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You've Got Mail (Order) The Plant Collector

Confessions of a Long Time Plant Collector

By Peta Trahar

A little piece of paradise in Peta's country garden.

To best explain my passion for gardens and plants, I’ll refer first to my background. Both sides of my family were very keen and good gardeners. No doubt due to this inherited ‘plant loving gene’, I can still remember every detail of the gardens of my childhood and the bush in the hills above Hobart where we free ranged. A visit to ‘Woodbank’, (now gone), Ken Gillanders’ marvellous nursery chock full of rare treasures was always exciting, always looked forward to. When I moved to Sydney I continued to buy Ken’s plants via mail.

Quickly moving on! As a newly married youngster with a small city house in Sydney, I began to read as many gardening books as I could. Where could I find the unusual plants mentioned? Weekend visits to Rumsey’s Roses, Somerset Cottage, Honeysuckle Cottage, the Fragrant Garden at Erina and Berrima Bridge Nursery, now all closed, fuelled my passion. Attendance at the 1988 Landscape Conference in Melbourne, listening to famous plants people from around the world, in addition to study at the Ryde School of Horticulture, fanned the flames.


Nothing says spring in the Blue Mountains better than rhododendrons in the mist.  

The natural progression was a career in landscape design, moving to a country property and establishing a small nursery….and still collecting rare plants.

For me there is nothing more depressing than visiting a nursery/chain store/garden event where the palette of plants and garden accessories on offer is mass produced and the choice is limited. I’d built up an interesting garden full of treasures at my garden ‘Woodgreen’, Bilpin, often from the nurseries that had closed.


Silver foliage simply stunning against the green 

The idea of gathering together a group of specialist nurseries in a relaxed setting began as a dream, then a project. It all worked out wonderfully well at the inaugural Collectors’ Plant Fair in 2005. We brought together thousands of gardeners desperate for something different, eager to learn, to meet and communicate with the very nurserymen who take the cuttings, plant the seed and nurture them to the point of sale. It’s a gardening high! I hoped it would help the nurseries keep going.  

Choosing favourite nurseries out of the many is a bit like having a favourite child – I shouldn’t really do that. I love them all. My garden is a mountain garden so I will look to perennials, cool climate shrubs, trees and bulbs. The lovely thing at Collectors’ Plant Fair though, is that there are nurseries coming from the tropics as well as NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. Even if I’m not stocking up on everything available, I can admire.


Peta's Hippiastrum, H. 'Papillio', is also one of Linda's favourites 

Perhaps I’ll break my rule though, and mention Don Teese’s Yamina Collectors’ Nursery. For trees and shrubs particularly, he is the expert and so inspiring. Matt and Mike from Antique Perennials always have fabulous plants, many that they have imported. I like to trawl through offerings from Secret Garden Nursery, Wallis Creek Water Garden, Sun Valley Native Plants , Country Farm Perennials, Bilby Native Plants, Mt Murray, The Bay Tree and … and … the list goes on. In 2015 I bought a fabulous wire and twig nest from Wired for Living, a garden accessory company.

For me, Autumn is the best time to plant. I can stock up at the Collectors’ Plant Fair in April to fill all the spaces in the garden and the new beds I’ve had specially made. 2016 will see me on the lookout for hardy, drought-tolerant sun lovers. I’ll be wanting succulents and silver leaved perennials – Aloe Aloe and Perennialle Nursery will be on the radar…. and of course Florilegium book store is impossible to resist. See you there.


The mature pink-margined beech, Fagus sylvatica  'Roseo-Marginata', overhanging Peta's courtyard