The problem with a plant addiction is that very quickly the pretty perennials and pleasing shrubs sold by local nurseries are just not quite enough. I can vouch for this, because soon after trading London for a sizeable plot in the beautiful Suffolk countryside, I became gripped by an insatiable horticultural hunger. When you start to plan and nurture a serious garden, you realise that almost anything is possible – allées of trees, microclimates for palms and bananas, topiary gardens – and grand schemes, especially exotic ones, need impactful über-plants.
For me, there is no place better to find them than Architectural Plants, a specialist nursery that stretches across 32 acres just outside Pulborough in West Sussex. Opened in 1990 by Angus White – whose witty, straight-talking plant descriptions make for wonderful reading even if you are not shopping – the nursery rapidly became the go-to for the sort of bold, major-impact trees and topiaries that have become a feature of so many show gardens – and real gardens.
I love it for the fantastic selection of exotics (from £12.50), palms (from £42.50) and chunky agaves (from £57.50), but also for trees that are quite simply hard to source elsewhere: umbrella pines (from £144), mimosas (or “Persian silk” trees, from £42.50) or the heavenly foxglove tree (Paulownia tomentosa, from £32.75). But it’s possibly the niwaki, the Japanese-inspired cloud-pruned trees, for which this nursery has become most famous. Jake Hobson, a leading expert on niwaki trees, is a longtime collaborator here, and twice a year runs one-day masterclasses (£150 per person, including lunch) where you can get a glimpse of a topiarising master at work before trying to clip and sculpt your own trees at home.
Of course, as any gardener can attest, everything about a plant’s success depends on how carefully it is chosen and then put into the ground – and to that end, Architectural Plants takes on lots of pure planting projects for clients, as well as designing and maintaining spaces.
That sounds like the ultimate indulgence – although, personally speaking, there’s nothing quite like nurturing your own plants. The ornamental coniferous Cupressus arizonica niwaki trees (£4,995), grown over 20 years by Hobson in Somerset, need plenty of light, space and reasonably well drained soil – and they’re a satisfying project: the more you clip them, the better they look.