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Friday, 28 February 2014

Stop Press! Launch of Evolution Plants

A while ago, I bumped into an old Fleet Street colleague. John Fitzpatrick and I used to work together on the Evening Standard in London before going our different ways - John joined the Financial Mail on Sunday while I went to The Independent, where I worked for 13 years.
Between us we have probably covered more than our fair share of Royal weddings, political scandals and economic chaos. These days, however, our interests are more down to earth - we both write about gardening.
John edits the Alpine Garden Society Journal, while I'm now a freelance gardening writer.
Royal weddings? You can keep them. Political scandals? Yeah, yeah, whatever. Economic chaos? Same old, same old. What really gets our newshound noses twitching now is something like the launch of Evolution Plants, an exciting new nursery founded by plant hunter Tom Mitchell.
I admit to being a bit ambivalent about the whole rare plant thing. The idea of growing something that no one else grows isn't a hugely important factor for me. (Indeed, the rarer it is, the more I worry that I will kill it.) I'm not a stamp album sort of gardener - I want to create an impression, not a collection. What matters to me is whether a plant will thrive in the existing conditions in my garden, and give the effect I want.
And yet, and yet. I am always complaining that garden centres offer an increasingly limited palette of plants. The "Shade" section of a garden centre near me, for example, usually consists of a couple of hostas, a couple of ferns and one or two varieties of bergenia. If you're lucky.
I don't want to be deprived of trilliums, or epimediums, or erythroniums, or hacquetia, so it's important to support any effort that provides us with more of a choice.
I may think it is important, but for Tom Mitchell, it is a mission. His educational background is in natural sciences (he has a PhD in tropical rainforest biology), but he spent 15 years in banking after leaving university. He finally managed to escape the golden shackles of the financial world and go plant-hunting, and the nursery provides him with a chance to bring his discoveries back to the UK and share them with gardeners around the world.
The day I visited Evolution, it was lashing with rain (when is it not?) and I'd got lost twice trying to find the nursery. It was my birthday that day, so I was not feeling too happy, and by the time I arrived, Tom was halfway through his presentation to the gardening press. As he finished, he asked a colleague to crack open the champagne, so that we could all drink a toast. "I feel a bit embarrassed toasting my own website," he said, "so here's to Victoria - happy birthday!" Wasn't that nice? We then inspected the mouth-watering selection of plants in the (nice warm) poly tunnels and had a scrummy lunch. It turned out to be one of the nicest birthdays I've ever had.


Some of the plants that Tom Mitchell grows have not even been named yet, such as this Trautvetteria from Tennessee, a lovely woodland plant with delicate white flowers. It looks a bit like a cross between a green heuchera and a white thalictrum.



The other plant I fell in love with was Parnassia grandifolia (above), another woodlander with neat round leaves, a bit like those of Asarum europaeum, and green-veined white flowers.
These are just two of the amazing selection of plants on Tom's website. Every time I look at it, there is something else I covet. He will also ship anywhere in the world, as this paragraph under the Orders and Delivery section explains:
"We will, in principle, send any plant on our website to any customer, anywhere in the world, subject to the laws that apply in your jurisdiction and ours. Because the legislation governing the movement of plants across international borders changes regularly and is different in every jurisdiction, we have not attempted to standardise the terms on which we will ship plants. Our goal, however, is to work with you to get the plants you would like to order to you speedily, legally and with certainty. Please contact me directly at tom@evolution-plants.com if you would like to discuss an international order and I will do my best to find a solution."

3 comments:

  1. Hello Victoria:

    You make mention of not being a 'stamp album' gardener; we never subscribed to those gardens which, with one of everything, came close to becoming a horticultural zoo. No, we so agree it is all about creating an impression, an impression made up in our view with good, garden worthy plants which will flourish when provided with the right and suitable conditions.

    Tom Mitchell's mail order only 'Evolution' nursery, judging by his website, looks to be most exciting and something for which he so obviously has a great passion. We do wish him well. Alas, we no longer garden but in the years we did we felt it to be so important to support small, specialist nurseries such as 'Evolution'.

    And how splendid to have been toasted in such a way on your birthday.

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  2. Two posts in one day!! Funny you should know John Fitzpatrick as I know him a little, we go to the same AGS group.
    I was sad to miss out on this event but work commitments got in the way yet again but will be visiting for their open day in May

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    1. I know! I had to go and lie down afterwards. I think John Fitzpatrick joined the Standard from the Western Daily Press in Bristol. I seem to remember hiring lots of staff from Bristol at one point, all of them really good.

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