Several years ago we visited Wallington in Northumberland, an estate west of Morpeth now in the keeping of the National Trust. It has an unusual and charming walled ornamental garden, nestled into the slope of a small valley, and near the bottom of the hill we found the gardeners' own plant stall, where they sold surplus plants they had raised themselves, all proceeds going to the upkeep of the garden. My eye was caught by a little plant covered in small, mauve flowers which the label said was a Persian violet. The Systems Administrator suggested I could get one at the National Trust shop on the way back to the car, but I am a firm believer that the time to buy an unusual plant is when you see it, and my instinct was right, because the main shop did not have any Persian violets.
The plant lived on the kitchen window sill for the summer, but come the autumn it became clear that the Persian violet, or Exacum affine as I discovered it was called, was an annual, at least under window sill growing conditions. I consoled myself with the thought that I could buy seed the following year and raise my own plant, only when I came to look nobody seemed to be selling seed in the UK, apart from one website that had attracted such negative customer feedback that I didn't think I'd bother.
Leafing through my Special Seeds list I suddenly remembered the Persian violet, and had a look to see if this year somebody might be offering it, but even the vendor I shied clear of last time had dropped it. Someone on Amazon did list Persian violet, true, but were using the name to refer to Nigella damascena, which is generally called Love-in-the-Mist. (This is where botanical plant names come in useful. They are really not designed to baffle or embarrass beginners). Persian violets seemed much more popular in the US and Australia, and I toyed wildly with the idea of asking friends who had family in the States if they could buy a packet for me. But then I saw that seeds were available on eBay from an Australian seed company with an approval rating of over 99 per cent, who would dispatch internationally for a charge and accepted PayPal. PayPal helpfully told me what the Australian dollar conversion rate was, otherwise I would not have had any idea how much my Persian violet seeds were going to cost me. Fired up with the desire to possess a new Persian violet, and possibly swayed by the information that 16 packets had been sold and 5 remained, I clicked. For under a fiver it seemed worth a punt.
One of the great things about ordering plants or seeds from home in your own time is that you can check the growing conditions they need, how large they get, and any unsavoury habits they might have, before deciding whether to go ahead. It is an enjoyable way of passing a wet afternoon, and so I amused myself Googling some of Derry Watkins' list. It is more important to order the dark flowered form of the drought resistant dwarf legume Anthyllis vulneraria than I'd grasped, since the flowers of the ordinary one are not pink as I'd assumed, but yellow. She is offering a pale cream form of the California poppy, Eschscholzia californica 'Alba', which I hadn't noticed before. They grow very well in the gravel, and the SA liked the pale California poppies we saw at Chelsea, so that's one for the basket.
Shopping is not an entirely rational activity. Since I am willing to pay the postage charge on one packet of seeds from Australia, will I be prepared to do the same to get a packet of sea daffodil seed from Plant World Seeds in Newton Abbot?