This week the diary of my green fingered friend and my own aligned, albeit only for a few hours, so opportunity was grabbed and off we flew to Ruxley Manor Garden Centre on a mission to fill the garden with plants. Or rather that was mine. Luckily my friend was altogether more sensible and restrained…..
Our entrance was hindered, as it often is in stores such as this, with a varied selection of discounted but tempting wares.
“Spring bulbs. Look. Huge bags….really good value” my friend suggested.
“Done.” I said with a smidgen, I’ll admit, of pride that I’d actually had the foresight to purchase something at the correct time “I bought a good selection, albeit from B&Q, already.”
“Ok, so that’s done. Right. Heathers. What do you think of heathers for pots perhaps?”
I wrinkled my nose. “Mmmmmmm. I like those.” I said eyeing a pyramid of spiky looking plants sprinkled in what looked like snow. “I hate those brightly coloured ones that look like they’ve been dyed..”
She nodded her understanding.
“Ok. Pansies…” her arm swept past the colourful trays of velvety-leafed bedding plants. “Another idea for pots. But let’s see what they have, we can always come back.”
Having successfully navigated the promotional hurdles we moved on into the overwhelming centre ‘proper’ …..with its mass of Latin-ed foliage and flowers waiting patiently in line for my friends rigorous assessment …..and I felt a surge of gratitude for the companionship of my knowledgeable guide. Wisely steering me clear of the interior section, about the size of Ikea, and gently hurrying me past the enticing piles of exterior pots where I momentarily became waylaid, she led me to aisle one to commence what was to be a thorough tour accompanied by a Monty Don-esque running commentary. Her client however was the irritating type that thinks she knows what she wants…..not those tiny £2 pots of grasses for example. I was on the hunt for my ‘instant sculptural garden in a box’ ….without the budget to purchase it, mind….and I began by turning my nose up with snooty naivety at their smaller counterparts. Listening deafly to my friends assurance that the £2 pots would indeed grow I hmmmmmed an unconvinced response and onwards we went.
Next up was a gloriously contrasting display of huecheras….lime green, forest green, almost black and a beautiful bronze version called Cherry Cola.
“Now I do like these….” I admitted whilst my friend called over an assistant for some extra advice regarding Autumn planting.
“Shall I put some in my trolley?” I asked, eagerly.
“Let’s wait” she suggested “we’ll look around.”
Weaving through the foilaged aisles she stopped short, caressing the leaves of what she intriguingly called a Penstemon.
“Now…I’ve got these in my garden and they are beautiful. Just look at the flowers.”
I looked. They were pretty but they weren’t big and I was feeling a touch disillusioned. Where was my garden? Quickly I steered us over to the right where I felt a bit more in my comfort zone…..
“I need a few more herbs …..” I announced decisively and, tempted by an offer of four for three, we rubbed, squeezed and sniffed varying leaves until we decided upon a couple of Lemon Verbena, a curiously smelling curry plant and a flat leafed parsley, loathed by S but as my friend pointed out, not so by me.
Opposite the herbs sat another tray of special offers and here my friend was finally able to convince me by the Penstemons as well as picking up, as part of our three for two, a dark leafed Huechera.
Winding our way through the pretty aisles my confidence, now I had a few plants in my trolley, dangerously began to grow. As my friend dutifully read out the backs of labels to assess hardiness and gave me the run down on how large each plant might end up becoming I pretended to listen whilst sneaking unauthorised specimens past her and into the trolley. A white flowering shrub with a chocolate coloured centre. A tall wallflower with burnt orange trumpets. A smoke bush.
Fired up on retail adrenaline the knowledgeably recommended plants based on the requirements of my garden and its light and shade were unknowledgeably dismissed by me as being too blue “I’m not sure the flowers will go with the bluish grey of the walls?”, too cottagey and in my head though often not expressed aloud too small. Each time my ever patient friend would nod her understanding and move along to the next until finally I came clean and admitted my reticence.
“I’m really looking, particularly for those front beds, for some structural plants. You know. Something big.”
Flipping over the tag in her hand she laughed.
“Big? This grows to two metres. This is a garden darlin. Things grow. You want something instant don’t you?”
Meekly I nodded.
“Patience! It’s what gardening is all about. But come on, let’s see what else they have.”
We loaded up on a few beautiful grasses, a fern…accompanied by a word of warning “it didn’t grow anywhere in my garden…..they say it likes shade but for me it didn’t like anything”, a white buddleja, a few wallflowers and shrubs and we wavered, sorely tempted, by the Gladioli.
With trolley getting fuller and my newfound enthusiasm showing no sign of waning my friend attempted a call back to earth.
“How’s your budget going do you think?” she asked as I scanned the benches eagerly.
“Forgotten.” I called back catching sight of the climbers.
“Clematis…..clematis…..clematis……do you like clematis?” she asked as we traversed past plant upon flowering plant.
“I do actually….but I’d love something scented. A honeysuckle maybe?”
“Jasmine would be good” she advised, “now let’s see….”
A lime-leafed variety with white flowers was selected and on the trolley it went.
“Here are the evergreen honeysuckles” I said, “shall I get one of these?”
“By all means, but make sure you have sun. I get all of my neighbours flowers as it scrambles over the fence towards the sun.”
I picked one.
“Shall I get another?” I asked, arm outstretched in readiness.
“Maybe one will do?” my wise friend advised with a cocked brow.
“I’ve got a lot of fences…..” I argued
Again, she flipped over the tag.
“It spreads across three and a half metres……stick with one. You can always buy another at a later date.”
Acknowledging, finally, sensible advice when I heard it I took just the one over to the trolley accompanied by an audible sigh.
“By God. S will be pleased you are with me…..”
“Now,” suggested my friend having first scanned but dismissed all but a black-leafed dahlia from the clearance corner, “I think we should get everything off the trolley, think about where it will go and tot it all up.”
“Right” I agreed readily. “Ok. Dahlia. Pot.”
“Put it here” she indicated towards a space at her feet.
“Patio bed? Pop it there”
“What did you say?”
“Hue-kerr-ah. Darlin. Patio bed again?”
There is little hope for a girl who still says ‘foilage’ as if it were tin foil and I continued in the same vein.
“Wiegela” I was corrected. Nigella but with a V. “That’s a wall one.”
“Oh gosh, is it? How am I ever going to remember all this? Will you be available on call when I’m putting these in?”
Plant by plant, and to the fascination of fellow shoppers, the pots were extracted and arranged in their sections…. pots, beds, wall shrubs and climbers.
“Right. Now for the scary bit. Call out the prices and I’ll add it up.”
“In your head?!” I exclaimed impressed, mental arithmetic…along with gardening… not being my strongest point.
“Yep. Go for it.”
“Ok. £6.99. Say £7. Oooch. This one’s pricey. £14.99. £8. £8. Three for two so £16….”
And so we continued until we kerchinged in at £150.
“Budgets £130.” I said “and I think I still need a few more things. I haven’t got much for those two big beds….”
“Right. What shall we lose then?”
And so began a ruthless cull. Unsurprisingly most of the plants I’d snuck in without so much as reading the labels were ousted. All, that is, but the tall orange trumpeter who I felt, for some reason, inexplicably attached to. Having thus shaved about £50 off the trolley total we resumed our search with me feeling clearer about what was now needed. Another grass, maybe? Some of those vibrant huecheras? My friend convinced me that a lime green plant with blue flowers should make the grade, I scooped up a few of those £2 pots after all, ladened my friend with a couple of trays of pansies then felt myself surveying the aisles again in panicked supermarket-sweep style desperation.
“Darlin. There’s always Spring. And with Spring comes another budget…..”
We were done.
With time ticking to nursery pick up we quickly packed up the car, the till having rung in at £30 over budget (for me that’s practically under) and whizzed home to unload.
Thanking my friend profusely she gave me one last piece of advice.
“Don’t leave it too long before you get them in darlin, and remember not to plant too close. Give them space.”
“Pleasure spending money with you…..” she called and off she went, back to her own beautiful garden…..