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July 2011

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Tale of two lists

Rachel Darlington organises her plant-seeking

Every year I acquire a new array of plants. And sometimes, such as at Bloom or the Rare Plant Fairs, it's easy to get caught up in the moment and buy on impulse, rather than choosing what will do for our gardens. The result of such short-sightedness often is failure. It's awful to see purchases die because they are unsuitable for the particular soil they are in, or are in the wrong aspect. Worse still, is to have to discard healthy plants because they are too weedy. Besides, with money a significant consideration these days, choosing good plants has got to be the most important part in the whole gardening process.

I have taken to keeping a meticulous list of the plants I am looking out for. I carry it in my pocket. I always have the list to hand because you never know what you might come across in the supermarket or when you might detour to a garden centre. I do my research on the list-plants before adding them to it, assessing their suitability for my garden, and getting an idea of where I would place them. It's hard but I try not to deviate from the list.

Lists can be fun too and managing to track down some elusive plant can give a great sense of achievement. Without my notes, I would never have tracked down the fabulous Sanguisorba ‘Pink Brushes' to just around the corner from me at the Camolin Potting Shed. Occasionally, however, we all get a day-off for good behaviour and my day-off coincided with this year's Rare Plant Fair at Birr Castle.

But, taking a step back, not all plants need to be bought. The cheapest way to increase one's plant collection is by propagating from existing plants or seed-sowing. With a little experience now under my belt, before forking out money, I always ask myself the question: can I propagate it myself? Of course, not everything can be propagated and some things require too complex processes or are too slow-growing to make it worthwhile. But, with a little experience, you would be surprised at what can be done. From pulsatilla, roscoea and veronicastrum to arisaema and stipa, with experience and some patience, much is possible.

And that is my second list - a list of seeds to look out for. I don't carry this one in my pocket but use it to scour the internet in the cold months. With seeds I allow myself some leeway. I mean, a packet of seeds is cheap so I can afford a few mad un-researched purchases like Rheum nobile, the noble rhubarb, amaryllis relative, Leontochir ovallei. Besides, it's good to have some gardening fun in winter.

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