Wendy and Ray Bates run a small nursery near Hastings and take a stall at the spring and autumn plant heritage sales in Highgate.

That's where I met Ray and arranged to visit them, ahead of this year’s Spring Sale which is on Saturday 27th April. Ray and Wendy both come from gardening families and knew each other at school in Hastings.

But with Ray off around the world with the Merchant Navy, always visiting botanic gardens on the way, and Wendy a professional linguist, it was a while before they married and started what Wendy describes as her ‘life of Riley, doing the plants’.

Ham & High: Rotherview Nursery bring their plants to Heritage Plant sales at St Michael's Highgate and Handmade in Highgate in South GroveRotherview Nursery bring their plants to Heritage Plant sales at St Michael's Highgate and Handmade in Highgate in South Grove (Image: Nigel Sutton)

Approaching the nursery during a lull in the constant February rainstorms (‘we’ve never had it this damp’) it was mud and huge puddles that were more immediately obvious than any easeful aspects of Riley’s life.

However, it was not long before wild birds and the many blossoming camellias made their benign presence felt – this nursery was formerly Coghurst Camellias. The soil, neutral to acid, is underlain by a mixture of greensand and ironstone, making it good for camellias.  Ray and Wendy still grow them, along with their main specialities, alpines and ferns. Increasingly, they are now growing perennials as well.

It was while she was standing near the wet open end of a polytunnel, tidying up small plants of the Japanese lace fern, Polystichium polyblepharum, that Wendy made that surprising remark about the life of Riley.Ham & High: Wendy says she's 'living the life of riley' raising plants all dayWendy says she's 'living the life of riley' raising plants all day (Image: Nigel Sutton)

Given the lack of luxury, what I took her to mean is that she and Ray both love plants, being with them, raising them, passing them on, and that running a nursery is better than any other living they could have chosen.

Nursery keepers, especially in times of recession, may not become very wealthy, but perhaps they are rich in other ways. To be always learning, working with your hands and mind, open to the company of others for whom plants are an endless source of interest and excitement is, arguably, luxurious.

The nursery’s website has pages of photographs of the alpines available, and a lot more general information.  As they mention, this is not a garden centre, they just ‘grow stuff’, but they also give good advice and run workshops.

As well as the Plant Heritage sale at St Michael's School in North Hill Highgate on April 27 Ray brings plants to the ‘Handmade in Highgate’ Fairs, with the next one running at the Highgate Institute, 11 South Grove, over the weekend of March 22,23,24.

Rotherview Nursery, Ivyhouse Lane, Three Oaks, Hastings.  01424 756228.  rotherview@btinternet.com


Try saving more rainwater – if butts are full, buckets or trugs could catch some, and be useful later.

Clear indoor spaces for seed trays, the seed sowing/potato chitting season is here.

Roots of perennials like crocosmia or various forms of iris can get huge – dig them up to split, share, replant.

Re-pot indoor plants that need more root-room.

Appreciate every moment of Spring, even the wet ones.