I don’t do Sat Nav, but when I looked up the location of Janet and Martin Blow’s garden in the hamlet of Hankelow near Crewe in Cheshire, I knew that I had to give it a try. There was no nearby exit from the M6 so I left at Junction 14 and was directed along minor roads and country lanes, good cycling country I thought, and past the Dorothy Clive Garden. Before I had left the office I had posted a copy of the National Plant Collections Directory to the curator there, how impressive it would have been to have hand delivered it. I arrived at Hankelow and found Yew Tree House at the edge of the village green, housing one of the two National Plant Collections of Helenium. The other Collection is in Tiverton, Devon, held by another Martin, Hughes-Jones.
I bought my first Helenium at Doug Smith’s Open Day in September 2008 and followed it up with a couple of cultivars from Martin when he exhibited at Tatton Park in 2009. They do well in my garden, so I was keen to see more varieties and learn about the plant. Martin had warned me that it was a little early but there was still plenty to see among the ocean of other perennials. A budding Collection of Centaurea amazed me with the variety of colour and form and a potential Collection of Mondarda holds its head up among the Hemerocallis, Astilbe, Geum and Phlox.
And despite being a little too early in the season, the Sneezeweed were showing their faces, this name deriving not from the pollen, but from the early use of the dried leaves as snuff. Martin told me that they do well in a sunny spot (check), like some moisture (need to do something about that), and divide best in the spring (that’s probably why I lost one of my early purchases). They are very popular in Germany having been worked on by Karl Foerster in the 40s, and many cultivars have germanic names. Martin was testing a new cultivar from Ray Clark called ‘Midnight’, a deep red with furled petals, so the work goes on.
So if you can get yourself to Cheshire, by map or by Sat Nav, for the weekend of August 20/21st I would suggest you go along to Hankelow and visit the Collection and the other beauties in the garden on the Open Day. Not only can you see the plants, but you can buy them. A good day out.