On Sunday afternoon as the north wind blew and my nose ran, I indulged in some retail therapy to cheer myself up, embarking on a long-hatched plan to do something with one of the pots sitting unused in the pot shed. It was one of those vertical towers with holes in the side, marketed by garden centres as herb pots, though they would be too small for most herbs. At one time I had Sedum in it, which were nice for a while then died by degrees. With the benefit of hindsight I should have used grit in the potting mix, and dosed regularly for vine weevil, but we are talking about a long time ago.
I'd thought that what would look really good in the pot would be a matching set of Lewisia. These are rosette forming plants with fleshy leaves, flowering in late spring, that are said to be excellent for planting in walls because they hate sitting wet or to have moisture around their crowns. I didn't have any kind of dry stone wall suitable for planting up, but the herb pot looked like a possible substitute. I even got as far as sowing a packet of Lewisia seed, but only got four plants while the herb pot had eight planting holes and I would need a ninth plant for the top. The Plant Centre only sold Lewisia in litre pots at about four pounds a time, and I didn't want a Lewisia tower badly enough to lavish forty-five pounds on it, plus the rootballs would have been too large to fit in the pot . My seed raised plants ended up doing very nicely, thank you, in an ordinary pot, and the herb tower stayed in the pot shed.
Then when I was looking for alpines online and in quantity to plant up the railway garden gravel I discovered that some of the alpine specialists sold Lewisia in seven or nine centimetre pots at only two pounds fifty. I made a note of their names, thinking it was a project for the spring then at least I'd get one season's enjoyment out of it before having to work out how to over-winter the pot. I'd narrowed the choice of variety down too to one called 'Little Plum', smaller than some and described by the Scottish nursery I'd used with success for the railway as being very rain resistant and growing well in any kind of pot or container.
Unfortunately when I selected nine 'Little Plum' on their website it told me to reduce the quantity because they did not have that many in stock. For the herb pot it was nine or nothing, so I turned to a Devon supplier, Plants for Small Gardens, that I hadn't previously used but whose website I'd come across in the process of fossicking around for railway garden plants. I would now like to give them the most ringing endorsement possible (to be rescinded only if any of the plants turn out to be rogues when they bloom, I suppose). I placed the order on Sunday afternoon, an email arrived at seven minutes past eight on Monday morning thanking me for my order and saying they hoped to despatch the plants on Tuesday. This lunchtime they arrived, less than seventy-two hours after I'd decided I wanted them. They were securely packed in purpose made plastic cases holding six pots each, inside an adequately stout cardboard box of the right size, with a little bubble wrap to make sure the plastic boxes didn't rattle around in transit. Everything was labelled, everything I'd ordered was there, there were no substitutes, I got a free plant (OK, it was just an Iberis but it's the thought that counts), and nothing was wilting or broken.
I was very pleased. I would go so far as to say I was a delighted customer, and you don't get many of them. No wodges of damp newspaper, no breakages, no discovering that while it was in stock on the website in practice three of the things you'd ordered had been substituted with alternatives that weren't even particularly similar. No recycled box that had originally held crisps and wasn't honestly up to the weight of the plants. No delivery company that said you'd been out when you knew you hadn't been and invited you to collect your parcel from your 'local' depot a fifty mile round trip away. The roots of the plants I've potted up so far have been perfect, filling their little seven centimetre pots but not pot-bound.
I must confess I didn't just order one set of Lewisia, I bought two. I had two herb pots sitting in the shed, you see. Originally I was just going to do one and see how it went then plant the other if it was a success. But then I saw that if I made my total order value up to sixty pounds I could have free delivery, which meant in effect planting a third of the second Lewisia pot for free. 'Litle Plum' has a sister called 'Little Peach', which sounds very pretty as well, and I was cross about the number of small plants in the garden that hadn't managed to flower this year because the rabbits had eaten them. An orgy of Lewisia would be a small compensation.