Wondering where to go to buy interesting plants in the UK? Garden expert Val Bourne selects 50 of the nation’s finest nurseries in Wales, England and Scotland that offer specialist plants and have an award-winning reputation. The list also includes a few plant nurseries with a small café where you can buy homemade cake and coffee, or other gardening sundries such as sculpture and furniture. All the plant nurseries in the list have horticulturally trained staff on site who can offer expert plant advice so you know you’re buying the right plant for your garden.
Several of these nurseries offer online or mail-order services only, or limited visiting times. Please call or check online before visiting.
Exotic plants with presence sum up the plants here and specialities include bamboos rated for hardiness with a traffic lights system, seaside plants, ‘spikies’ such as agaves and yuccas, topiary and rare evergreen broadleaved trees. Large range of pots too.
Plant Heritage collections of wood anemone, sanguisorba and New England aster plus a huge range of perennials mostly propagated on this pin-neat nursery. The well-labelled display garden is inspirational.
A plant lovers’ paradise packed with 3000 interesting plants, some of them very rare. Give yourself plenty of time to explore the range for you’ll find plants here that aren’t generally available elsewhere.
Beth Chatto, inspired by husband Andrew, pioneered ecological gardening by placing plants in the right place and their website usefully lists plants for specific places. The nursery developed an on-line presence early and most plants are traditionally propagated from the garden under the care of David Ward. There’s no better place to buy herbaceous plants, ferns and grasses.
Billy Carruthers is mad about peonies and has over 300 on the nursery. In recent years he’s exhibited them at the Chelsea Flower Show. However they’re just the tip of the iceberg for this nursery, midway between Glasgow and Edinburgh, grows 3000 different plants including irises, bamboos, grasses and ferns.
Mail order available
Ecclesmachan, West Lothian
EH52 6NL Websitebinnyplants.com Tel 01506 858931
The best range of fruit trees and bushes, expertly packed and well-grown -many on the estate. Expert help available too and an informative website. Rootstocks, AGMS etc clearly displayed bu the variety.
Choice trees and shrubs, selected by RHS Woody Panel member Robert Vernon, are the main fare. Many grow in the nine acre arboretum planted by Robert and specialities include acer, betula, cornus, liquidamber and tilia. Just off the M1.
Mail order available
Smisby, Ashby de la Zouch,
Leicestershire, LE65 2TA Websitebluebellnursery.com Tel 01530 413700
Burncoose, who specialise in acid-loving magnolias, camellias and rhododendrons, also stock a wide range of other plants including herbaceous and conservatory plants. A plant Mecca, it lists 3500 different species and cultivars. Cafe welcoming.
Mail order available
Cornwall TR16 6BJ Websiteburncoose.co.uk Tel 01209 860316
A place of pilgrimage for plant lovers because Michael Wickenden, plant collector and nurseryman, has an unusual range of perennials to die for. Crocosmias, perennial impatiens, irises, meconopsis, salvias and veratrums are among his treasures, some wild-collected.
Mail order available
Castle Douglas, Dumfries and Galloway,
DG7 2DL, Scotland Websitecallygardens.co.uk Tel 01557 815029
Bob Brown’s nursery, ably run by manager Mandy, comes up with surprises every time. Specialities include kniphofias, crocosmias and unusual bulbous plants. Informative website, regular plant talks and display garden (on horrible clay) that shines from spring until late autumn.
Mail order available – but do visit
Worcestershire WR11 7EZ www.cgf.net
Tel 01386 833849
Think roses, and chances are the name that springs to mind is David Austin. This nursery is well worth a visit, particularly in early summer when the many different ramblers, climbers, modern shrubs and wild species are at their very best.
Bowling Green Lane, Albrighton,
Wolverhampton, West Midlands
WV7 3HB Website davidaustinroses.com Tel 01902 376300,
Such a photogenic place, with display gardens to inspire. The well-grown plants have to be easy and fairly slug proof and the range of grasses and perennials is particularly suited to naturalistic, prairie style. Hellebores and hardy geraniums also excellent.
Initially set up to grow trees for the Duchy Estate so and trees and shrubs still play a huge part here. Over 2500 plants are stocked and 50% of plants sold here are propagated on site. The three real specialities are conifers, fuchsias and camellias, but there are excellent ranges of bamboos, magnolias, fruit and perennials. Stylish cafe, gift shop and wooded walks too.
This three-acre working nursery stocks over 2000 varieties of garden plants and although there is a sales area the best thing to do is wander through the beds and tunnels -where treasures lie. The range is immense with many plants coming from well-know raisers of the past such as Eric Smith etc.
Family run nursery in rural Warwickshire specialising in ferns, pelargoniums, ivies and tender plants. A working nursery with two Plant Heritage collections – pelargoniums and Hedera ( ivy) but also the best fern nursery for hardy ferns. Expert advice freely given.
Mail order available
Warwickshire CV37 8XP Websitewww.fibrex.co.uk Tel 01789 720788
The famous garden, created by the late plantsman Christopher Lloyd, is worth a visit in itself. Head gardener Fergus Garrett has continued Lloyd’s legacy of bold, innovative planting at Great Dixter. The nursery, which stocks many of the plants grown on site, has a good selection of clematis, shrubs and perennials. There is also a good selection of seed to order online.
Husband and wife Christine and Nic Ffoulkes-Jones, also Pershore students, began this nursery almost thirty years ago. An environmentally run nursery, using peat-free-compost, they won a Chelsea Gold in 2010 for a quiet display of shade plants -o ne of 46 RHS golds. They know their plants and only grow the best.
Rosy Hardy, known for her stunning displays of perennials at flower shows, grows in peat-free compost in outdoor conditions and the plant respond so you may pay more but they’re great plants. Strengths include geraniums, peonies, geums and achilleas and they will advise too.
Ray Hubbard, the nursery’s founder, loves all plants and if they’re slightly tender he loves them even more. In all there are 3000 plants on the nursery, including shrubs, perennials, fruit and ferns, mostly propagated here. Sparrows hop in and out of the greenhouses on this working nursery, but there is a tea room in high season and a huge range of plants. You will need time and there’s a garden too.
A fruit specialist offering 600 varieties of every type of fruit and some nut trees. Good pictures, information about pollination groups, sterility and root stocks etc. Many varieties offered in different forms.
Once the largest nursery in the world, Kelways are best known for irises and peonies which are sold bare-root and potted. Visit in June and it’s possible to go to Peony Valley, or visit the Garden Centre which now has a cafe. Large range of plants available for mail order including clematis and plants for pollinators.
Mail order available
Picts Hill, Langport,
Somerset, TA10 9EZ Websitekelways.co.uk Tel 01458 250 521
This mail-order online plant centre offers a variety of interesting and unusual plants from all over the world. It is a truly international collection and many of the plants are tested in the owners’ garden south of Edinburgh.
Neil Lucas has established this as one of the best places in the UK to buy grasses. Around 200 forms of ornamental grasses are available and there is a large display garden to visit. Neil holds the National Collection of Pennisetum.
Peter Stott started this nursery in 1985, frustrated by a lack of suitable plants for his landscaping commissions, and thirty years on it’s packed with rare and unusual garden plants so much so that if you’re looking for something it’s probably here in this beautifully presented nursery. Old-fashioned roses, bamboos, acers, and cornus for sale and also planted in the garden.
Set in a walled garden this nursery is packed to the gunnels with good plants. Plant heritage collections of buddleia and viticella clematis, an 80 metre herbaceous border and apple and clematis arches make it even better. The Longstock Water Garden ( once owned the John Lewis himself) opens every first and third Sunday of the month from April.
This husband and wife team, Liam and Ylva, combine plantsmanship with garden design so this beautiful nursery has style and there’s a garden design service run by Ylva. The range, containing woody and herbaceous, is unusual with a large range of eryngiums, colletia and shrubs. Ian also sells conifers. A cafe and collection of gardening books will make this a very special trip.
No mail order
Pluckley Road, Bethersden
Kent TN26 3DD Websitemadrona.co.uk Tel 01233 820 100
Graham Gough, a man with a musical background, now creates crescendos with flowing grasses and tall perennials in his downland garden instead – cursed by heavy clay. Specialities include taller grasses and his list of miscanthus and molinias, inspired by an early visit to Ernst Pagels’ German nursery, is the best I know. Sanguisorbas, asters, veronicastrums and much much more – take plenty of money!
Stephen and Emma Lewis-Dale, both Pershore-trained, sell a wide range of potted bulbs, alpines and perennials on their first-rate nursery. The mature garden setting offers inspiration and their range, always correctly labelled, constantly changes. You won’t be disappointed.
Now hosta specialists with a Plant Heritage Collection, this nursery was a market garden until the Great Hurricane of October 1987 destroyed their polytunnels. There are now 2000 hostas here, often available in small quantities, and this friendly nursery are amenable to dividing parent plants for keen collectors.
Dr Andrew Ward, who does lecture as well, has a garden and nursery full of interesting perennials and bulbs. Woodlanders, hardy chrysanthemums, trilliums, grasses and hemerocallis are featured heavily.
Family run nursery with an emphasis on asters, late-season perennials and some alpines. Their Plant Heritage collection of asters, many rescued by Paul Picton, is second to none. Daughter Helen introduced mail order, but the display garden is fantastic – so do visit.
Conveniently close to the M5, Nick Macer’s Pan Global is well-named for this well-travelled nurseryman turns plant hunter in the winter months. Consequently Pan Global lists new plants that no one has as yet. His range is wide, from trees to shrubs, from bamboos to bulbs and there are exotic plants from far flung places. Irresistible!
This nursery, run by Sean Walter and Roger Pounder, combines garden landscaping with superb plants at the forefront of garden design. Sanguisorbas, lots of stylish grasses, heleniums, echinaceas and veronicastrums (and so much more) beautifully displayed on this immaculate nursery.
Thousands of different hardy trees, shrubs, herbaceous perennials, roses, conifers, fruit, climbers, ferns and grasses, most produced on site. Exceptional plant quality and range but you will have to visit. Good numbers of oak, maple, birch, beech, sorbus, magnolia, witch hazel, hundreds of shrubs and over 1000 herbaceous plants.
Set up by the late Peter Beales who spent a lifetime collecting roses, this nursery grows 12000 varieties, with 300 only available here – reflecting Peter’s passion. Plant centre open daily, with tea room. Bare root roses dispatched in late-autumn and winter. Container-grown roses also available. Good range of clematis. Informative website and expert staff.
Rupert Ely’s nursery and 20 acre garden and arboretum at East Bergholt Place carries a huge range of plants mainly bought in from top suppliers in Britain and on the Continent. Specialities include a huge range of Japanese acers, magnolias and many cornus and there is a Plant Heritage collection of euonymus. Herbaceous plants also feature heavily.
Mail order from September to March – then a limited service
Anne Barnard and husband Jack travel to Holland to source new varieties of spring-flowering bulbs and summer-flowering bulbous and tuberous plants. Garden varieties of dahlia are their speciality and they have popularised varieties such as Waltzing Mathilda’ – a dark-leafed orange whirligig. There’s an attractive website, swift and efficient mail order and prices are affordable.
Over a hundred years old, this family-run traditional nursery carries a huge range, some 16000plants, including field-grown roses, fruit trees, shrubs and ornamental trees. Their bare-root plants are well-grown and arrive in excellent condition. Fruit of every type ( bush, standard and maiden for instance) can be acquired and many are heritage varieties. They also hold the Plant heritage collection of Erythronium and sell the best range in the country.
Martin and Janet Blow’s specialities include heleniums, phloxes, monardas, centaureas, geums, persicarias and hemerocallis. All plants are traditionally propagated on the nursery so they are full of vigour and soon romp away. Plant Heritage collections of heleniums and centaurea and they attends lots of plant fairs where plants can be collected.
Derry Watkins exudes energy and her nursery is just as busy, packed with good plants that include tender perennials such as pelargonium and salvia. A good range of interesting hardy perennials and an excellent seed list also tempt the buyer. Derry runs practical courses and opens her garden (please check the dates) – and she attends all the best plant fairs.
Louisa Arbuthnott’s one man band offers such unusual plants, grown by own hands, and most of them can be seen in the garden adjacent to the nursery. Once the nursery closes Louisa takes off to far flung nurseries, such as Cally gardens, so her stock is up to the minute and hugely interesting.
No mail order
Worcestershire DY10 4BG www.shcn.co.uk
Tel 07817 921146
This third generation clematis nursery, which regularly scoops Gold at the Chelsea Flower Show, sells 350 of the best clematis known. They also introduce new clematis bred in Poland, Japan and Holland and also sell patio clematis -sometimes raised by Raymond Evison. First-rate mail order plants and a useful website that subdivdes clematis according to type etc.
This mail order only nursery is run by Penny Dawson, the daughter of Hugh Nunn who raised the Harvingtom strain of hellebores, triliums and erythroniums. There are plug plants, mature plants in pots and rhizomes for sale, all seed-raised on the nursery – well-grown and well-bred.
Sand blows along the lanes close to this Suffolk nursery near Southwold, but it’s perfect for irises, hardy chrysanthemums and agapanthus – just three of the specialisms. Auriculas and pelargoniums also feature heavily, but there are lots of other plants too. Iris field open from end of May to mid-June and display garden open between April and October for the National Gardens Scheme.