A little over 30 years ago, the esteemed plantsmen Elizabeth and Alasdair MacGregor moved to Ellenbank, near Kirkcudbright in Galloway, southwest Scotland, to start a nursery and garden. Now renowned for both growing and breeding plants, Elizabeth first discovered her passion for horticulture while studying art in Warwickshire. During this time, she acquired her first garden and very quickly realised she wanted to work with plants professionally. “My first obsession was clematis,” she remembers. “I was especially taken by the small-flowered viticella hybrids, of which there were so few then – only six or seven cultivars. As an amateur gardener, I started doing a little hybridising, which I found really interesting. From quite early on I realised that one could do this, and what was possible with a little more time.”
After completing horticultural courses at the Garden House in Devon, Elizabeth began her professional gardening career. She started with a small collection of violas, of which she was rather fond, selling the plants via mail order. This encouraged Elizabeth and Alasdair to consider setting up a larger nursery and, after much hunting, they eventually acquired Ellenbank, which had a small walled garden in which to grow and test plants and enough space for a nursery. The couple’s son, John, now helps run the thriving business. In the days before the internet, horticultural shows were a particularly important way of promoting a nursery, and Elizabeth and Alasdair started with the Scottish shows before venturing south to RHS Flower Show Tatton Park in Cheshire. Here Elizabeth quickly honed her skills as an exhibitor, raking in no fewer than nine gold medals in nine consecutive years from 2003 to 2011, as well as an award for Most Creative Display in the RHS Floral Marquee in 2004 and Best Exhibit in 2007. Discover more about key plants at her nursery below and don’t miss a round up of her stunning anemones.
8 key perennials at Elizabeth MacGregor Nursery
Clematis Princess Kate (= ‘Zoprika’)
Masses of small, bell-shaped flowers have reflexed petals. Similar appearance to a Turk’s cap, blooming on thin stems just proud of the foliage. Throw over a medium shrub, and cut back lightly in the spring. 2m. RHS H5.
A sumptuous gladiolus with garnet-coloured flowers. Makes a strong-growing perennial and is more comfortable in the border than some hybrids. 80cm. RHS H4.
Lobelia x speciosa ‘Tania’
Bright-purple blooms held on slim, maroon spikes above dark, basal foliage. A striking plant when grown well, best in mild, wet gardens. A vigorous grower that responds well to division. 70cm. RHS H5, USDA 4a-8b.
Thalictrum delavayi ‘Hewitt’s Double’
Sprays of mauve, droplet buds opening to tiny, perfect, double flowers. It looks lovely woven through borders linking the plantings. Flowers from July to September, and
likes good, moist soil. 1.5m. RHS H7, USDA 4a-7b.
A tidy, petite, perennial onion, with short stems and dark-lavender flowers. Plant it to edge a path or border, in a sunny position. 30-40cm. RHS H6, USDA 5a-8b.
Produces large, fiery, orange-red flowers on dark, arching stems held above cool, green, sword-shaped leaves. Either side of flowering, makes a good front-of-border foliage plant. 40-75cm. RHS H5.
Helenium Mardi Gras (= ‘Helbro’)
A floriferous selection that makes a thick mat of vibrant-red and singed-yellow flowers, with a brunette central cone. Produces flowers into the autumn. 1m. RHS H7, USDA 4a-8b.
Lythrum virgatum ‘Dropmore Purple’
A strong-growing perennial that favours rich, wet soils, but will easily manage in drier sites. Masses of slim, purple spires with small, spidery flowers on strong stems. 1m. RHS H6.
Address Elizabeth MacGregor Nursery, Ellenbank, Tongland Road, Kirkcudbright, Dumfries and Galloway DG6 4UU. Tel 01557 330620. Web elizabethmacgregornursery.co.uk Open From the last weekend in April until first weekend in October (closed Thursday and Sunday).