MP, did not offer much scope for his love of plants. But now he is “allowed to play” and certainly seems well at home at the nursery. Simon inherited his affinity with plants from his garden-loving parents, and talks about each with the care and attention that only those who fit the title, “plantsman“ can understand.

I asked about the wide range, varying from tiny erodiums to large potted magnolias. “A lot of them”, says Simon, “are rescues.” Rescued, that is, from gardens that clients have asked the team to go in and change. That might account for the odd tray of bearded iris, or the magnolias, or the pine tree in a shallow pot being trained into bonsai form, but the orderly rows of Pelargonium Lord Bute are there for a simpler reason – dark red and handsome Lord Bute is very popular. Few of the plants are labelled, so when people visit, the form is for them to look round, then ask about what takes their fancy. It it turns out to be a stock plant not for sale, negotiations can proceed for its offspring.

There are a lot of tree ferns, of various sorts, eg, Dicksonia Antarctica, Cyathea medullaris, Cyathea dealbata (the New Zealand silver fern) C. australis, C. brownii. Some of these can also count as rescue plants, because of forest clearance and development. The warhorse among them is Dicksonia Antarctica, which should be able to flourish in most London gardens. They arrive, mostly from South Australia, packed without roots or fronds in a chilled container, but water and warmth bring them back into growth. For North London gardeners wishing to visit Leahurst Nurseries the journey is much less arduous, in fact easy. Do make an appointment, or look out for the Columbia Road market stall from March.

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Leahurst Nurseries, 36a Galley Lane, Arkley, Herts EN5 4AJ 07946 303062