At Candide, we're keen to shout the praise of independent nursery owners up and down the country who have spent their life growing the best quality plants available. These plants are not what you'd buy from the high street, supermarket or garden centre, but have quality root systems that ensure a flourish through the seasons, often stocking sought-after, specialist varieties. So let us introduce you to a fabulous gem, Sue Beesley.
Introducing Sue Beesley, owner of Bluebell Cottage Gardens
Sue is the first to admit that she’s not predisposed to the latest fashion trends, preferring to stock perennials that have proved themselves in her own garden, rather than the latest horticultural fads.
Nevertheless, she’s not averse to being an early adopter of some trends, such as the use of peat-free composts. Likewise, her passion for hard-working plants brings long seasons of form and colour to beds and borders, leading to several overlooked perennials coming back onto gardeners’ radars.
These are just some of the reasons why so many people beat a path to Bluebell Cottage Gardens and Nursery, based near Warrington.
Those visiting in person also get to enjoy the lovingly-tended plot of a BBC Gardener of the Year, along with the spectacle and fragrance of a bluebell wood in spring and colourful wildflower meadows in summer.
Sue’s been running her nursery since 2007. Since then, she’s earned an enviable reputation for her knowledge and the quality of her perennials and ornamental grasses. So much so, she’s a member of the RHS’s herbaceous committee and a specialist adviser for RHS Bridgewater. Yet despite the accolades, she remains friendly, down to earth and approachable.
The catalyst for her decision to turn her life-long love of plants into a business came after she was selected to take part in the BBC’s Gardener of the Year, which was how she first came across what was then known as Lodge Lane Nursery.
“It was in a dilapidated state when I first saw it, and three days before I was due to build my garden I returned to find a ‘for sale’ sign had gone up,” explains Sue, who previously ran an information technology company and was studying horticulture at college when she appeared in the show in 2006. “This planted a seed in my mind, and winning the competition gave me the opportunity to change careers.”
Over the years Sue has stocked her nursery with the plants that grow well in her own garden, which lies between Manchester and Liverpool on the Cheshire Plain – to the south of the Dee and the north of the Mersey. “I’m on a southwest-facing slope with quite sandy soil,” she explains. “It tends to be quite mild here.”
Sue is often asked to make recommendations and says it’s often a struggle to choose between the many beautiful plants she stocks. For ground covering geraniums that won’t turn into thugs, she suggests ‘Nimbus', which produces lots of purple flowers on mounds of attractive dissected foliage, and ‘Anne Thompson’
a neat spreader with vivid magenta blooms.
Pictured: Geranium 'Nimbus'
Her top tips for reliable long-flowerers include dyer’s camomile Anthemis tinctoria ‘E.C. Buxton’ and false indigo Baptisia australis. “The baptisia look like they’re not hardy but I have had a lot of success growing them,” she says.
Other tried and tested favourites are California tree poppy Romneya coulteri with its papery flowers, “it’s reported to be not fully hardy but has come through everything here,” she says, and the willow-leaved sunflower Helianthus salicifolius, which brings a ‘fountain’ of foliage throughout much of the year and rich golden flowers in late summer. “It’s great for big gardens or the centre of a circular bed,” she suggests.
Pictured: California Poppy (Romneya coulteri)
Meanwhile, many who attend Sue’s talks on perennials to gardening groups end up visiting the nursery in search of the Autumn ox eye daisy Leucanthemella serotina to enjoy its beautiful white flowers in the first week in October. “This is certainly a plant we’ve put onto people’s radars,” she laughs.
Bluebell Cottage & Gardens
is located in Lodge Lane, Dutton, near Warrington WA4 4HP. The gardens are open between April and September and are an RHS Partner Garden.
To get in touch, call 01928 713718.