Pines And Needles
Gardens Illustrated|December 2017

A small nursery outside Herstmonceux in East Sussex provides a thrilling introduction to the varied world of conifers – and much more besides

Natasha Goodfellow

An invitation to join a yoga class by the lake is not what you expect when visiting a plant nursery, but then Lime Cross Nursery, just outside Herstmonceux in East Sussex, has always done things a bit differently. In the 1940s Alan and Olive Tate moved from London and experimented with tobacco and pig farming, before settling on wallflowers. When business started to tail off 30 years later, their son, Jonathan, stepped in to help. This being the 1970s, the Leyland cypress was in its heyday, as were rockeries – the perfect place for a dwarf conifer – and Jonathan capitalised on the opportunity, converting the nursery to wholesale conifer production. “He became obsessed,” laughs his daughter Vicky. “For my sister Helen and me, all our earliest memories are of going to see conifers in gardens around the country, or of helping to tie his grafts. It was like a punishment.”

Jonathan had truly been bitten by the conifer bug, and determined to show his customers the sheer variety of form, habit and colour available. A dab hand at grafting, he collected material wherever he went, building his collection to almost 700 cultivars (of which around 400 are now regularly propagated) and successfully introducing new cultivars, such as Pinus wallichiana ‘Vicky’, which he spotted growing as a witches’ broom, or mutation, in Wakehurst Place, West Sussex.

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