Back in the UK we used to take garden centres pretty much for granted. We had a dozen or more within a short drive of our home, ranging from small privately owned businesses to impersonal sheds like Wyevale. At the top end there were places you could get lost in for the day: destination centres, as they like to call themselves: Poplars Garden Centre of Toddington, Dobdies in Milton Keynes, Roger Harvey Garden World or Van Hage at Great Amwell. You could more or less buy whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted it, unless my absence has fogged my memory with a rosy, horticultural glow.
Last week I wanted to sow Geraniums Moulin Rouge from T&M. I like to top the compost with Vermiculite after sowing, to retain moisture while still providing plenty of air to the seed. We drove to the local garden centre, and then another, to try to buy some, but there was none to be found. Back at home I resorted to the internet and found that gardening forums serving the ex. pat British gardener were full of requests for vermiculite suppliers. In the end I found the product at a reasonable price on EBay and it arrived today from a company in N.E. France.
The trouble with EBay is the delivery charges, which can add a considerable amount to your purchases (in fact, years ago I was buying things regularly from a supplier in China; the articles cost very little but the postage could be ten times as much!). This company wanted more than I thought reasonable for postage and packing but would discount if you bought more than one item. I happily selected Cortaderia selloana Cool Ice for a total bill little more than if I had bought the vermiculite alone. Cool Ice is one of a number of Pampas Grass varieties trialled by the RHS in 2007-2009, features white leaf margins and is said to be compact. It did not receive an award of merit but availability is one of the criteria. I have found very few references to this variety so I am excited to see how it performs in our garden.
The Pampas Grass arrived in good condition, a well grown plant in a 3L pot. Plants by post have a reputation to be on the small side but this was not the case with the supplier, http://www.boutique-plante-nature.fr/. This is not the first time I have bought plants via EBay, a practice which, I can see, might cause a horrified reaction from my gardening friends, but so far, so good. I have on the other hand, had plenty of issues after buying plants from nurseries at garden festivals and many more with the popular gardening catalogue companies in France.
My next chance to see some of the best nurseries in France gathered in one place will be the forthcoming Salon du Vegetal show in Angers in February. I am trying to organise my life so that I can visit, but life is so busy, it’s not easy these days.