Cuttings: The trouble with Agnes

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The Independent Online
Next Saturday the Kew guide Eric Taylor will lead a Cooks Tour round the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, highlighting the unusual food plants that flourish in Kew's hothouses. Bananas, coffee beans, tea plants and Caribbean star fruit all grow in the Palm House. Kew could also supply the highly nutritious durian fruit, native to Malaysia and Indonesia - if anybody ever wanted it. Usually they don't, because it smells so terrible. Saturday's tour leaves from the Victoria Gate visitor centre at 11.30am and will be repeated on Wednesday 25 February. For details of other themed tours, contact Kew on 0181 332 5633.

A little while ago I wrote about the `Agnes' rose in our garden, which had had 15 years to get its act together and had failed miserably. I never saw a single one of its big, double, amber-yellow flowers, and finally dispatched the bush to the bonfire. Lavena Hawes has the same problem. "My courtyard garden in central Cambridge is packed with plants," she writes. "I have about 15 different roses, including the rugosa rose `Agnes'. She was planted in 1986 in memory of my mother, next to `Mme Isaac Pereire' and `Alfred de Dalmas'. They flowered with gay abandon again this summer but `Agnes' has only ever had one bloom in the whole of her life.

This year she had three buds, but they just turned brown and dropped off. So do I follow your example and give her a quiet burial? I haven't any room to plant her elsewhere." Space in a small garden is too precious to waste on no-hopers. My answer is an unequivocal "Yes".

Weekend breaks for gardeners are on offer at the The Swan Hotel, Southwold, Suffolk, well within reach of some of the area's finest gardens. During the weekend you can visit Mark Rumary's fine garden at Yoxford, a garden designed by Lanning Roper at Orford, and Lord and Lady Tollemache's acres at Helmingham Hall. There will also be a champagne welcome at Michael Loftus's excellent nursery, Woottens of Wenhaston. For full details of this and other gardening breaks in July and September, contact Dudley Clarke at The Swan (01502 722186).

Visiting gardens in France has never been easier, thanks to the Channel Tunnel. Within hours you could be wandering beside the newly planted ponds of the Manoir de Pontgirard, admiring the strictly regulated design of Mme Wirth's garden at Chateau de Brecy, swooning over the swaths of colour planted by Mme de Carpentier in the walled gardens at Chateau de Canon and checking out the fruit at the Jardins des Plantes in Rouen. Details of these and other Normandy gardens are available from the Normandy Tourist Board, The Old Bakery, Bath Hill, Keynsham, Bristol BS18 1HG (01179 860386).

Agriframes made its name with metal arches, trellises, pergolas, bowers and fruit cages for gardeners, but its mail-order catalogue wanders much deeper into gardening territory. It offers tool lockers and tip bags, boots and bamboo screens. Agriframes also sells spun polypropylene fleece, warm, permeable and translucent. Use it to protect the heads of bay trees or tree ferns during winter. Or set it over young seedlings to protect them from attack. A roll of fleece 40ft x 5ft costs pounds 10.25. For a copy of the mail-order catalogue, contact Agriframes at Charlwoods Rd, East Grinstead, West Sussex RH19 2HG (01342 310000).

Marceline Siddons set up The Conservatory shortly after she had finished her botany degree at Cambridge. She wanted to supply not just conservatory plants, but also the right kind of advice on how best to grow them. So if a plant is a martyr to red spider, she doesn't hide the fact. But if she thinks it is worth growing anyway, she'll tell you that as well. The most recent catalogue produced by Ms Siddons and her husband, Chris, lists nine different kinds of abutilon and five acacias. She also has maurandya, which I grew on the south front of the house this summer. Too much leaf to flower was my verdict; however, that might change if the plant were grown in a conservatory, and kept dryer and hungrier. For enthusiasts, there are 13 different kinds of citrus and 15 bougainvillaeas.

The Conservatory at Gomshall Gallery, Gomshall, Surrey GU5 9LB (01483 203019) is open Mon-Sat 10am-5.30pm and Sunday afternoons from April to the end of September. Plants can also be sent by mail order.