Sunday, 24 July 2011

Three cheers for the old mole

I was sad to hear that the guru of garden tools Richard Bird has decided to shut up shop. Richard is known to many as The Old Mole and was a regular stall holder at garden themed festivals and conferences in south-east Australia over the last decade or so.

Richard Bird (centre) talking tools with a customer 
I first met Richard at a garden fair in the late 1990s where he was selling his antique and reproduction tools and garden equipment as well as displaying his wonderful collection of garden paraphernalia. Over the years we became friends and we often discussed and traded old tools. Inspired by his passion for the subject I organised a couple of antique tool shows in Sydney which helped gain further interest in the subject. At both these events Richard and his trademark green Morris Minor van were present and he gave several talks on the history of tools and his collection.

The Old Mole display at an Australian plant fair
After many years Richard (never Dicky) has decided to retire from active trading. Rather than flogging his collection to the highest bidder he has decided to donate a significant part of it to a soon to be established garden history museum at Carrick Hill in South Australia. Hopefully this bequest will inspire others to do the same.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Nurseries: Honeysuckle Cottage Nursery

In recent years the nursery trade has been in dire straights. Less and less people are gardening which means more and more nurseries are closing or are being swallowed-up by the large retail chains. Despite this there are some nurseries that valiantly trade on year-after-year despite the vicissitudes of taste, climate and economics. One such nursery is Honeysuckle Cottage located in the foothills of the Blue Mountains at Bowen Mountain, near Richmond.

This half-hidden sign on the road declares that
the nursery is 'the home of Old Fashioned Plants.'

Honeysuckle Cottage was established by Keith and Judyth Mcleod in 1977. At the time this nursery was one of many dedicated to selling perennials and roses as the cottage garden revival style was then popular, but since the late 1990s there has been a move away from this kind of gardening. Sadly, today Honeysuckle Cottage is the only nursery near Sydney that specialises in rare and unusual perennials and herbaceous plants.

First view of the nursery from the road

I remember visiting the nursery on one of my early visits with a climbing rose I couldn't identify. Without hesitation Keith - the resident rosearian - ID'd the flower as 'White Maman Cochet', a popular Tea Rose during the Edwardian period. Since then I have visited Honeysuckle Cottage several times a year looking for unusual plants and sage advice.

'White Maman Cochet' tea rose
Honeysuckle Cottage is a 'proper nursery' as they propagate and grow their own plants, unlike most modern nurseries who buy in stock from large wholesalers. While many nurseries have adopted the sales techniques of modern retailing (colour-themed display stands, piped music and pink uniforms) this nursery display their plants in the traditional way on the ground and in romantic disorder.

Many of the plants for sale are growing near their parent stock plants, such as the 3 metre tall Mexican Fuchsia Sage (Salvia iodantha) which on my last visit was in full bloom near the sales shed. Of course after seeing this plant I bought one after seeing its mother in her full glory. As well as Salvia the nursery has a wonderful selection of herbs, most notably lavender and thyme.

Salvia iodantha 

Co-owner Dr Judyth McLeod is a prolific author of garden and history books and many of her publications have a world wide market. I can certainly recomend her book Heritage Gardening (1994), and her more recent study of medieval gardening In a Unicorn's Garden (2008).

One of many books by Dr Judyth McLeod
All the staff working at the nursery are friendly and certainly know their plants well, and a keen gardener can easily spend an hour walking through the nursery in the company of the resident bell birds. Although not to every gardeners taste, Honeysuckle Nursery is one of the most idiosyncratic nurseries in Australia, and for those with an interest in perenials, herbs and roses it makes a must-see horticultural pilgrimage site. 

Honeysuckle Nursery is located at 30 Bowen Mountain Road, Grose Vale, NSW 2753 (tel 02-4572 1345). The nursery is open six days a week (closed Wednesday), but it's best to ring first during the week. 
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