Interview with Colin Ward of Swines Meadow Nursery
Colin, thank you for agreeing to do this interview. It was great to be able to look around Swines Meadow farm nursery and of course the garden.
It is a quaint looking garden centre due to it's farming history, a place you wouldn't expect to find so many rare plants.
There is an individuality and local knowledge you get from visiting and independent nursery. Colin has created a microclimate on the edge of the windswept fens
Could you tell us about how you came to run a nursery?
Always had a keen interest in nature and plants and basically nursery started from gate sales and grew to become the nursery.
You always have new plants and some real gems that I only ever find by visiting such as the Viburnum awabuki. What are some of the rarer plants that you have?
Very keen on woodland plants and these probably make up the bulk of the rarer plants I have. There are a lot of plants in my own collection that I have still yet to propagate amongst them is Asarum maxima Silver Panda which is taking a painfully long time to bulk up for propagating.
Zantedeschia Hercules is also another favourite and I have a long waiting list for that one! Rare plants usually are slower or more difficult to propagate which is one of the reasons for scarcity fortunately too much hassle for the big garden centres/supermarkets to bother with. My stock patch grows bigger every year and it is impossible to list all of the plant gems I have.
There is quite a large variety of ferns this year (2013) and I am a big fan of ground ferns. What's your favourite and why?
Polystichum neolobatum is probably one of my favourites as it stays beautifully evergreen throughout the year and is very impressive in the spring when the new fronds are unfurling. I also love the Japanese painted ferns but these do require good moist shade.
You grow quite a few ferns in your garden that you often invite visitors to take a look around. What are some of the larger ferns people can grow?
Polystichum setiferum Bevis has got to be one of the main ferns that achieve a good size often growing up to a metre in height. Osmunda regalis is also very impressive especially if grown near water.
The last few years have been pretty poor in terms of weather and this has affected many borderline plants grown in the UK with longer colder seasons and lower levels of light. In terms of all year round evergreen performance and reliability what would you recommend?
Bamboo will come top of this list provided that it is grown in the ground and there are several varieties of bamboo that are not thugs so there is no need to be frightened of them.
Fargesias are probably the best varieties to grow. There are also some pretty good evergreen ferns as well the harts tongue and polypody ferns which are british natives are brilliant and will often set themselves in the garden once you have them.
There seems to be a lot of trends with gardening, Heuchersa, Heucherellas and Tiarellas seem to have been popular the last few years. What trends do you foresee and what gardening trends would you like to see happen?
Heucheras and their relatives are always very popular as they are mainly evergreen and provide all year round interest. Trends are very much driven by the media and if there is enough money behind a certain plant then it can become trendy. This is not necessarily the best thing in gardening and sometimes some pretty rubbish plants can be promoted to earn the fast buck.
The grow your own trend has built up over the last few years and seems to be peaking and leveling off. I would like to see more sustainable gardening going on and less of the so called easy maintenance gardening happening.
I hate to see big expanses of gravel dotted with the odd plant. This is not good for the wildlife and we need more green corridors in suburban environments. A good heavy planting and mulching is surprisingly easy to maintain and weeds are often out competed by doing this. I can weed my whole garden in a day with a hand hoe.
I hope that more people will veer away from the bargain plant sellers as I am a big believer in buying quality rather than cheap and cheerful then it dies!
Colin, you're a real plantsman and have a lot of knowledge and practical experience and are only too happy to offer advice to visitors. Are there any questions you seem to get asked more often?
Is it hardy?!!! Probably the most asked question and often the answer is just as hard to answer as I have no control on the weather or the conditions that a new plant that someone buys off me goes into. All I can do is tell them of my own experiences and whether it is surviving in my garden.
There are plants surviving in my garden that shouldn't be according to the reference books but my most important job in the garden is looking after the soil and providing a good founding for the plants.
In the east we have had pretty bad winters the last few years and many plants in this region have been hit hard. What plants have performed better than you expected?
I have been amazed by my Schefflera which has sailed through the last few winters. Also a new Digitalis (Illumination) has fared pretty well for me although I have heard that some people have struggled with it. Also my geranium palmatum has stayed evergreen and is busy flowering.
I must ask you about the green wall, it looks great, what made you decide to choose the plants you did for the green wall?
I chose Heuchera, Heucherellas and Tiarella for the green wall in the hope that they will be still looking good in the winter. This is a new style of gardening for me and I am still learning about it but I am pretty pleased by the results so far.
Thank you for taking the time to answer the questions. In a country dominated by the big garden centre chains it's nice to visit somewhere with character and some more rarer and unusual plants. Any final words?
Yes! Support British nurseries. If the onward domination by supermarkets and garden centre chains and internet resellers continues then choice will suffer and you will lose the nurseries and the experience of years of growing garden gems will be lost.
We have visitors to the nursery who are looking for a certain online retailer who is registered in our area, they only do the admin and buy in they are not interested in the plants or their ultimate fate and customer satisfaction. Nursery folk love their plants and what they do and you will get a far better buying experience it may cost a bit more but saves in the long run if your plant has a chance of surviving.
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