Garden Visit: Special Plants

Last Thursday, Threadspider and I treated ourselves to our first visit to Special Plants, one of Dan Pearson's favourite nurseries. Whilst it's not that far from us, for some reason we'd never been before and I can't really think why that is. However a combination of sighs of envy from Karen and Helen when hearing about our plans, plus the added attraction of nursery owner Derry Watkins' adjacent garden being open for the NGS, meant we could hold ourselves back no longer.

The garden's situated on a very steep slope, so 'good bones' had to be installed, whilst still allowing the extensive superb views over the adjacent farmland and valleys to be retained. What's emerged is a very sheltered garden, with a series of terraces, drystone walls and gentler slopes with plenty of room for plants, many of which are tender in their nature. This is the first view you see of the back garden as you emerge from the house.

At the top of the slope next to the house are very well drained areas ideal for gravel planting and many tender specimens. I was taken with the mixture of shapes and heights with combinations I wouldn't have dared try at home.

Surprisingly, there is little in terms of sculpture and ornamentation in the garden, but what's there earns its keep. Both Threadspider and I were very taken with this 'carnival of animals'.

Immediately below the gravel garden is a long border, crammed with plants and also box balls to add winter interest. The Nepeta edging ensured this part of the garden was abuzz with insects. Whilst we were admiring this part of the garden we struck up a lively conversation with a lady who turned out to be Derry's mother-in-law. This then led to us having a long chat with Derry herself :D

Not everything is terraced. There is a long, sloping section which hosts the Black and White border - Derry did a black and white garden at Chelsea a few years ago. As you can see, plants of other hues are allowed now! This border housed a fantastic Clematis durandii: it's most striking and wonderful scent followed us around much of the garden.

After a long break for tea and cake so we could just watch the changing light over the garden and fields, we adjourned to the very well stocked nursery, where the plants are set out by the kind of situation they like e.g. dry shade. There are many treasures to be found.

This Calceolaria 'Kentish Hero' was a new discovery for me and it looked like it had teeth! Not my first choice of plant, but I did come away with some Dahlia merckii - thanks to Constant Gardener's inspirational photos of her plant - and Rudbeckia maxima seeds. This latter plant was another discovery and as soon as I saw its tall (it grows to 5-6 feet), dramatic blooms (with a massive 3 inch long central cone) beckoning to me from its tucked away corner, it became an instant 'must have'.

Having broken my nursery 'duck', I suspect it won't be too long before I return again. Derry has been running Special Tuesdays, a weekly series of talks since spring, which still has a few weeks to go. It includes such diverse topics as seed saving, grasses and putting the garden to bed for winter. The garden's also open on Wednesdays and there's the final NGS opening of the season on October 15th. There's also further treats to be had over the winter months as Derry puts together the most impressive list of speakers for the Gardening Club at Bath University. Fergus Garrett's the first one she's lined up, scheduled for next month :)


  1. Special Plants looks like a great place to visit - but it's a bit far for me to just pop in, so I'd have to combine it with something else!
    Derry's garden is wonderful - thanks for sharing it with us.

    The calceolaria reminded me of a beaver! :)

  2. This looks like a really interesting place - must put it on my list for when I get home.

  3. Hi VP, not only a nursery but a wonderful personal display garden too? So much inspiration here, did you take copious notes? How lucky to have it so close, but bad for the pocketbook. And lucky for you and Threadspider to travel together to places you both find interesting, the luckiest of all in fact. :-)

  4. I love the sculptures - particularly the naked lady dashing through the euphorbia.

  5. We did have a grand day out VP, didn't we? It was especially rewarding having the garden open as well as the nursery. Very inspiring.

  6. a wonderful garden, sursery, cake and a chat with the owner - pretty much perfect. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Long Siiiiiiiiiiiiiiighs of envy coming from this direction too :) Did you see the article in the September issue of 'The English Garden'?

  8. P.S. I meant to say the article about Derry's garden?

  9. Oh you lucky lucky things. I am green with envy too. Must remind myself I have Bodnant and Crug and the Dingle and must not be greedy. Looks fabulous though.

  10. That's funny - I was there two weeks ago! R very kindly sat on a bench in the nursery with a book while I went round the garden, then he joined me for tea & cake in the house. It is a beautiful place, isn't it? I have enormous numbers of photos - will have to see if I can find some completely different views to put on my blog (or maybe it would be funny if I have exactly the same ones!). I fell in love with Dahlia twynings after eight in the black and white border, but they didn't have it in the nursery, so I only came away with a packet of Papaver rupifragum seeds.

    Thank you for your comment on James's blog, btw - I thought of contacting you before we were there this time, but I'm difficult to meet (because of my allergies - and also because I can't use the phone), and we didn't want to plan particular days in advance in case we found houses to view. I might be back in the area later this year so we might be able to meet then if you can cope with the allergies!

  11. I'm very envious - one of the women in my gardening group came back raving about the nursery. It's definitely on my to do list.

  12. Nutty Gnome - if I write enough reviews of local gardens etc. perhaps that'll give you an excuse to come down here on holiday!

    Petoskystone - it is and I can't think why it's taken 12 years for me to finally go there!

    TGG - I thought you might do that, especially as you've already covered quite a few of the Wiltshire recommendations I have for you :)

    Frances - copious photographs tend to be my notes these days, plus a blog write-up and links to put my general thoughts in place. I decided to limit the size of my purse (pocketbook) just in case. However, buying seeds is much more cost effective, although it's much more labour intensive further down the line! And yes, I am indeed very lucky to have found Threadspider as a companion and friend - via blogging!

    Arabella - I love her too, especially as she had a snail hat. I suspect she might crop up again in future posts!

    Karen - heh heh! You do however have Crug close by. Sigh.

    TS - we most certainly did. I can see myself getting a season ticket for next year...

    HM - it certainly was!

    Anna - no I didn't, but I did see the article in Gardens Illustrated earlier in the year.

    Elizabethm - I've been watching the series on Bodnant on TV lately as it's on my visit wish-list. I'm sure we could all play a game of Top Trumps trading off all our local gardens and nurseries we all like or want to visit!

    Juliet - what a coincidence and you were even closer to me this time than when you were in Melksham or viewing Heaven's Gate! I was going to write about that Dahlia - it's fab isn't it. You can just see it in my first photo dotted about on the horizon. It would have been the wrong time of year to buy it as you'd only get a couple of months pleasure from it. Best to buy some tubers ready for next year or when you finally find out where your new home's going to be :)

    Victoria - and when you do go, you MUST come and visit!!!!!!!

    PG - heh, heh, heh. That's a very evil laugh BTW. I'm sure you'll get your revenge this weekend when you go to Malvern ;)

  13. add my enviousness to everyone else's. I've wanted to see this garden for the longest time - this is a great writeup though so thanks for letting me enjoy it vicariously (sometimes the best way!)

    glad I've persuaded you with the Dahlia merckii - fast becoming my all-time favourite garden plant. I leave it in year on year, it's the only dahlia that gets past the slugs, it seems to be entirely hardy and it's now about 4ft by 4ft and flowering like it's going out of fashion. Gorgeous, gorgeous plant!

  14. What a great place to visit & shop! Grouping plants for sale by growing conditions makes a lot of sense. The closest I've seen around here is Sun vs. Shade plants.

  15. CG - I don't usually do flower seeds, the veggie ones take up all the room. However, I'm really looking forward to growing these :)

    MMD - it was great. I suspect a season ticket there might be on the shopping list for next year.

  16. The brilliant part of Derry's garden is how they have coped with the serious difficulty of the garden sloping severely away from the house, managing to 'anchor' it with hedging so that it doesn't feel as if it's running away from you.

  17. Anne - yes and retaining all those wonderful views too. You've reminded me about her use of Phragmites australis as a hedge as well - I must sort out my picture of it and post about it...


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