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Meet: Kerry Mitchell, plantaholic

Photos: Robin Powell

Kerry Mitchell says she can’t resist a good flower and she now partly funds her passion by selling plants from her garden. Robin Powell caught up with her as she was preparing for the Collectors’ Plant Fair.

What makes someone start a nursery in their garden?

I’m a plantaholic and an absolute sucker for a beautiful flower. I moved up here to Kurrajong 11 years ago and started with salvias. I just love them as they are so generous with their flowers. I started with a box recommended by Sue Templeton, then ordered another box and another. Then I wanted ones that Sue didn’t have and I started to import seeds. Pretty soon I had more than 300 different salvias, species as well as cultivars, as well as lots of rare perennials - but no income! People who came to visit the garden would ask to buy things, so I started to pot a few things up. People love to be able to see plants growing in the garden, see how well they do in the conditions and then buy the ones that are going to work best for them.


Salvia gesnaeflora 'Tequila'. Photo - Robin Powell


You have a stall at the annual Collectors’ Plant Fair too. What do you like about the Plant Fair?

Gardeners are such lovely people! They come to the plant fair for a great day out, whether they are shopping for something specific or just browsing. Everyone is really relaxed and friendly. It’s just a pleasure to have a stall and sell my plants to people who love to grow things.


What are your best sellers?

It changes year to year and it depends on the season. People come and visit the garden and often buy what they see in flower. But I also think that people are becoming more familiar with salvias, so that now they are looking for salvias for specific spots. They’ll come and talk to me with a list of what they are already growing, and a few trouble spots in the garden they’d like to fill.

What kind of trouble spots?

Say, dry shade, under a pine tree, a very challenging position! And what’s perfect for that is Salvia cacaeliifolia from Mexico. It grows about a metre tall and wide, with triangular, large soft leaves, floppy growth, and gentian blue flowers. Plus it’s tough as nails. It’s found on the edges of pine forests in the wild, so it copes very well with some really challenging garden conditions. Every time I look it is in flower, but not smothered. For smothered, you want another terrific Mexican salvia, S. chiapensis. It’s for full sun. Lipstick-pink flowers on spikes 30-40cm long make a halo effect all over the plant for about 10 months of the year.


Kerry's garden, Photo - Robin Powell


What do people need to know to have good success with salvias?

Pruning is the thing. You do have to prune them very hard. Until you become familiar with the plant you might do a third of it at a time. I take them from 2m down to 30cm on the first weekend in October, as soon as they have new shoots 10 cm from the ground. I never used to be a boy-pruner, but you really do get more flowers!


Kerry Mitchell’s Nursery in a Garden is at 661 Comleroy Road, Kurrajong, NSW. (02) 4576 0349. 

Text: Robin Powell

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Author: Robin Powell