Cath's Garden Plants - The award winning gardening couple from the Lakeland

PUBLISHED: 16:25 05 May 2011 | UPDATED: 19:19 20 February 2013

Cath's Garden Plants - The award winning gardening couple from the Lakeland

Cath's Garden Plants - The award winning gardening couple from the Lakeland

A couple with a passion for plants have been striking gold at flower shows around the country. Linda Viney reports

We all love visiting flower shows and look in wonder at the beautiful displays. But we should never forget the terrific amount of hard work put in by the dedicated band of exhibitors to ensure we have a good day out.

With this in mind and the show season upon us, I headed north to visit Cath and Bob Sanderson, who run a successful nursery at Heaves, just off the A590 between Levens Hall and Sizergh Castle.

The enthusiasm of the team at Caths Garden Plants, based at the walled garden of Heaves Hotel since 2003, was infectious. They have a real passion for their plants and Cath was in her element in the potting shed planting up some cuttings.

I love getting my hands dirty, she told me. I am responsible for the marketing and website so I dont manage to get down to the nursery every day. But I love meeting people at the shows and giving visitors advice when they buy their plants from us.

Bob studied horticulture at Hutton in the days before Myerscough. Although it was a good grounding, there is nothing that can compare with the hands on practicalities, he said. Ive been in the business for over 40 years but I never stop learning.

The couple met when they were 16 and while Cath went on to become a teacher she helped Bob every spare minute as he developed his landscaping business. Eventually, he began growing plants for landscaping so he had the varieties and the quality he needed.

In 1999, Cath left teaching and as she spent more and more time helping, they decided to take the plunge by exhibiting at two shows, Gateshead and Shrewsbury.

It was a steep learning curve as they hired a van and discovered the rear opening wasnt the right size for accommodating the trolley loaded with plants. All the plants were taken off then replaced when the trolley was in situ, the process reversed when they arrived at the show. Also they hadnt realised you needed to shrink wrap the trolleys to stop the plants falling off. Undeterred, they staged their display and were rewarded with gold medals.

Having caught the bug, the following year they exhibited in four shows and are now regulars at all the prestigious Royal Horticultural Shows (RHS) where they have been awarded gold medals.

Their first of seven shows this year was Harrogate Spring Flower Show, celebrating its centenary. Following the innovative theme A Century of Change their design incorporated different sections - including a 1911 garden, another devoted to Gertrude Jekyll, and a Second World War-themed Dig for Victory area, which incorporated fruit and vegetables for the first time.

There was also the present day with plant labels as they would have been in times past. For instances, the Hosta was known as Funkia as some are still today.

The plants are grown naturally in their nursery so those selected for shows - and for sale - havent been forced for the display.

A lot depends on the weather and grasses, ferns and small trees are moved into a selected area, Cath said. As a teacher, I like to plan but Bob has the artistic eye and takes the plants and designs the display on site. The majority of plants for the nursery are grown on site either from cuttings, seeds or divisions. We know they will be true.

As you wander round the nursery you will discover many more unusual varieties as well as the old favourites and, when I visited, the Barnhaven primulas were just coming in to flower. The delicate looking hepatics, Blue Jewel, caught my eye as did the new Tulipa Lilliput - aptly named for its small flower not much bigger than a thumbnail. Peonies were coming to life and small shoots of the herbaceous perennials sprouting.

They make their own compost from a reduced peat mix, bark and grit with a slow release fertiliser. All their pots are top dressed with bark which, apart from being pleasing on the eye, keeps the weeds at bay.

This year they are introducing roses for the first time and widening their fruit range to include Goji berries, Japanese wineberries and honey berries. Goji berries have an added bonus of attracting the honey bee to your garden. A small selection of Darlac tools and glazed and terracotta pots are also available. The latter can be planted up for you on the nursery if you want.

During spring and summer groups and societies are welcome to the nursery which is open seven days a week from until October 31. From Autumn to Winter Bob gives talks and they also hold a few practical workshops.

We love being outside and giving pleasure to people at shows, said
Cath. Bob added: Our plants are naturally grown so the combination
in our displays is what you can achieve. The care we put into growing them and advice we offer will ensure they give pleasure.

Three to visit in May

The National Garden Scheme raises money for good causes through members who open their gardens to the public. Here are three you could visit:

Crabtree Lane Gardens, Burscough, L40 0RW. Open Sunday, May 15 (1-5pm). Two very diverse gardens - one a year-round garden with many established and contrasting hidden areas while the other has water features, old fashioned rockery, vine covered pergola, and trompe loeils.

Little Stubbins, Claughton-on-Brock, Near Preston, PR3 0PL. Open Sunday, May 15 (1-5.30pm) and Monday, May 16 (11-4.30pm). Mixed borders containing a large selection of herbaceous, shrubs, roses and bulbs giving all-year interest and colour. Over 90 varieties of hostas.

Lindeth Fell Country House Hotel, Bowness, LA23 3JP.
Open Saturday, May 21 (2-5pm). Six acres of lawns and landscaped grounds above Lake Windermere designed by Mawson around 1909. Conifers and specimen trees best in spring with a colourful display of rhododendrons, azaleas and Japanese maples.

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