The Big Trip to Spain! March 2015

The last big Spanish tagging trip has arrived! Having just returned from Belgium and Holland, and with a pending trip to Italy in the planning, it’s been a very full-on few weeks. However, this one is the biggest and most complicated one so far this year. I was travelling with one of the Chelsea Greats, the totally adorable Sarah Eberle, sourcing some plants for her Chelsea garden. Also on the trip was Kamelia Bin Zaal who had come to check the progress of some of the plants that we tagged for her in January. Kamelia also had her film crew in tow.

The Team

The Team

So nine of us left Gatwick on a cold morning on a 6:30 flight bound for sunny Murcia in Spain. I am always slightly apprehensive on these trips that my client is happy and finds what they want as well as being the perfect host, but with two clients and two film crews it was going to be crazy!

Nice Day!

Nice Day!

Landing in a very pleasant 23 degrees we picked up the cars and headed over to the nursery about 100km away. After a quick meet-and-greet it was straight down to business. There were several agendas to be dealt with. Sarah had come to source some of the arid and Australasian plants for her Chelsea garden. I knew that finding the plants would be easy; it was more a case of what not to buy as the choice is immense. We also needed to find a key, large Ficus tree. Although I have sourced these many times before in Holland for indoor jobs, it was important in this case to have a tree that would be suitable outdoors and so nursery-grown plants from Spain were the preferred option.



Kamelia was largely here with her film crew to make a film about her Chelsea journey. Her plant sourcing was largely complete, but we needed to check progress of her Fig trees and Pomegranates that we had found on our last trip. Also we needed to check that the Olive screening plants that we had chosen last time were also thickening up as we had hoped.

How Many?

How Many?

Additionally, Rob Gudge, my associate from Desert to Jungle had come along to choose plants for his own plant centre and also to advise Sarah on her choice of succulents.



Finally, I had my own film crew in tow; Pete and Dave from our web company had come along to make a video dialogue of our trip and give a fly-on-the-wall view of the life of a modern day professional plant hunter and personal shopper.

Anyone for Dioon?

Anyone for Dioon?








So there was more pressure than normal on me to ensure that the trip went smoothly! However, my fears were soon allayed as everyone fell into their jobs and plant lists straightaway and a busy afternoon followed.

Our evening was spent at La Pimenta, our fave tapas bar, known as “The Place with the Small Chairs” where we perch on small wicker chairs and tuck into the best chorizo ever, along with delicious Manchego cheese and sweet Iberian jamon. We even had a beer or few!

The next day dawned even warmer and the shorts were out! A tagging frenzy soon got underway and by the time we stopped for lunch, most of the buying had been completed. I took the opportunity to disappear off with Dave and Pete to do some narration and interview shots for our film.

Mobile Office

Mobile Office

Mid-afternoon we got back into the cars and set off for Cartagena, our overnight stop, allowing us an evening in the town to relax and enjoy this busy place, including more tapas.










On the journey home, Jimmy and I planned the logistics for getting two articulated lorry-fulls of plants back to the UK and our Somerset nursery. Some plants needed to come over as soon as possible, whilst others needed to stay in Spain for as long as possible to make the best use of that lovely sunshine. All in all it was a great and very productive trip. Now back to the nursery, catch up with work, before I go back to Pistoia in a couple of weeks.

Pistoia Precision

What a corker!

Barely had I had time to empty and repack my plant hunting bag from Spain, when i was to be found bound for Stanstead airport on a shivery frosty Monday night, The only flight I could get to Pisa that week went from Stanstead, which from Somerset is virtually half way there My escort for this trip was Aron, who skilfully works the logistics on whatever plants I buy, and lets me concentrate on the plant quality  and my client. Fortunately though I was making this trip on my own, so I did not need to play host and could be my usual grumpy self.





Stanstead was chaos due to rebuilding works, and the flight was late, however all was redeemed when I boarded and found I had a whole emergency exit row to myself! so was able to stretch out and enjoy the flight.

At Pisa we were collected by Iopaco our driver for the next 2 days. In true Italian fashion we exploded onto the Itatlan road network and within an hour or so we were in Pistoia. This town is the hub of the Italian nursery stock industry and every piece of spare ground is used to grow trees and shrubs. Iopaco had my shopping list emailed to him and had worked out all of the plants that I needed to see.

Pistoia is quite cold in the winter yet hot in the summer and it is a favoured climate for producing high quality trees and shrubs. First on my list was some tall slender eucalyptus for our own tree fern exhibit at Chelsea 15. Eucalytpus are difficult to find as high quality trees because they do not like growing in pots and they grow so fast that they need to be pruned constantly making them an ugly shape. Fortunately we found some beauties which were tagged and secured. With a stop for lunch, not quick because it was 4 courses! we continued. I needed some large Osmanthus for a job, and also various larger shrubs for Charlie Albone for his Husqvana Chelsea15 garden.



The one you want is always in someone’s garden!

A late addition to my shopping list was to search for a large tree of impeccable quality for a client as a centrepiece to a courtyard. Various trees of ever increasing magnificence were seen, photographed and sent off to the client on the spot for comments. Its a superb use of technology and 3G, although I do run up a large mobile bill whilst abroad these days.  The largest cork oaks that I was shown, completely took my breath away!






The real McCoy!

The day finished with a trip to a local pizza restaurant where I had the best pizza that I had ever tasted. Back in the UK that evening I was out on BBC2 with Charlie Dimmock talking about peonies, and our website went into overdrive along with twitter and emails. When I switched my phone on after leaving the restaurant, it was literally bouncing  around with messages.







Mr Basson

Day 2 dawned and after a patisseries breakfast we continued working through my shopping list. I had also arrange to meet up with James Basson who had driven from Monaco to meet me to look at some trees for his own Chelsea garden for L’Occitane. It was quite a bizarre meeting, as he turned up in  the back of a black car, with his driver, and I turned up in a black car with Aron and Iopaco. It was raining and my comments about meeting “an important client” were taken quite seriously. It was raining and as James and I inspected some trees another guy was given the job of walking behind us carrying an umbrella. Really quite bizarre! Job done, trees chosen, we parted and both black cars departed in opposite directions.



Seruria ‘Blushing Bride’

Protea ‘Little Prince’










The final visit was a trip to one of the most exciting nurseries I know, a grower who grows  nothing but Protea and Leucodendron and Banksia. These exacting and demanding plants are nursery specialisation at its most extreme and it was a privilege to see these plants flowering and looking the most healthy I had ever seen. Job done we were whisked back to the airport ready for the flight home… followed by my long train journey home.

Homeward Bound










Next trip is later in February with Charlie Albone who is flying in from Australia to join me on a road trip to Belgium and Holland to look at trees. Keep watching!


Spanish Road Trip for Chelsea 2015

Anything with this on, is mine!

2015 has kicked off with no less than 4 shopping trips planned before the end of February. The first was my recent trip to Spain with Kamelia Bin Zaal, the Designer for the Al Barari Garden for Chelsea 2015. Called “The Beauty of Islam” the garden will be by different to most others at the 2015 show.

The Team

The project is made more challenging than usual because Kamelia is based in Dubai. We had previously been to Holland before Christmas where we chose some amazing palm trees for the garden. The main purpose of this trip was to source some other trees, hedging plants and the medium size trees, and shrubs.

Just a few Myrtles

We left Gatwick on a cold and wet morning bound for (we hoped) sunny Alicante. We arrived to find the sun, and a temperature of about 18 degrees, so a good start. We were met by our guides for the day Carlos and Juan and Also Antonio from the Dubai National Press who was shadowing the day’s activities.

Fabulous Citrus

We first went to see some fabulous citrus trees, a key feature of Kamelias garden. Good sized trees of Chelsea are always a challenge and we had to look through many before the best group were chosen and safely tagged.
Enjoying the warm Andalucian sunshine we continued walking and driving looking at other large trees. Our hosts were charming and unexpectedly gave us a paella lunch which was wonderfully delicious. After a cafe solo we were off again. Many other trees were seen rejected and or tagged as the afternoon progressed. I go diverted by the largest cactus I had ever seen in my life but fortunately my head ruled my heart and I decided not to buy it!

Giant Cactus

Next morning we relocated about 150km even further south and went in search of olives from probably the best olive grower in Spain. I had visited this nursery many times in the past and as always once the owner Paolo understood the spec that we needed he took the steering wheel and drove us to see perfect trees. The sheer quantity of trees available is always astonishing. It did not take long to find exactly what we wanted.

Just…….No! Kamelia!

Next it was onto smaller shrubs. We gave Kamelia an overview of the fabulous plants available and then after lunch….Calamari by the sea…my favourite!, we got down to some serious hard tagging. Then we got diverted by the offer to see the largest palm tree for sale….anywhere! Couldn’t resist this so we went to see it…. Phoenix dactylifera with 24 trunks! To give an idea of the price, if it was a house there would be stamp duty to pay on it!
Getting back down to earth w had a great afternoon being most of the rest of Kamelias plants. After a small siesta for those in the group with no stamina (you know who you are!) we headed off into town for tapas at our favourite little restaurant.

Next day we left Kamelia and David to talk about paving and Jimmi and I headed off to the nursery to look at other plants including some fabulous succulents. I needed some plants for our garden centre too. The day went all to quickly and I always feel that I have never properly explored. However we had to leave and drive to Cartagenia where we were staying in the town ready for an early flight the following morning back to shivery England.

Aloe Aloe!

As it was I didn’t get all my buying done so I have to return in March….in shorts I hope!


OMG! 24 trunks!

Paw Pawpaw

YoungHort Conference, Battersea

Yesterday, Gary, Matt, Elliott, Darren and Rob all attended the Landscape Show in London’s Battersea Park for the Young Horticulturists Conference.

There were a bunch of speakers including Adam Frost (whose garden we grew for at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show), James Wong and Sue Biggs, Director General of the RHS, all talking about the future of horticulture in the UK, from plant hunting to the science side of it.

A company called Grow showed a video they have produced aimed at encouraging 11-16 year-olds to enter the horticultural trade. Grow aim to help young people find jobs in the industry.

Jamie Butterworth, Young Horticulturist of the Year, 2013, assistant director of YoungHort invited us to attend the event with Askham Bryan College and RHS Wisley, to meet other young horticulturists in the trade and give us inspiration and a wider understanding of where you can go within the industry.

BBC Radio 4 Gardeners’ Question Time was there and Rob couldn’t help himself and just had to ask a question, asking how easy it is to micro-propagate ferns and why people don’t do it. James Wong loved the question as he himself is passionate about tree ferns as is Rob. Basically, James reckons that Rob may well be the only person in the world trying to do it. Must be difficult then!

It was great to meet up with Adam Frost again as well as some other designers who we hope to be working with in the near future.

One of the highlights of the show was a speach by 9 year-old George Hassall, RHS Young School Gardener of the Year, 2014. He talked about how his dad inspired him and how he wants to work at Chatsworth House and in National Parks. He was so lively and passionate, with a remarkable ability to recite the Latin names of a huge number of plants. Definitely a guy to look out for in the future.

Exciting Times Ahead?

It seems like only last week that we were at the 2014 Chelsea Flower Show, yet we are already preparing for the 2015 event. August and September are strange “waiting” months. All potential exhibitors and designers, including the biggest names have submitted their plans for the show and it is down to the RHS selection panels to decide who gets accepted for a garden or an exhibit at Chelsea 2015.

WellChild Garden 2014

WellChild Garden 2014 by Olivia Kirk

We have submitted our own application for the 2015 show to display our famous peonies and irises, and we always hope that the selection panel will choose us, so we understand that is is a nerve-wracking time for all of the designers whom have mae applications to build a garden.

The Massachusetts Garden 2014

The Massachusetts Garden by Catherine MacDonald

Hopefully by the end of September we will know the final list of accepted gardens for the 2015 show. We are already in discussions with a few potential clients for growing plants. As soon as their gardens are confirmed we can begin the process of sourcing and growing the plants needed.

ABF Soldiers' Charity Garden 2014

ABF Soldiers’ Charity Garden by Charlotte Rowe

Unfortunately we will not be able to reveal the names of the clients we will be working with for 2015 until February when the RHS announces the line-up. However, we can say for sure that there are some fantastic projects at the drawing board stage, with which we are excited to be involved!