As it’s the quiet season for us I’m taking the opportunity of getting out and about and chatting to some of our current suppliers. I popped up to Wales on Tuesday to see two of my favourites – Shipton Bulbs (John Shipton and daughter Aelfwyn), and Gower Wildflowers. Gower Wildflowers are in the Gower (duh!) and John is in – er – I’m not sure I could tell you. My SatNav certainly couldn’t. Somewhere in deepest Carmarthenshire. Even when I found his smallholding I wasn’t sure it was the right place. Y Felin, his HQ, is less of a normal nursery and more of a sylvan idyll, whose ferny slopes yield hundreds of thousands of British bluebells. But then John Shipton isn’t your normal nurseryman either. He sits at an exotic intersection, where pre-Beyonce Glastonbury (he was at the first festival) meets Selborne Chase meets Kathmandu. He leads trips to the Himalayas, following his explorer father Eric’s footsteps, and we chatted about a recent visit to the mountains of Albania. The first post on his new blog, A Guide to Five Star Ditches, tells the story of a recent expedition to cross the Southern Patagonian ice cap. In between trips he tends his bulbs.
It explains some of the exotica in the nursery, which happily rub shoulders with a fascinating variety of species from closer to home. There are all sorts of goodies for the British plant enthusiast, including the mouth-wateringly obscure Bath Asparagus (Ornithogalum pyrenaicum), a relation of the better known Star of Bethlehem, and our very own curly form of chive (Allium schoenoprasum var anglicum). John has historic varieties of daffs (as well as our wild daffodils) and seven different forms of Wood Anemone. He has squills and crocuses, trilliums and primulas, ferns and violets… his list is a plantsman’s delight and a testament to his knowledge and enthusiasm. His bulbs and plants come in basic but carefully prepared packaging and they’re beautiful quality, and of course their provenance is as good as it gets. Promoting this kind of grower is very much part of what Habitat Aid should do, and I hope we’ll be able to do a lot more with Shipton Bulbs in future.