Few people’s work has inspired me as much as Roy Lancaster’s. His book Plantsman’s Paradise, Travels in China inspired me to travel the world to collect plants and see them growing in their native habitats – 1 trip to Ecuador, 2 to Taiwan, 3 to Japan, 3 to China, 1 to Mexico, and several in the mountains of VA and NC, the southeastern US, and Texas so far with another to Taiwan and New Zealand this fall. I’ve been lucky enough to meet Roy a few times, the first when I was working as a gardener at the Atlanta Botanical Garden in the mid-90’s. I still remember him coming by the conifer garden where I was working and telling a story about Sequoia sempervirens ‘Adpressa’ which will send up vertical shoots that give rise to a tall tree with very broad bluish needles. He named that form ‘Cantab’ although ‘Concorde’ was almost the name to denote how fast it shot skyward. Many references say ‘Cantab’ is a prostrate plant but in reality, ‘Adpressa’ is the low growing form and ‘Cantab’ is the vertical phase of the same clone.
Roy met me at the gates of the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens the collection that he helped shape into one of the world’s foremost collections of plants. After a quick tea with Roy and the current Hillier’s head of collections, David Jewell and John Hillier, we set off to explore the collections. The collections are extensive and very well maintained. The oaks in particular I find intriguing but at every turn is a species or cultivar new to me.
David Jewell’s background at Wisley is quickly becoming evident with beautiful displays incorporating herbaceous perennials to highlight the woody displays. On my last visit a couple of years ago, prep was underway for new borders. I was thrilled to see the borders in place and looking luscious and of course packed with plants with which I was only vaguely familiar.
Roy had kindly invited me to stay with he and his wife Sue and I was looking forward to getting back to his garden with more time to poke around than on my last visit. Roy’s suburban garden is packed with more amazing plants than any small garden has the right to display. Roy shares many of my plant passions like Aucuba and Mahonia but he obviously hasn’t met a plant he doesn’t like. We spent the afternoon and evening checking out everything but especially discussing the many species of mahonia that he is growing.
The plants are fantastic in Roy’s garden but he and Sue’s generosity, delightful company, and fascinating conversation were even better. I woke early to explore the garden a bit more before joining Roy as he thumbed through Plantsman’s Paradise reminiscing about old friends and remembered adventures. Definitely a fan-boy moment for me.
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