They're a long way from home but Alpines are thriving in County Durham

PUBLISHED: 23:19 30 October 2012 | UPDATED: 22:15 20 February 2013

They're a long way from home but Alpines are thriving in County Durham

They're a long way from home but Alpines are thriving in County Durham

They're a long way from home but Alpines are thriving in County Durham, as Linda Viney reports

Changing direction in life is both a challenge and gamble but for Gary McDermott, from Teesside, it was something he knew he wanted when he embarked on a second career.

Working in a well paid job in local government as housing manager he was always interested in horticulture, especially alpines. Back in 2005 he started a nursery offering a professional, personal service to landscape gardeners and garden designers. He started showing at various flower shows, but this year put the icing on the cake when he was awarded a Gold Medal for his first show at The Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show which was also chosen as the Daily Telegraphs favourite display.

Harperley Farm Nursery sits eight miles from Durham in quiet countryside surrounded by farmland. Initially Gary supplied a wide choice of plants from large specimen plants like bamboos and palms to shrubs and perennials as well as Alpines, however it was the latter he really loved and therefore decided to specialise in these. In their natural surroundings Alpines have to face extremely low temperatures but the one thing they do not like is wet which is why a compost mixture includes grit for drainage.

Many alpines are slow growing and ideal for troughs or rock garden, some, like Scleranthus, have such minute foliage it forms a dense cushion. They are made up of a large family giving scope for variety, and most of these here are housed in six polytunnels.

Gary has become well known as a specialist as he grows the plants on his nursery, nurturing them and caring for them with passion. He is building up a collection of the more unusual alpines and in season he will have 12,000 Rhodohypoxis all neatly placed in their pots and carefully labelled. He also pointed out the gladiolus flanaganii otherwise known as the Suicide Lily due to the danger of clambering down the cliffs in Drakensberg to see the blooms, thankfully I was in no such danger as it was in a pot on the bench.

Gentians, both the early and late flowering ones, always catch the eye of visitors to the shows and Gary has a huge range including Gentian saxosa which is a more unusual white one in contrast to the better known blue, though the hues of these range from light through to dark and rich blue.
In a season Gary takes his displays to at least five flower shows and they always catch the eyes with the judges for the care he takes in growing the plants he also takes in the staging.

I know the way the plants are shown is important and I include pots and troughs with tufa and rocks of varying sizes, he said, as he pointed to some which were already planted up for the next show.

He still has a selection of perennials, shrubs and some specimen large plants to give an overall picture for design. However he is still aiming to move away from bedding as there are many competitive nurseries out there dealing in these annuals which are still popular.

I am passionate about my plants and there is nothing more rewarding than seeing plants I have raised and nurtured on the show bench being admired by visitors to the shows, he said. I would love more space to expand so I could create areas planted up to give people ideas on how these plants would look in their own garden, maybe it will happen one day.

He has always shied away from retail and it is mainly a wholesale nursery supplying garden centres and other nurseries. For the past two years though he has expanded into mail order and following on from his success at Chelsea this year has a new website. You can visit but only by prior arrangement, although he is considering opening on a Monday and Tuesday next year. He also holds a charity plant sale each year in aid of Willow Burn Hospice, Lanchester.

To contact Gary McDermott visit

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