A couple of weekends ago I flew to Paris for some serious indulgence; no, not food, not culture but plant hunting. Several of my Italian friends had visited the plant fair at Courson in previous years and were full of enthusiasm. I have to admit to being a little sceptical. So far, no plant sales fair in Italy has been very good – poor quality plants, always in large sizes and often straggly tall plants that don’t bush out.
I left home late-morning on a warm, sunny Friday; I’d studied the forecast and rain was predicted for late Friday afternoon and Saturday early morning but clearing by 10 am – it might be cold, but warm clothes were not a problem; I’d actually rather be hot than cold.
I was with a French-speaking friend who had visited on several occasions previously (she is a Botanical artist and has had stand to sell her work at Courson in the past). Our hotel was near the Jardin du Plantes so our walk to the station the following morning was through the garden; a nice start to the day (it was very grey with very low cloud but trusting in the forecast I was hopeful that by the time we arrived the sun would be shining!
As we boarded the shuttle bus that took us the last 30 minutes of our journey to the Chateau of Courson the rain began to fall in earnest, I was trying to be very positive that the rain would stop before we arrived, but no, it rained and it rained and it rained for most of the day turning the ground into a quagmire of mud.
But I had come too far to be put off; French couples and ladies on their own were arriving well prepared with shopping trolleys on wheels, waterproof boots and weatherproof coats with hoods!
Undeterred we entered the showground, first port of call a small tent manned by two patient men each with a computer. Ask them the name of a plant you were searching for and they would look it up and tell you which stands had it!!!!!!!!!! I was impressed.
I wasn’t sure what I would buy but I was hopeful that I would find a good selection of Agapanthus. Now you may think that Italy would be an ideal place to grow Agapanthus and indeed many gardens have them but all I have been able to find are the very large evergreen varieties that suffer badly each winter and every year I am fearful they won’t survive. I wanted some hardy perennial varieties that I knew would survive the winter well in my free-draining soil. Success! I soon spotted a stand specialising in only Agapanthus! Better still (from my point of view) he was a Yorkshire man, a holder of the National collection. We were soon deep in conversation while I was selecting which of his vast assortment of varieties to buy. The rain came down even harder, he very kindly offered me an umbrella (I had left mine in the hotel – believing the forecast and also not wanting to have one hand occupied uselessly).
With my purchases from him made and the plants safely in bags behind his stall, awaiting collection later in the day I was ready to begin searching for other plants that would fit in my one suitcase. With my borrowed umbrella I could at least keep my head dry.
Do check out his website, all the plants were well grown, good sized and he promises will flower in their first year in the ground. Agapanthus specialist.
Next up Irises; something else that grows wonderfully for me here but which for some strange reason are difficult to find in nurseries here or when you do find the odd one cost a fortune. Cayeux, one of the leading Iris growers and sellers in the world did not disappoint although if I had been searching for particular varieties I might have been better to simply order on-line; they too have an excellent website and if I decide to buy more I will order from them in this way.
My other passion, as my regular reader will know is grasses; again I was spoilt for choice with many of the stands having grasses and a couple of specialist growers too. A few found their way into my bags along with some Asters a friend asked me to look out for.
The show doesn’t have show-gardens, nothing to distract from the pursuit or plants!
I have never seen anything like this before; maybe Hampton Court Flower Show would be the nearest thing but Courson had hundreds of top quality nurseries selling an amazing number of different plants. I haven’t mentioned the vast selection of trees, shrubs all in different sized containers. I think many English gardeners would love this show. It’s not far from Paris and so great for a weekend break. We combined this with a day seeing the show gardens at Chaumont. But that’s for another day.
If you are travelling by plane, some careful thought is needed. My choices of Anapanthus and Iris I packed without soil; the grasses too, I removed most of the soil while still at the show ground. A tiny Kaffir Lime I tenderly wrapped and placed with soft cushioning around it to protect it from the sometimes rough treatment of the baggage handlers.