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Great gardens: Lucy Redman visits Sue Wooster at Bellflower Nursery

PUBLISHED: 13:23 22 July 2014 | UPDATED: 13:23 22 July 2014

Plant Displays at Bellflower Nursery © Sue Wooster

Plant Displays at Bellflower Nursery © Sue Wooster

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Sue Wooster holds the national collection of alpine campanulas and was awarded a gold medal by the Royal Horticultural Society in 2012.

Campanula poscharskyana 'Pinkins' closeup © Sue WoosterCampanula poscharskyana 'Pinkins' closeup © Sue Wooster

She first saw these delicate little plants growing in the Italian Dolomites when she was on holiday. With a degree in modern languages, she worked in London translating Italian books into English, but after her children were born she decided to move up to Suffolk and change careers.

Sue always loved being with plants so in the late 1990s she signed up for the national certificate course in amenity and decorative horticulture at Otley College, near Ipswich. She was keen to learn about propagation, seed sowing and the care of plants.

A favourite book of Sue’s was by Peter Lewis, holder at the time of the national collection of alpine campanulas. He and his late wife, Susan, lived near Cambridge, so Sue introduced herself. He was thrilled to meet her as he was retiring after 25 years and wanted to hand on the collection to a fellow plantsman who shared his passion for alpine campanulas. He was hugely helpful to Sue as she set up her own collection.

Campanula is Latin for bell and the majority of the flowers are bell shaped whether tubular or open stars. They have characteristics of five of everything – five petals and five points to the sepals (calyx). Alpine campanulas grow happily in crevices where they can search for their own nutrients and water, and just need a little trimming after flowering to encourage more flowers. They mainly like a sunny site, but a few varieties, such as the campanula I brought from Sue called C.poscharskyana ‘E. H Frost’, will happily run between ferns in a shady part of the garden.

Alpine campanulas  Langham Hall Walled Garden © Sue WoosterAlpine campanulas Langham Hall Walled Garden © Sue Wooster

The national collection is mainly planted in free draining soil in terracotta pots with gravel around their necks. They make ideal pot plants as they are generally drought tolerant. Their long flowering season from mid summer to autumn is superb – often the main flush of colour has finished in the garden and this is a useful time to enjoy their pink, purple, blue or white flowers.

They can be used in raised beds or at the front of borders. For successional flowering starting in March, I suggest something like Veronica peduncularis ‘Georgia Blue’ with its almost forget-me-not bright blue flowers and purple green tinted foliage.This could be succeeded by Dianthus Mrs Sinkins, the white flowering scented pink with useful evergrey leaves, which make a good grey carpet.

They would look stunning next to Campanula poscharkyana ‘Pinkins’ PBR , a clear pink form with a white eye which flowers from June to September and does best in full sun, but will thrive in partial shade. You could interplant this through the strapping leaves and short purple spires of Liriope spicata to vary the leaf form and underplant with Crocus Snowbunting to give early spring interest.

Sue moved the collection to The Walled Garden at Langham Hall between Ixworth and Walsham in 2007. She shares this unusual 3.5 acre Georgian walled garden with market gardener Phil Mizen who runs Langham Herbs www.langhamherbs.co.uk.

On arrival, I peered into the potting shed to see if Phil or Sue were there. It was like stepping back in time – vintage terracotta pots, old tools and cosy yet seriously shabby old armchairs, much needed for well earned tea breaks!

Bellflower Nursery has the pretty backdrop of a Georgian bell-shaped roofed building. Sue’s display tables show off her mainly home grown plants, although she sometimes sources plants from her favourite specialist nurseries creating an eyecatching range for sale. The campanulas are propagated from the national collection and other perennials she sows in August and September.

Exhibiting at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Hampton Court Show in 2012 in the floral marquee was a huge step and a lot of work for Sue. She was filmed for Gardeners’ World and can be seen on her website www.bellflowernursery.co.uk. She was invited to be a judge of the RHS Border Campanula trials at Wisley and was delighted to be asked to carry out a mini trial of Campanula lactiflora ‘Prichards Variety’ AGM.

Somehow she manages to run the Bellflower nursery with its mail order service as well as offering a garden planning, planting and plant sourcing service.

Unlike a big corporate garden centre, Sue’s Bellflower nursery is a real joy to visit – a smaller but very choice selection of plants and sound plant care advice from this delightful lady, who is carving a well deserved name for herself in this historic setting.

n Please contact Lucy for information

on her garden, courses or design consultation on 07503 633 671 or

www.lucyredman.co.uk

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