First of all, is it really a garden centre? Well, partly, but it’s called The Camden Plants Centre and that is very much the focus of the place: Plants. Of course it has pots, canes, bonemeal and a discreet stock of chemicals but there is no doubt that the core business and the core preoccupation of its proprietors is flora.
Emmanuel, ‘Manny’ to pretty much everyone, and his wife Anne started up this unusual enterprise about seven or eight years ago when they persuaded Camden Council to hand over a very unprepossessing corner lot on the junction of Hawley Road and Hartland road in Camden Town.
I can remember very clearly what the site was like before they got hold of it; a classic piece of marginal urban landscape, home to buddleia, bind-weed, concrete and chain-link fencing – an important contribution to the accomodation needs and lifestyles of pigeons, squirrels, foxes and rats but of very little use to the local human population.
What they have wrought is nothing short of a miracle. Having cleared it, (no easy task in itself), they built a small glass house/office, built shelving and stocked it all according to their own tastes, creating in the process their very own small community plant centre.
And community is very much a key word here because for both of them this is about their social life as much as their love of plants; open only in the afternoons and not at all during the winter months I think that its probably fair to say that capitalism doesn’t really occupy centre stage in this enterprise. ( I wouldn’t want to call Manny’s work ethic into question but it is no lie to say that ‘Google Street View’ had, for quite a long time, a fetching image of Manny fast asleep in his arm-chair at the entrance to his emporium.) Let’s just say that its more a way of life than a business and that is what I really appreciate. Apart from anything else it is also forms an important part of the lives of the pensioners of the local area – a genuine boon.
Which is all to the good, but their love and passion for plants also shines through in the surprisingly comprehensive stock to be found crammed into this little corner of tatty, crappy Camden and this should be of interest to any plant-lusting gardener.
There’s always a surprise for me there when I visit – most recently I spotted a couple of unusual climbers, Mitraria coccinea ‘lake puyehue’ and Billardiera longiflora, neither of which I use very often in my planting plans, so its good to be reminded of their existence. There’s also some gorgeous Cephalaria gigantea lurking in there – I’m just waiting to pounce on them. I have already reserved 4 of the climbing Fuschias that they’ve grown from cuttings – I’m going to pass them through a bay laurel hedge for a slightly mad effect.
All I can say is get there when you can – but not in the mornings, or Mondays or in the winter months.