Wisley Plant Centre is the Harvey Nichols of the gardening world, so it is appropriate that it has a personal shopper service.
© Jonathan Buckley/Gap Photos
You bring in your garden in pictures and notes form, discuss your needs and wants, and then your very own RHS horticultural expert comes up with answers, namely a trolley or two of ideally suited plants.
'I don't want to go home with a cartload of colour that will be over by Tuesday teatime'
I am overwhelmed by choice in this plant paradise - there are seven kinds of rosemary alone, including weeping, creeping and prostrate - so it is
thrilling to have the services of personal shopper, Michaela Freed, for an hour or so, to keep me focused.
She says the biggest mistake we make is to be drawn towards what’s flowering right now, regardless. I drag my eyes from the darling but temperamental blue-flowered gentians; I don’t want to go home with a cartload of colour that will all be over by Tuesday teatime.
My garden dilemma is a 25ft-long border that is shaded down the far end by next door’s workshop and is sunniest near the house. It has typically London heavy clay soil. I want lots of pale colour, year-round action, a haven for insects and my budget is £500.
© S&O/Gap Photos
Personal shopper Freed, to her credit, does not waver, but steers me to the tree section first. I’ve told her I want to see the seasons change, so she pulls me away from a divine giant cloud-pruned evergreen with a staggering price tag of £3,999 and a label that reads superfluously: “I am a very important plant”, and points to a crabapple dripping with gobstopper-sized fruit for less than £40.
“Blossom in spring, fruits in autumn and leaves turn reddish before they fall,” she says. “This is the best tree for all-round value.” Who am I to argue? We haul it on to a trolley.
The crabapple sets the scene for the shady end of the border. In short order, Freed adds shrubs to the trolley, including white camellias that flower, to my delight, in autumn; three variegated griselinias to lighten up the shade; a red-shooted baby photinia and three Midwinter Fire cornus (left), that have stunning orange stems in winter.
For the sunny end, she picks out a gorgeous new compact choisya called Snow Flurries, a strokable euphorbia, Portuguese Velvet, a blue-flowered caryopteris that will pull in the bees and butterflies, and a flamboyant Cistus ladanifer Pat, which has silky white flowers with maroon blotches and, cautions Freed, will need grit when planting.
We add a bag of grit to a second trolley, along with vine eyes and wires, for Freed is looking for climbers to clothe the fence. Her brilliant suggestion is three fragrant white evergreen jasmine, interspersed with two climbing Nice Day patio roses that have salmon-pink blooms.
© Neil Holmes/Gap Photos
Now she picks up perennials, in threes, all long-flowering: white Christmas hellebores, mauve penstemons, useful ground-cover geranium Jolly Bee, gauzy catmint and dainty geums.
'Then she throws in a big bag of fungi for the shrubs: bone-meal is so over'
We move to the bulb area for dwarf daffodils, Snow Bunting crocus, snakes-head fritillaries and alliums for summer colour. Freed throws in a bag of mycorrhizal fungi for planting shrubs - bone-meal is so over - and I add a copper-roofed birdhouse for £25, then hold my breath at the till.
The total is £595.40 - nearly £100 over budget - but at this point, heady from the shopping spree, I am past caring. This, let me tell you, is the only way to shop.
Win £500 to spend on plants at Wisley
We have teamed up with RHS Wisley Plant Centre to give away a £500 gift voucher to spend on plants in store, with the guidance of a personal shopper.
You can choose the finest plants for your particular plot and situation, all delivered to your door.
before midnight on 28 October 2009. The winner will be notified by email.
To book a personal shopping service at Wisley, call 01483 212414. The cost is £100, redeemable against £500 worth of merchandise.
Buy it: the complete fruit book
Whether you want to know how to grow peaches, prune pear trees or preserve gluts of gooseberries, organic gardener and fruit fiend Bob Flowerdew has the answers. In his Complete Fruit Book (Kyle Cathie), Flowerdew gives the horticultural lowdown on more than 100 popular fruits and nuts, providing practical information on planting, pests and propagation as well as fruity seasonal recipes.
Special offer: save £5
Bob Flowerdew’s Complete Fruit Book costs £25, but Homes & Property readers can buy it for £20 (incl p&p) by calling 01903 828503 and quoting code KC CFB/HP.
See it: best Autumn colour
This Sunday Hole Park Gardens, near Benenden, Kent, is holding an open day, from 2pm to 6pm, with plant stalls and afternoon teas. Expect spectacular foliage displays from trees such as liquidambar and acers in the woodland (www.holepark.com).
The Autumn Wood is currently displaying its finest colours at The Savill Garden, Windsor, while the dahlias, cannas, asters and ornamental grasses are still blooming in the borders.
Visit before the end of the month and follow the Hidden History of Trees trail created by the head gardener (www.theroyallandscape.co.uk).