Avon Bulbs: the best bulbs from the Somerset nursery
Well known for its award-wining displays at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, Avon Bulbs in Somerset offers a range of stunning plants for all seasons. Words Matthew Reese, photographs Jason Ingram
Avon Bulbs is a long-standing, family run, mail-order nursery specialising in bulbs for the flower garden. Owned by Chris Ireland-Jones and managed with Alan Street, it’s located near South Petherton in Somerset, a stone’s throw from the famous garden of the late Margery Fish at East Lambrook. The nursery was originally set up by Walter Stag, a former UK representative for the bulb giant Van Tubergen, in 1979, and Alan joined soon afterwards. It moved twice before settling near Trowbridge on a site overlooking the River Avon, after which the nursery was named.
Chris bought the nursery from Walter in 1987, but the site was proving to be difficult, and after the glasshouses were flattened by a gale, a move seemed to be in order. Fortuitously, in the early 1990s, Chris was told about a small dairy farm, with seven acres, cattle sheds and heavy clay soil, that was coming up for auction and he bought it. “It was less than ideal for a bulb nursery,” he remembers. “Alan had wanted something much lighter for his snowdrops. There wasn’t a tree on the place, so no shade for woodland bulbs.” Thirty years on it is a very different scene.
Gardeners will know Avon Bulbs as a regular of horticultural shows, where it is renowned for its excellent Gold medal displays. I remember its immaculate stands at the RHS London Shows in Vincent Square, the snowdrop displays were legendary – so carefully laid out as if plucked fresh from a woodland floor.
At the RHS Chelsea Flower Show the stands were more luxurious with drifts of tulips, lily-of-the-valley, gladioli and alliums (to name but a few), each flower in flawless condition. It’s no surprise the nursery has won 30 RHS Chelsea Gold medals, in addition to Gold at Malvern, Birmingham and Hampton Court Palace.
Key plants from Avon Bulbs
A tall, rangy plant producing milky-green, often mottled, conical flowers above thin, glaucous-green foliage. The topmost leaves are twining and tendril-like. Be sure to plant bulbs deeply. 80cm. RHS H5, USDA 6a-9b
A harmless, parasitic plant with no chlorophyll. This plant gains all its sustenance from the roots of its host, which could be willow or poplar. 15cm. RHS H6, USDA 4a-8b.
One of the prettiest of our native wildflowers. It is a bulbous perennial that prefers moist, rich soils where it will self-seed. 30cm. AGM. RHS H5, USDA 3a-8b.
An alpine nasturtium from Chile that makes thin, climbing tendril growths in winter, then in spring bears masses of small, tricoloured flowers. 1.3m. AGM. RHS H2, USDA 8a-10b.
Mid-blue flowers are produced in loose, delicate racemes above smart glossy green foliage. It thrives in woodland conditions where it will make sheets of colour. 25cm. RHS H6.
Lunaria annua var. albiflora
A white form of the common purple honesty. A biennial that will self-seed throughout the garden. Looks good with late tulips and early alliums. 60cm. RHS H6, USDA 5a-9b.
Similar in appearance to F. imperialis, but generally of smaller stature with very pale primrose flowers. A good garden plant for a sunny site with good drainage. 45cm. RHS H6, USDA 5a-8b.
Fritillaria imperialis ‘William Rex’
A selection of a garden plant that has been popular for over 400 years. This deep-orange form has stout, dark stems with a notable bushy top. 75cm. RHS H6, USDA 5a-8b.
Muscari aucheri ‘Ocean Magic’
A well-behaved grape hyacinth that is good for naturalising in dry, sunny sites. It makes small spikes of globular, scented, pale-blue flowers. 20cm. RHS H6, USDA 4a-8b.
Ipheion ‘Alberto Castillo’
A very good starflower that creates drifts of short, strap-shaped leaves above which hover upward facing, large white flowers. Prefers a sunny site. 15cm. AGM. RHS H5, USDA 5a-9b.
A pretty, scented narcissus with nodding flowers in a shade of cool, primrose yellow, and rush-like foliage. Excellent for naturalising. 20cm. AGM. RHS H6, USDA 4a-8b.
USEFUL INFORMATION. Address Burnt House Farm, Mid Lambrook, South Petherton, Somerset TA13 5HE. Tel 01460 242177.
Web avonbulbs.co.uk Open Mail-order only