Garden designer Ruth Chivers visits two nurseries that are divided by an ocean, yet have more than just a range of exciting plants in common, as she explains.
Derry has introduced plants discovered on her travels and has a streak of the trendsetter about her that strikes a chord with keen gardeners. She introduced me to Viola ‘Irish Molly’, which visitors to the first garden I used it in were virtually pulling out of the ground. It was her looks that did it - seductive Celtic coppery, yellow bronze tones, and as Derry puts it “can flower herself to death”. It looks great with bronze Carex. Perfectly hardy Diascia integerrima ‘Blush’ was another good find. Special Plants has something for your conservatory, too. Derry’s particularly pleased with Jasminum multipartitum, one of her newer introductions, with sweetly scented star-shaped flowers coupled with shiny leaves on a bushy plant.
Western Hills Nursery is near Sebastopol, about 60 miles north of San Francisco. This is coastal redwood country, and you come across the nursery right at the side of the road through the woods. You sense that something very interesting lies inside the fence. At the gateway, it’s a question of which way to go first. There’s a three-acre strolling garden with paths that meander up and down and around the hillside. Everywhere you look there are wonderful plants, a cultivated jungle. Striking specimens and good associations beckon you from all angles. Maggie Wych, a native of Lancashire who has been here for 18 years, worked with the founders, and now owns this idyllic place.
In 1960, Lester Hawkins and Marshal Olbrich began to propagate plants for their own garden. And from the start, Western Hills has been on the cutting edge of plant introductions. Hawkins and Olbrich were amongst the first to introduce Mediterranean and Australian plants that thrive in the climate of Northern California. Today, the plant list runs to 15 closely typed, double-sided pages and notations include our own Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. It’s an embarrassment of riches, some you recognize, some you don’t. It’s just as well that not all plants are available at all times. Limited to a handful of containers on my apartment balcony, I came away with five small plants, including the delectable Parahebe perfoliata. Ones that I want to go back for include Dichroa febrifuga and Arthropodium candidum, a New Zealand native.