Review: The Brisbane Plant Collector’s Fair, 26-27.5.18

Isn't it nice not to have to wade through a sea of sameness?

Isn’t it nice not to have to wade through a sea of sameness?

One of the gardening events Brisbane lacked until the Plant Collector’s Fair started in 2016, was a show dedicated to the enthusiast.

 A place where not only can you get a jammy mouth plant, but its golden-flowered form too. Thank goodness we have this show now – pass the napkins!

Juanulloa mexicana

Juanulloa mexicana

Want something complimentary to underplant that orange-flowered Juanulloa mexicana, an elite tropical, flowering vine anyone can grow successfully? Don’t know them? A visit to this show would be educational.

Gardeners in south eastern Queensland can visit various botanic gardens and private gardens to see and photograph specialist plant collections.

Our orchid and bromeliad shows are fantastic events where we can appreciate some of our region’s growers and the plants that hybridists and breeders are producing. But until recently, there was no single event that brought them all together.

The subtropics allows gardeners to grow a wider range of plants from different climate zones than any other climate zone.

The subtropics allows gardeners to grow a wider range of plants from different climate zones than any other climate zone.

The subtropics allows gardeners to grow a wider range of plants from different climate zones than any other climate zone. In my sub-coastal suburb, coconuts crop alongside hydrangeas. And even in the worst Brisbane winter I grow temperate vegetables better than I could in the best London summer.

Some gardeners take their access to the enormously rich plant bounty on sale for granted: pop down to your local garden centre and you’ll find as wide a range of plants to buy as you’ll sometimes find in a small botanic garden overseas. If garden centres are so well stocked, why is the Brisbane Plant Collector’s Fair so useful and valuable to gardeners?

I believe it is because those hardware store/ garden centre chains stock pretty much the same things. 

In a time when hardware store chains can flood the marketplace with the sameness of general purpose plants, the Brisbane Plant Collectors Fair provides a refuge for the traditional art and craft of growing a rich diversity of plants you never get to see under one roof.

What is the value of a grafted plant if it is being sold in a region where the growing conditions don’t suit the grafted rootstock? That is too often the case with cheap stock from hardware store chains. They set amateur gardeners up for failure. If a plant must be grafted to suit local soils and conditions, you’ll find them on the right rootstock at this fair.

Massonia amoena. A prostrate, drought-adapted relative of hyacinth from S. Africa.

Massonia amoena. A prostrate, drought-adapted relative of Hyacinth from S. Africa.

There is appeal in not having to wade through a sea of sameness to find something different. At the Plant Collector’s Fair, a bonus is having access to the expert growers themselves: their knowledge, often gained over a lifetime, makes this event a special and social one.

 At this year’s fair, I rekindled my love for Massonia, quirky, drought-adapted relatives of the hyacinth from South Africa.

I used to assist the Royal Horticultural Society committees assessing awards for the best plants. The three mature species of Massonia on display, grown by Peter Hey of ‘Just Cliveas and Rare Things’, would definitely have been prizewinners at the Chelsea Flower Show, the world’s foremost plant expo.

South east Queensland is home to more than 10,000 species of native plant, more than occur in Kakadu National Park, an Australian international tourist attraction. Don’t expect to find most of our species on sale at an average high street store. Do expect to find a good representation at the Kumbartcho Sanctuary and Nursery stand. Kumbartcho is a community volunteer organisation supported by Moreton Bay Regional Council and it specialises in local plants suited to local soils and conditions that you won’t find in commerce.

This event is about intergenerational gardening.

This event is about intergenerational gardening.

The Plant Collector’s Fair is about intergenerational gardening. Mature gardeners always worry that there are insufficient young enthusiasts to take their place when they head to that great compost heap in the sky. But the passion for plants is infectious, so long as there is a place to meet, to welcome and to recruit new enthusiasts by introducing them to the plants we love and grow.

A ten year old gardener fell in love with a spiny ocotillo (Alluaudia procera) on my stand and he wanted to know more about it. This succulent from Madagascar grows into a tree-like plant forming open woodlands – there’s a great mature specimen growing in the rockery at Mt Coot-tha. He was fascinated to hear that a species of sifaka, a herbivorous lemur endemic to that isolated island, could spend almost its entire life off the ground, jumping from ocotillo to ocotillo without injury, grazing on their tiny leaves and nectar.

I found a You Tube clip where Sir David Attenborough explained the plant-animal connection. Result? A new succulent gardener began collecting.

 That’s similar to how I started collecting succulents as a child.

This kind of interaction is gold. It drives a passion for plants. It’s the reason I’m happy to be a part of this annual gathering of plant lovers. It’s where a deep love of the difference in plants can have a lifelong impact.

Well done all!

Jerry Coleby-Williams RHS, Dip. Hort. (Kew)
29th May 2018


The common Jammy Mouth (Ruttya fruticosa) is no longer common.