YOU WON’T find roses or radishes, petunias or parsnips, dahlias, delphiniums, magnolias or mahonias in this catalogue. That’s because Bowdens is a world away from the crowd.
What you will discover are those less familiar genera – hosta, agapanthus, ferns and bamboos. Not forgetting the gargantuan gunnera.
And what a joy it is to turn page after page – there are 48 – in leisurely manner absorbing an array of gorgeous photographs, a mine of personal and educational information and dashes of good humour.
For starters, it’s an impressive front page strap-line to reveal 26 Chelsea Flower Show gold medals and 125 RHS golds.
Those gongs place Bowdens in a rather special category, many of them won by the late Roger and Ann Bowden who established the nursery – at Sticklepath, Okehampton in Devon – in the early 90s as one of Britain’s leading growers of hostas.
In 2004 the couple’s daughter and son-in-law, Ruth and Tim Penrose, took over the business and have since acquired a prominent fern nursery, a firm selling bamboos and, in 2016, a Devon-based nursery specialising in agapanthus.
Indeed, Ruth now holds the Plant Heritage National Collection of both hostas and agapanthus, an organisation that ensures safe conservation of secure and threatened plants across the spectrum.
Both agapanthus and hostas are enjoying a renaissance in popularity, though I cannot be sure of the recent fortunes of ferns or bamboos, both of which can add architectural beauty to a garden’s format.
So a quick rundown of the Fab Four, starting with hostas which are famed as, arguably, the plants with the most stunning variegated foliage in botany.
Bowdens showcase more than 60 in the catalogue – more online – where wonderful colour contrasts shine through. There are what growers name as blue hostas, gold hostas and green and white hostas, all of which bear handsome, heart-shaped leaves rippled, stippled, ruffled, streaked, margined or painted in yellow or cream, though some varieties remain uniformly coloured. Forbidden Fruit, pictured here, is simply out of this world!
They relish a moist home, either sunny or in part-shade, but avoid heavy penumbra as the mauve, lilac or near-white flowers will shy away. And, of course, it’s essential to set traps for marauding slugs and snails – your choice!
Agapanthus – Greek for flower of love – are South African beauties that exude a tropical air. Their heads of vivid bells range from all shades of blue and purple and on to pure snowy white.
They can be either evergreen or shorter-growing deciduous, adore a sun-kissed spot and will woo you with elegance and poise.
I once visited Dick and Lorna Fulcher’s nursery at Eggesford in Devon – since bought by Bowdens – and was bowled over by the eye-opening spectacle of these blue and white aristocrats, all growing en masse.
Bowdens illustrate more than 40 in the catalogue, from the opulent, deep purple Royal Velvet to the pastel allure of the white-flushed-pink Strawberry Ice.
Ferns are all about Asplenium scolopendrium, Dryopteris crassirhizoma and Phegopteris decursive–pinnata – the last two sounding like prehistoric monsters – along with many others and I can tell you they are much easier to cultivate in the soil than their names are to unravel on the tongue.
Once you start growing them you’ll see them as lifetime fronds – that’s the fern’s version of leaves – and there’s little to match the sight of unfolding young fronds in spring or early summer, especially in the glint of morning sun.
They all team up well with hostas and other shade lovers and, once planted, they seem to live for ever. Perfect choice for filling nooks and crannies.
Bowdens’ featured bamboos are the slender fargesias – said to be well-behaved – and phyllostachys with colourful canes, fast spreading and tasty shoots.
Many gardeners may dismiss bamboo as an option, yet their value in making a statement with their hollow stems – known as culms – in many hues and or creating solid screens cannot be denied.
Don’t get bamboozled! If in doubt just give Tim or Ruth a call for immediate advice.
✴ http://www.bowdensnursery.com / 01837 849367.
✴ Beauty of Bowdens: From top – Hosta Forbidden Fruit; Firn Line and First Blush; Agapanthus Night Sky; Liam’s Lilac and Silver Baby; Athyrium niponicum pictum, Osmunda Regalis and Polystichum munitum; above – bamboo Borinda papyrifera and Bowdens 2021 catalogue.