Seeds and Plant Sources: Part 2
This is Part 2 of a blog about sourcing trees and shrubs for the medicinal forest garden. It can be difficult to find the right herbal seed and plant sources! But help is at hand in our two-part blog on (1) seed suppliers and (2) plant nurseries. Read more about obtaining plants here.
Success in planting
To get the best results when you are purchasing grown plants, check the following:
Can you choose the size or age of plant being ordered? Young plants are cheaper and likely to establish better.
Is the plant species identified by Latin name? If it is a cultivar or variety intended as an ornamental form then it may fall short in medicinal activity.
Is the source or provenance of the plant described? This may be helpful in determining the hardiness of the plant or other preferences it has for soil and position.
Finding plants for a medicinal forest garden
Many of these woody perennials are sold as bare root plants, and may be supplied from November through to March, though some suppliers are already out of stock of bare rooted trees and shrubs for this year. Bare rooted seedlings direct from growers have a good rate of success, can be planted in the winter months and offer quite a saving compared to garden centre plants. This is an important consideration if you need to be harvesting more than a few medicinal plants.
An alternative is to buy a potted plant which is available all year round from a garden centre. In the UK, the Royal Horticultural Society offer an online plantfinder service based on plant species name which will pull up every variety offered for a particular species. However, this search may have limited availability of a native species rather than ornamental forms available from garden centres. If you are struggling to find a particular species of plant available to buy then you might consider growing from seed, see Part 1 of this blog on seeds and plant sources.
A dedicated herbal plant nursery is Poyntzfield Herb Nursery in Scotland. This is a fabulous plant nursery in walled gardens, worth a visit when lockdowns no longer apply. This nursery is renowned for supplying an extensive range of hardy herbs. Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) as well as other North American woodland plants such as black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) are available to order. Many orders are despatched as bare root plants in winter/early spring.
The Agroforestry Research Trust offers a considerable range of useful plants. This is an educational and research organisation founded by Martin Crawford in 1992 and has good quality plants for sale. For example, many varieties of elder (Sambucus spp.) for flowers and berries are available here. Demand is high and many plants will be out of stock by now, though available again in late summer/autumn.
If you are in Europe see Ivywood (previously known as Barefoot Botanicals) based in Sligo, Ireland, who offer a range of herbs and shrubs available as grown plants. This online retail outlet includes some Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic plants.
Look out for hedging plants
Have a look at hedging supplies, as these are often very good value and useful for obtaining native plants such as cramp bark (Viburnum opulus). You may also find some introduced ornamental plants like Oregon grape (Berberis aquifolium, also known as Mahonia aquifolium). Check out your local garden centre for bundles of 5, 10 or more young trees and shrubs intended for hedging.
In Scotland have a look at Hedgehogs Nursery (online as Scotplants Direct) in Fife which offers hedging plants.
Fruit and other ornamental tree suppliers
Kore Wild Fruit Nursery are based near Lampeter, Wales, offering a range of unusual fruiting plants, trees, shrubs and perennials including a number of natives, all produced in the nursery.
British Hardwood Tree Nursery based in Lincolnshire offer violet willow (Salix daphnoides) and a good range of trees of various ages and sizes. For example hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) is available in 1 or 2-year old sized 40-60 cm at £0.97 or £1.40 respectively, prices reduce considerably for quantities of 25 or more, and trade accounts are available. Despatch up till mid-April and minimum order of £30 apply.
Burncoose Nurseries in Cornwall offer great quality plants, often original species and wellgrown so prices are good for these larger plants, for example a 3-foot fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) at £25, black walnut (Juglans nigra) for £14.50, Japanese angelica tree (Aralia elata) at £17.50.
Frank Matthews have an extensive range of fruit and ornamental trees to supply the horticultural trade, at a price depending on order quantities. You can contact them to see if they can obtain what you want even if it is not listed. See their website for their local stockists.
Receiving your plants
Check for obvious damage but do not fully unpack bare-rooted plants until close to planting. If planting is delayed due to extreme cold or bad weather then bare root plants can be laid almost horizontally in a shallow trench and the roots covered with soil for a short period. Planting from pots is possible after frosts have passed throughout much of the year, and roots may need a little teasing out into a planting hole. It is advisable to take care to water young trees in drier periods. It may be better to delay planting until later in autumn or winter rather than risk an expensive potted plant drying out in summer. For more information on planting, have a look at Chapter 3 on establishing the medicinal forest garden in The Medicinal Forest Garden Handbook.