A Tale of Two Nurseries
Ruth Chivers visits two nurseries that are divided by
an ocean, yet have more than just a range of exciting
plants in common, as she explains.
Although 5,000 miles separate Special Plants and Western
Hills Nursery, they have a lot in common. Both have
slightly unpromising sounding addresses, the owners
are expatriate women propagating in a foreign clime,
and they're both full of wonderful plants.
Special Plants lies between Cold Ashton and Freezing
Hill, 7 miles north of Bath. Derry Watkins met her English
husband in her native USA, and moved here more than
20 years ago. Coming from a long line of gardeners,
she is passionate about plants. Tender
are particular favourites, as Derry finds they flower
longer than their hardier
cousins do. First and foremost, she's a flower fancier,
and grows plants she loves in her small nursery in a
fold of the Cotswold escarpment.
Derry has introduced
plants discovered on her travels and has a streak of
the trendsetter about her that strikes a chord with
keen gardeners. She introduced me to Viola 'Irish Molly',
which visitors to the first garden I used it in were
virtually pulling out of the ground. It was her looks
that did it - seductive Celtic coppery, yellow bronze
tones, and as Derry puts it "can flower herself to death".
It looks great with bronze Carex.
Perfectly hardy Diascia
integerrima 'Blush' was another good find. Special
Plants has something for your conservatory, too. Derry's
particularly pleased with Jasminum multipartitum, one
of her newer introductions, with sweetly scented star-shaped
flowers coupled with shiny leaves on a bushy plant.
Western Hills Nursery
is near Sebastopol, about 60 miles north of San Francisco.
This is coastal redwood country, and you come across
the nursery right at the side of the road through the
woods. You sense that something very interesting lies
inside the fence. At the gateway, it's a question of
which way to go first. There's a three-acre strolling
garden with paths that meander up and down and around
the hillside. Everywhere you look there are wonderful
plants, a cultivated jungle. Striking specimens and
good associations beckon you from all angles. Maggie
Wych, a native of Lancashire who has been here for 18
years, worked with the founders, and now owns this idyllic
In 1960, Lester Hawkins
and Marshal Olbrich began to propagate plants for their
own garden. And from the start, Western Hills has been
on the cutting edge of plant introductions. Hawkins
and Olbrich were amongst the first to introduce Mediterranean
and Australian plants that thrive in the climate of
Northern California. Today, the plant list runs to 15
closely typed, double-sided pages and notations include
our own Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden
Merit. It's an embarrassment of riches, some you recognize,
some you don't. It's just as well that not all plants
are available at all times. Limited to a handful of
containers on my apartment balcony, I came away with
five small plants, including the delectable Parahebe
perfoliata. Ones that I want to go back for include
Dichroa febrifuga and Arthropodium candidum, a New Zealand
That's another thing that Western Hills Nursery and
Special Plants have in common - they're both places
to visit with as large a vehicle as possible to ship
back all the must-have plants you find.
Address: Greenways Lane, Cold Ashton, Chippenham, Wiltshire
By car: Signposted off the A46, just south of the A420.
Telephone: + 44 (0) 1225 891686
Mail order: 4 x 2nd class stamps for mail order catalogue
Open: March - September, 10am- 5pm daily, usually, but
call first to check
Derry Watkins also runs day-long courses on a range
of gardening topics at the nursery. Her husband, Peter
Clegg, has designed their garden, which opens under
the National Gardens Scheme.
Western Hills Nursery
Address: 16250 Coleman Valley Road, Occidental, California
By car: Highway 101 north to Rohnert Park, Highway 116
West exit. Follow 116 through Sebastopol to Occidental
Road, Left on Occidental for 5-6 miles, to village of
Occidental. Turn right onto Coleman Valley Road - this
climbs a hill and the nursery is about 1 mile on the
right, with parking in front.
Telephone: +1 707 874 3731
Mail order: No mail order or shipping of plants.
Open: Thursday-Sunday 10am-4pm. Call for winter hours
Photograph, middle left, copyright: Simon McBride
reprinted with premission from Greenfingers.com