In search of more unusual plants

Back in the heady gardening days of the 1980s and 1990s, there were many specialist nurseries carrying a very wide range of unusual plants, mostly selling by mail-order. I described Peter Cave of Cave’s Tree Nursery, Glyn Church of Woodleigh Nursery and Mark Jury as being like the three musketeers but Mark reminded me of Chris and Linda Ryan at Top Trees and the late Os Blumhardt who led the way. Times changed. I think Top Trees may have closed first, followed by Peter, Glyn sold his business and Mark and I were the last of that quartet to stop selling plants, I think.

Since then, it has become extremely difficult to source many of the less common plants that were available and plant sales have become increasingly concentrated in the big box stores who carry quicker turnover stock in a hugely limited range.

You could have knocked us over with a feather when Peter Cave called in yesterday and said he has set up again, producing less common plants by mail-order (limited to New Zealand customers only). Except it is not mail-order any more, it is internet sales. (How funny to be old enough now to remember the days of real mail and the exciting advent of the fax machine!) This should be exciting news for those who often contact us looking for plants that have not been in commercial production in recent years. Now you can check out Peter and Anetta’s website for plants that you won’t find down at the chain stores. Peter has set up again under the name of Peter Cave Nursery.

I quote from Peter’s site:

When I started, importing plants was reasonable and cheap.  Expecting things to change I imported many plants and lots of seed, especially from Asian countries.  I also collected by travelling to China, Korea, Japan and especially Vietnam.   

The Biosecurity Amendment Act of 2003 completely changed that.  Importing a new species now required a $65,000 risk assessment! Slight changes since have meant that in the last 13 years about 5 new plants have come into NZ.  Fines are horrendous so don’t try to smuggle!  Our job is to locate earlier imports and grow these so we have ‘new’ plants.

I was surprised that recent plant imports numbered as high as five. I only knew of the Wollemi Pine. Peter being one of the real plantsmen of our generation, you can be confident that he knows his material well.

Woodleigh Nursery, formerly Glyn Church’s business, is now owned by Janica and Quinn Amoor. While a large range of hydrangeas remains part of their core business, Janica has been steadily expanding the range of other plants as well. Theirs is another online catalogue worth watching closely if you want different plant material that is not widely available from mainstream retailers. Just by way of example, we have just received Camellia irrawadiensis and Isoplexis canariensis from Janica – these are not plants you would expect to find at Mitre 10 or Bunnings.

This is in the nature of a public service announcement. I have no vested interest in recommending either nursery but isn’t it great that there are specialist growers who can offer you plants that you won’t find in everybody else’s garden? I had thought those days had gone.

Peter Cave is not offering magnolias on his new list but credit where credit is due. In the past, it is he who raised Magnolia Sweetheart to grace our gardens. 



17 thoughts on “In search of more unusual plants

  1. sarahnorling2014

    Thank you for this Abbie, it has made my day. May there be a resurgence of people looking for the less common. I would love plant buyers to direct their spending towards these dedicated small growers rather than the big box monopolies. $65,000 for risk assessment! At the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show a couple of years ago I saw Hydrangea Annabelle in pink – it was gorgeous, but at that price no wonder I’ve never seen it here.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      You wouldn’t need a risk assessment on what is simply a colour variation on a plant already in the country. Basically, it is for new species not recorded as being here already. BUT with the demise of specialist nurseries run by knowledgeable plants people, we also reduced the number of people with a good eye for what is worth going to the trouble of importing and even importing permitted material is not easy. Like you, I hope that there are enough keen gardeners out there to support specialist nurseries and to recognise that some of these less common plants (non-commercials, as we call them – compared to ‘good commercials’ which are the easy to produce, quick turnover, high demand plants) are often a great deal more interesting to have in the garden. And garden visiting can be very dull when you go to several in succession and they are all using the same plants!

  2. Mark Boyd

    I am so excited to know that Peter Caves is back . I still look over his old catalogues longingly from time to time.

  3. mary

    Rob Davidson at Maple Glen also has a splendid catalogue, as, of course, does Terry Hatch at Joy Nursery.

    Sent from my iPad


    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I haven’t checked Rob Davidson’s site but somebody on Facebook has also recommended it. Terry is always a delight at Joy Plants but tends to be stronger on personal visits rather than the internet, in my experience. Thanks for adding these in.

  4. Dale Lethbridge

    How exciting to hear the news about Peter Cave. I still keep a copy of his catalogue handy and just often browse through to remember the treasures he had in store for discerning gardeners. So many delightful beauties there I still enjoy in my garden or have sadly lost over the years.

  5. Tim Dutton

    This is wonderful news. We spend a fair amount of time on the Internet trying to find plants that we have read about, usually with no success. In the past we have found interesting plants in the sales area of private gardens that we have visited: things that I have never ever seen in a garden centre, let alone at Bunnings! Thanks very much for sharing.

  6. Hmb

    As well as Maple Glen there is Wake Robin Nursery too. Buying on Trade Me under perennials quite often leads to finding out what other sellers have on offer, quite often with a catalogue available as well. There are some amazing backyard gardens out there with some wonderful plants to share. The South Island has some great ones.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Yes. We are better served for perennials than for trees and shrubs. What Peter Cave and Woodleigh are doing is making some of the uncommon woody plants available again.

  7. nays

    Thanks for sharing the news Abbie. I bought from Woodleigh recently and was very impressed with both the service and the quality of plants I received. Peter Cave has some interesting plants, and now I know the name of a plant I have noticed around the place – Madeira black parsley – couldn’t figure out what the heck it was.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I promptly googled Madeira Black Parsley and found it is a plant we have here (may have been Kings Seeds?) whose botanical name we have never committed to memory. In this case, the common name may stick. I dead head it because the seed set looks downright dangerous.

  8. tonytomeo

    Yes, it is great that there are still specialists! That is why I am so intent on getting back to the rhododendrons. I am disgusted by the stock in retail nurseries nowadays. It is all designed to be so temporary, so that more plants must be purchased, even while ‘sustainability’ is a fad.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Well I hope sustainability is not so much a fad as the way of the future! Though, it needs to be seen as more than just a marketing ploy. But yes, we need specialists and plantspeople. Rhododendron species or hybrids, may I ask?

      1. tonytomeo

        Most of the rhododendrons are garden variety hybrids. There are at least as many camellias now, but I would like to go back to the rhododendrons because that is what we specialize in. There are better camellia growers in Southern California.

      2. Abbie Jury Post author

        We started as a rhododendron nursery, specialising in maddenii hybrids but with a wide range of both species and hybrids. I recall Harold Greer visiting in the early days. 35 years in and we are cutting out rhodos that are thrip infested and not healthy – including the likes of Lens Monarch and some of the other American hybrids that were all the rage back in the late 80s.

      3. tonytomeo

        Lem’s Monarch and others of that group are still in production. Lem’s Monarch was still one of our most popular in the late 1990s. I never liked it much. We have a few huge specimens at my other work, and they are not even as pretty as they are supposed to be. Rhododendron occidentale and all of that group are remarkably popular, and really should be, but are not so easy to grow in production. They always look shabby. It is amusing to work with some in a mature landscape now, and see how, when they mature, some of them are still duds! Others are totally rad! We have a huge ‘Taurus’ that is silvery with thrip, just as one might expect, but it looks great in bloom!

Comments are closed.