Specialist plant fairs can help you create a truly original border display

Want to buy some interesting blooms for your border? Emma Townshend shows you how to shop like an expert

I'm worried about the state of gardening in Middle England. I recently visited a village where all the keen gardeners opened their plots on the same day. The Norman church was full of gorgeous flower arrangements, profuse with peonies and Sweet Williams. Every plot was nicely taken care of, every gardener sweetly enthusiastic. But every plot was boring.

Here's my complaint: everybody grew the same plants – a mass of identical irises and roses – with nothing else in the running. A Viticella clematis on a pergola, sweet peas on canes, a red-leaved acer in a tub. It all sounds so nice. But in the end it wasn't. It was samey and uninspiring.

Only one garden, run by a self-confessed plantswoman, held any interest. Behind her high hedges, pale-green sea holly eryngiums ran through alliums beginning to form big globes of seed after flowering; bronze irises leant gently on ruby aquilegias and jewelled claret astrantias. Drifts of colour lit up in the afternoon sun. "Where do you get your inspiration?"I asked her. "Specialist plant fairs," was her instant answer. "I look for the name Derry Watkins, and if she's going, I go."

The names of specialist plants-people are like a secret code among gardeners: Watkins is hardly a celebrity gardener, yet her name can bring a delighted smile to the faces of those in the know. But Watkins isn't going out of her way to keep her work secret: her website, www.specialplants.net, is quick and helpful, listing all the events she'll be going to this year, including a new one at Cottesbrooke Hall in Northants. Or search out top-rated nursery woman Marina Christopher, another familiar, friendly face at good plant fairs.

You could, of course, visit either of these specialists at their own nursery. But a plant fair brings together a big group of like-minded growers in the same gorgeous setting. For me, the most tempting is at Bury Court in Farnham, Hampshire. It's not too far from the M3 or M25, tucked away in a village called Bentley. Just three or four nurseries take part, so it's a small affair, but one of them is Christopher's Phoenix Nurseries, so you can take that as a good sign. And after piling yourself high with unusual plants, you can admire the gardens, designed by both Piet Oudolf and Christopher Bradley-Hole. It's very English, but a million miles from nameless Middle England. How much more inspiration could you get in one day?

The next Plantsman's Day at Bury Court is on 30 July, 11am - 3.30pm. From 11.30am, Marina Christopher will give a talk on "Bees, Butterflies and Beetles"

Pick of the bunch: A guide to plant fairs

Cottesbrooke Hall, Northants

A new, ambitious event. Many big names in a lush Geoffrey Jellicoe setting, revitalised by James Alexander-Sinclair.

29 June, www.cottesbrookehall.co.uk

Thornhill, Dorset

A biennial extravaganza featuring local nurseries such as Avon Bulbs. Not to be missed.

6 July, www.dorsetgardens trust.co.uk

Chenies Manor, Bucks

Derry Watkins will be among the specialists. Famous and popular, so get there early.

20 July, www.chenies manorhouse.co.uk

RHS Hyde Hall, Essex

The RHS autumn plant fair is run jointly with the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens, so pop in and see the gorgeous dry garden at the same time.

13 September, www.nccpg.com

Read Emma Townshend's new column at blogs.independent.co.uk/independent/a_nice_green_leaf/

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence