Penberth Plants - Master Grower
Our Master Grower, tucked away in a small fishing cove in Cornwall, grows the most incredible South African plants
Fresh from their Diamond Jubilee Award for best display in the Great Pavilion at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show (and their sixth consecutive Chelsea Gold Medal), Penberth Plants from St Buryan, near Penzance on the very toe of Cornwall, have staged another immaculate display as Master Grower at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.
Video interview – plants for warmer climates
Business partners Jeff Rowe and Claire Batten own the nursery and describe the Jubilee Award as ‘the pinnacle’ of their career so far, but say they were both thrilled, and honoured, to have been selected last year as Master Grower for the 2017 Hampton Court Palace show.
Jeff and Claire have what they describe as an ‘eclectic mix’ of specialities, including many South African and Mediterranean-climate plants, which appreciate the balmy growing conditions by the sea in west Cornwall, only a mile from Land's End. A major point in their favour is that they propagate and grow all the plants they sell at the nursery.
Their display features a range of exotica, including rush or bamboo-like restios, Cape heaths, proteas, leucadendrons and a range of Plectranthus (spurflowers: warm-climate relatives of Solenostemon or Coleus grown for their foliage and flowers), which Jeff and Claire have not staged at a show before. They definitely add an extra dimension, several making good, low ground cover.
The walk-through layout of Penberth’s display allows visitors to get up close to its many specimen plants. The plants are complemented by bespoke photography, an important part of the Master Grower displays. Black and white shots show Jeff and Claire at work ‘behind the scenes’, propagating plants at the nursery, but there are also lush, close-up colour portraits of flowers and foliage.
Aeoniums are another speciality, especially bronze and purple-leaved selections of Aeonium arboreum, a species from Morocco. Jeff and Claire have been selecting more compact and more freely-branching cultivars than well-known, but often ‘leggy’ A. ‘Zwartkop’.
Among their introductions, and staged close to each other allowing direct comparisons, are A. ‘Du Rozzen’, growing to only 60cm (2ft), and – perhaps inevitably – A. ‘Poldark’. This is of similar stature, yet even more freely branching, and as handsome as its namesake, currently played by Aidan Turner on BBC Television. In A. ‘Merry Maiden’, another Penberth introduction, the dark red-bronze outer leaves of each rosette contrast beautifully with bright green centres.
Heathers, but not as you know them
The Cape heaths on the display are particularly eye-catching; resembling their northern hemisphere relatives bell heathers, but of such size they appear to be on steroids. Claire has grown Erica mammosa from seed, and it shows a range of flower colours from vivid red through pink to pure white, this last being one of their most popular plants. E. cerinthoides with vividly coloured, tubular, pendulous flowers is nearly always in flower, she says. Both can reach 2m (6½ft), but need winter protection outside the mildest areas of the UK.
Photo, right: Erica mammosa and E. cerinthoides plus grey woolly plectranthus, with Pelargonium transvaalense in front - an unusual species grown for foliage, which looks rather like a heuchera.
Also eye-catching, and another best-seller, is Leucadendron ‘Safari Sunset’, an AGM-awarded evergreen shrub in the protea family, with bold, claret-red bracts growing to 2m (6½ ft) in height and spread. Given an acid, free-draining, ideally poor soil that does not waterlog in winter, this is hardy down to -8°C.