The Cottage Smallholder

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A secret garden

fordham plants in my border There is a plant stand in Fordham, Cambridgeshire. Bang opposite Scotsdale’s Nursery Garden. It could easily be overlooked after visiting the largesse of the nursery garden. That would be a shame because it’s packed with cuttings and baby plants from a wonderful garden.

I started buying plants from the stand (40p each or three for £1.00) about a year ago. I became a regular. The photo is of a small border that I planted with bounty from this stand. Everything has flourished.

Every time that I visit the nursery garden, I cross the road to examine what is on offer. Although each plant is carefully marked with the Latin name, I have often just bought a plant that I did not recognise, on a whim. Every single one seems to magically blend in with our garden and thrive.

I always decide that, next time, I will pop a note into the rusty metal cash box, thanking the gardener for giving me so much pleasure. I never do but I’ve often wondered what the garden was like. Large gates open onto a driveway. The house and garden are screened by shrubs and yew hedging.

After seeing how these plants leapt to life in our garden I have fantasised endlessly about the gardener. Finally I settled on an image of an elderly man with white hair, working ceaselessly in a sort of National Trust type of garden. Writing his plant tags, sitting on an old chair in the greenhouse when he has a tea break, his tabby cat beside him. A slim eccentric man, with a fondness for boiled eggs, pork pies and dry white wine after six.

Today I was selecting some Chrysanthemums and a lady pottered out of the gate with a new sign for the stall. She smiled shyly at me. Even though she appeared to be completely normal she could have been be the gardener’s wife.

“Are you by any chance the gardener who prepares the plants for this stall?”
She nodded and when I enthused, she seemed embarrassed and rearranged her pots.

Feeling courageous I added, “Judging by how much your plants have added so much to my garden, your garden must be gorgeous.”

She held my gaze for a long moment, “Yes. It is. I would be happy to show you around.”
My heart leapt.

“But we are just going out.” She glanced at the pots I had selected to buy. “As you are a good customer, please feel free to look around on your own. We hosted the church fete yesterday. Loads of people saw it yesterday.”

I dithered.
“Do wander around. It would give me so much pleasure.”

I still wasn’t sure. To be quite honest, I didn’t want to be disappointed. As I was searching for the right change with my back to the gate, a large black vintage car chugged elegantly out of the drive with a demure yet classy roar. The sight of the car tickled me. I imagined it was the lady being driven away to her rendezvous. I slipped through the gate and within a few yards was standing in front of a lovely old house and the promise of a magical garden.

Large heavy headed peonies nodded by the front door. There was an expansive lawn under ancient spreading trees that cried out for a child on a swing. I picked my way past the remnants of the church fete that had filled the garden the day before. An ancient Hoop La, Roll a Ball and a large homemade barbecue. A gap in the high yew hedge beckoned.

I found myself at the top of a long herbaceous garden. There was my old friend Rosa Rambling Rector , spilling over a tall shrub. When I turned and looked left there were borders packed with sleepy flowering perennials as far as the eye could see. Larkspur, lupins, roses, peonies, oriental poppies, geraniums, daisies, irises and many, many flowers that were familiar but nameless to me. The display was more than interesting. Light years beyond the standard National Trust garden.

And there was the promise of more to come. Not obvious initially, but when I examined the planting I found them. Plants in waiting. Plants that I would imagine will fill this garden with life, interest and colour throughout the summer. I drifted through this wonderful, dreamlike place, buoyed up by the bird song and the hum of insects. Alone and without a guide (even the ultra expensive garden tours have these). For twenty minutes I was in heaven.

I think that this was the most exciting and innovative garden that I had ever seen.

A small gate led to an area filled with blackberries and bamboo and a well worn track led to a shrubbery beyond. Pressed for time, I though I’d give the shrubbery a miss. Then I spotted that a little door had been cut into a deep and massive hedge.

I stepped through, into the dark heart of the hedge. It was soundless. Diamonds of light flickered through the canopy overhead. The ground was soft beneath my feet.

I just was pottering past the house when I saw a face at the window. Who could it be? Would they think I was a trespasser and call the police?

At this point I lost my nerve and beetled back to where I had left the carrier bags of plants. I was just waiting to cross the busy road when a voice behind me asked,
“Did you enjoy your tour?”

It was the lady, spruced up for her trip. She was with a companion, whose face I had seen at the window.
“Yes, it was wonderful.”
“Did go through the yew hedge and find the herbaceous borders?”
“Yes.” Suddenly shy, I explained that I had been overwhelmed by the garden
“I am so pleased, I thought that you would enjoy it.”

Today I was going to write a post about tomato blight. All 15 of our plants succumbed. I had a few spares but not enough to replace the lot. The trip to Fordham was to try to find replacements as it is too late in the season to grow any more. Also, some of my cucumber and courgette plants rotted (stems), in the greenhouse. The Gods clearly thought that this would not be an enjoyable post so they opened another door for me instead.

I am way behind with my work in the garden and should have been weeding the vegetable patch and washing down the greenhouse. This wonderful visit was an inspiration. I quickly planted my new tomato plants and within an hour I was ripping out a quarter of my herbaceous border to start again from scratch. This will mean several more visits to the Fordham plant stall in the near future.

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  1. irridium

    i’ve just read this FN, i’m so excited at the thought of a plant stall outside someone’s house. i’d love to do the same here, well not exactly a stall as i live in an inner-city terraced area so i can’t imagine my plants/table or collected money will stay put for long! maybe, the idea of putting a poster in my window for plants?? i have a sister who lives in cambridge whom i’m planning to visit in Nov. so i’ll get her to drive me there (don’t drive myself – boo hoo!). any other nurseries/GCs that you can recmd whilst i’m in cambridge, or in that area?

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hello irridium

      I do hope that there will be plants on the stall in November! Bang opposite is Scotsdales (Fordham) a baby sister of the massive Scotsdales in Cambridge. The latter is well worth a visit and is hugely popular.

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Anne

    That would be good.

    I’m small, plump, blonde hair and glasses. What do you look like?

  3. Thank you fn. I have made a note of the event for our diary. I may well try and find you to say ‘hi’.

  4. Fiona Nevile

    Hello Anne

    When I look at our herbaceous borders and the plants that have developed from the teeny pots on this stand, I’m amazed. The plants develop into superb specimens.

    If you want to ave a peek at the garden, they host the Fordham church fete on the first Saturday in June.

    I’ll be there – it’s an old fashioned church fete and the plant stall is superb. You can also walk around the garden. I’ll be there too enjoying the buzz!

  5. I know this plant stall!! I too have bought lovely healthy plants from it. I’m so pleased that someone else wondered what the secluded garden was like. You are so lucky for having a peek at it. Thank you for sharing your experiences on here. My questions have all been answered

  6. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Sara,

    The lupins are just from one plant. We’ve tried lupins before, from elsewhere, but they didn’t make it.

    The lady that owns the wonderful Fordham garden did say that everyone tells her that all her plants thrive. She also explained that as she doesn’t have a greenhouse her stock is strong. This made me think about whether it is best to raise seed in protected seedbeds or in the closeted environment of my greenhouse.

    Thanks for dropping by.

  7. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Amanda,

    The experience of the Fordham garden was dreamlike. It was a fillip that came at just the right time.

    So sorry to hear about your plants. Home grown cucumbers are delicious a totally different animal from the shop ones. We tried melons three years ago and got 2 tennis balls. It is great when your plants thrive like the pictures on the pack and so disappointing when they don’t.

    I hate loosing plants that I have grown. Any plant that turns up its toes is depressing.

  8. What a beautiful garden. Your lupins are amazing. I don’t seem to have much luck with lupins.
    Sara from farmingfriends

  9. Amanda

    That sounds really exciting. Like the enchanted garden. Shame about losing some of your plants. We’ve lost all our cucumbers, and a melon that I thought didn’t have a hope of surviving anyway. A couple of the tomato plants are not looking their best either. We get far too emotional about the veg patch in this house, but it is really disappointing. Hope your new ones take okay.

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