Desert Island Plants: Sue Gray

‘Seemed like a good idea at the time’ was going through my mind as I tried to come up with my 10 ‘Desert Island Plants’.  Several lists were started and discarded; I could not whittle my favourite plants down to 10 genera, let alone 10 individual plants.  Eventually I came up with a plan – the plants had to be those that I thought it would be difficult to replace and, in many cases, had particular meaning or memories attached to them.  This explains why there is only one anemone and no epimediums, erythroniums, primulas or penstemons, all of which I love, but I felt could be replaced by visits to specialist nurseries or plant fairs.  You might not be surprised to learn that, when I analysed the choices, many of them had come from David Barnes’ garden.  They are in order of when you might expect them to flower.

1 Cardamine enneaphylla

I apologise that the image of this plant is not of it in the garden but in a pot.  A big clump of this plant was lifted from David’s garden last spring and potted up into a number of pots, where it flowered.  At the time, because of the leaf shape, I felt it was probably a Cardamine, but did not know which one, so I took the photo to send to a knowledgeable friend for identification.

Cardamine enneaphylla

When the foliage emerges it is almost black and glossy; it slowly changes to green but carries lovely cream flowers.  I am looking forward to seeing this stunning plant emerge this spring in more than one area of the garden.

2 Anemone pavonina

Many years ago – probably about 15 years – Gill organised a trip to Ashwood Nursery, particularly in order for us to look at their hellebores.  We set off in some trepidation as there was snow on the ground – my husband thought we were mad! – but we arrived safely and, although because of the snow we were not able to go round John Massey’s garden, we had a conducted tour of the glasshouses where we saw the processes involved in breeding the new varieties of hellebore.  Needless to say, a number of purchases were made in the nursery, and although I did bring home one hellebore, I also brought some pots of Anemone pavonina which I thought were beautiful.

Anemone pavonina

The Ashwood website says that they originate from the olive groves and hillside grasslands of the Mediterranean, but they seem to cope with the edge of Ilkley Moor.  The foliage starts to emerge any time from September on, and the flowers follow from February – April.  They come in various shades of pink and red which can sometimes seem a bit incongruous in early spring, but I love them.

3 Paeonia daurica

Paeonia daurica has a number of sub-species, perhaps the best known of which is ‘mlokosewitschii’, or ‘Molly the Witch’ to you & me.  If I had more choices available to me, a pot of ‘Molly’ would definitely be in my removal van, but as I don’t, I will settle for this.  Again, a plant lifted from David’s garden, at entirely the wrong time of year, early March, when it was already in full leaf and bud.  Going purely by the shape of the leaf, I assumed that it was a plant of ‘Molly’ – although it did not have the characteristic pink flush to the foliage – so I was amazed when it eventually produced pink flowers.

Paeonia daurica

4 Glaucidium palmatum

I am very torn, if I can only have one pot of it, whether to take the white or mauve strain – they are both so beautiful.  I have been struggling to cultivate the mauve version for a number of years, to lesser or greater effect, particularly as it is an absolute delicacy for slugs and snails!  When I was told that I could take whatever plants I liked from David’s garden, I knew that this was a must.  Even though it was dormant at the time, and the garden was becoming overgrown, I could remember exactly where it was and immediately went to the spot where, lo & behold I found a label!

Providing that the slugs can be kept at bay, the fresh green foliage sets off the beautiful cup-shaped flowers, and I am entranced by it.

5 Magnolia laevifolia

This is the only shrub or tree in my selection, largely because virtually all the others that I have could be replaced reasonably easily and relatively inexpensively, but not so Magnolia laevifolia!  Having first come across it in a talk at an HPS event I eventually sourced it through a nursery in the south west and collected it when on a planning trip for our Group holiday to Somerset.  I don’t think it is the hardiest variety of Magnolia, and is not a particularly robust plant, but I am hoping that it will come through this colder winter unscathed, and flower as well as it did last year.

Magnolia laevifolia

6 Paeonia ‘Claire de Lune’

Another of David’s plants!  It is usually the earliest of my larger peonies to flower, and makes a real show.  We used it our Chelsea display in 2010.

Paeonia ‘Claire de Lune’

7 Polemonium ‘Sonia’s Bluebell’

Another plant that was used on our 2010 Chelsea display was my plant of ‘Sonia’s Bluebell’.  I was so thrilled to have one of my plants used on the display, and even more thrilled when Carol Klein recorded a piece about it for the ‘Red Button’ television coverage.  Apparently the plant was discovered in her friend Sonia’s garden – hence the name – and Sonia had helped Carol on her first ever Chelsea display but then sadly died the next year.  The last sentence of her TV piece was ‘so it’s nice to see Sonia back at Chelsea’.

It is a lovely Polemonium, emerging with dark foliage that gradually fades to green.  As she is a hybrid, and does not set seed, she is not invasive like other ‘Jacob’s Ladders’ can be, and after the first flush of flowers in late spring, will continue to flower, on and off, for most of the summer.

8 Campanula foliosa

Campanula foliosa

I first acquired this lovely plant from Margaret Denton but, apart from it being a Campanula, she wasn’t sure what it was.  When the RHS AGM was held at Harlow Carr a few years ago, I cut a stem and took it with me to see whether I could get an identification.  Obviously it did not like being out of water, so was not looking at its best when I showed it to a group of the ‘great & good’ of the RHS, but no identification was forthcoming – not even sure whether it was a Campanula!  It was left to John Grimshaw to eventually identify it for me, and since then I am pleased to have been able to give him a plant, as he had lost his.

It is so eye-catching with the vibrant mauve flower and seems to be happy where I now have it in fairly full sun, after trying in one or two other areas of the garden.

9 Dactyllorhiza

These plants came as a very generous gift from an HPS friend and I just love them.  I am not sure what variety they are – ‘purpurea’?  I have had them in the past but was greedy and lifted them to split, which they did not appreciate, so in many ways I would be reluctant to lift these, but I would have to take some with me.


10 Kniphofia rooperi

Over the past few years I have gradually started to appreciate ‘pokers’ more, probably because of the new varieties that have been introduced.  I cannot remember where I first saw K. rooperi, probably on a television programme, but eventually I acquired it at a Norfolk nursery that we visited on our Group holiday.  It took a couple of years to start flowering, but was well worth the wait.  Although it looks very untidy through the winter, I have usually left the foliage in situ, but a friend was helping me ‘cut back’ this year and all the foliage has been removed, so I am keeping my fingers crossed for this summer!

Kniphofia rooperi

So, those are just 10 of the plants that I would definitely want to take with me if I had to leave my present garden.  I think that, if all else failed, it would have to come down to 10 very large pots, each containing a number of smaller plants,  but that would be cheating – wouldn’t it???

All images courtesy of Sue Gray, except the close-up of Polemonium ‘Sonia’s Bluebull’ which is from the HPS Image Library

2 thoughts on “Desert Island Plants: Sue Gray

  1. Great read Sue and a lot of additions to my ‘wanted’ list. (My husband salutes you.) I have just this week begun a shade trough (ok my more organised half actually did the trough – an old packing case lined with plastic) and one of the first plants in will be Glaucidium palmatum bought after seeing it in David’s garden. Just hoping it doesn’t die of shock after finally being released from it’s pot.

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