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Articles

Wynn-Jones and the seeds of doom
Western Mail - Thursday March 11th, 2004

Two nursery owners have developed a taste for reckless adventure that would shame an extreme sportsman - in order to furnish their garden nursery with rare plants. Bleddyn and Sue Wynn-Jones have been roughed-up by machete-wielding robbers, sneaked through Nepalese guerrilla country, survived earthquakes and braved monsoons to find exotic plants.

Like Indiana Jones swapping the safety of his university post to dodge certain death in search of ancient treasures, the middle-aged couple from Caernarfon close their nursery business for three months every year to bring back nature's riches.

Sue, 51, and Bleddyn, 55, quit beef farming in 1990 after the outbreak of BSE, decided to let their 200 acres and turn their passion for gardening into a business.

Mrs Wynn-Jones insists they don't go looking for danger while seeking out rare plant life, but sometimes you have to be prepared to face it to get flora growing in remote and far-off places.

During their trip to Guatemala in 2001 they were held up by masked thieves armed with machetes while making their way down a volcano with a guide. Mrs Wynn-Jones said, "These people know how to use these machetes so you don't stand up to them - you give them what they want.

"They took cameras and they also took my husband's watch, which was a very good watch because it had an altimeter. "But when they saw the guide's watch, which was a fake that he had bought on the market, they threw my husband's watch back at him and they took the cheap watch - so that was rather nice."

On their last trip to Nepal the couple had to pay for safe passage to avoid capture by Maoist guerrillas after a number of run-ins with the rebel group.

In 1999 after Taiwan was hit by a major earthquake, they visited the country and experienced a number of aftershocks. "We were there just after the big earthquake and there were a lot of aftershocks when we were up in the mountains at night and we would sometimes find ourselves wondering what we were doing there.

"Also in Taiwan we've had to drive from the mountains down to the coast through monsoons. They had a metre of rain overnight before we got there and the forecast was predicting the same again. "The land is very unstable in the mountains and you get terrible landslides, so we justknew we had to get down quickly."

The Wynn-Joneses collect hardy plants that will survive the British climate, including hydrangea and clematis - and their range at Crûg Farm Plants appeals to both experts and novices alike. "I don't go out looking for danger, but I'm afraid it's a case of what will be will be." Quite often in these places you don't find cars and you have to cross poorly-maintained rope bridges across raging rivers with huge drops beneath.

"When we are out, like when we were in Nepal, we are there for months at a time, and days and days walk from the nearest village, let alone hospital. So we are very much taking our lives into our own hands."

 

The hardy geranium quelpaertense grows on Mount Hallasan, which at 6,397ft is the highest peak in South Korea - but this did not deter the Wynn-Joneses. The couple journeyed to the mountain on the island of Cheju-do in 2002, but upon arriving found Hallasan covered in snow, making it difficult to find the plant. The Wynn-Joneses spent an entire day walking up a dormant volcano before finding the rare alpine form of the hardy geranium.

The couple brought back the schefflera from Mount Phan Si Pan in North Vietnam, both last year and in the year 2000. On the earlier trip they were accompanied by their friend Dan Hinkley, who runs a similar garden nursery In Seattle, and a guide. The four stayed on top of the mountain in a two-man tent but were hit by a monsoon while looking for the shrub. Mrs Wynn-Jones said, "By the end of the night there was a river going through the tent with the monsoon."

Hepatica maxima grows only on the South Korean island of Ullungdo - which takes four hours to reach on a "fast-ferry" service from the mainland. The island has no roads so the Wynn-Joneses walked for 10 kilometres before climbing to the top of another volcano to find the woodland plant. They were stuck on the island for three days as the ferry service was cancelled due to bad weather.

The Wynn-Joneses discovered the sarcococca or Christmas Box in a remote mountain range in Sri Lanka last summer. They travelled for several days in a jeep before finding the evergreen, which produces small white snow flowers at Christmas. Mrs Wynn-Jones said, "It was very difficult to get - it was like looking for a needle in a haystack.''

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Crûg Farm Plants, Griffith's Crossing, Caernarfon, Gwynedd, LL55 1TU.
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Crûg Farm Plants, Griffith's Crossing, Caernarfon, Gwynedd, LL55 1TU.
Tel (+44) 01248 670232 mailorder@crug-farm.co.uk
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