Hello to all,
I’m a virgin at blogging so be gentle.
My remit – as far as I understand – is to reflect on what’s happening in the nursery and also what’s going on around the trade.
As for myself – I’ve been in plants for the last 40 years, starting mowing verges as a temp for Darlington Parks Department, through HND at Askham Bryan and here, from nursery worker in 1985, to managing all our production since 2005.
That makes me now officially old, but in my head still 40, and still angry about the world, still learning every day. Think as a pragmatic socialist – in reality, maybe a dictator.
My enthusiasm hasn’t dimmed and my passion about what we do here is as intense as ever. I love plants, love landscape but don’t have a garden, and an allotment would be hell.
We’ve got three particular plants here that we’ve banged on about. They sell but they should be selling so much more.
Geranium Miss Heidi has got to be the most practical and attractive of landscape ground cover , with lots of flowers from May to end October and unusual foliage, which holds over winter, and you can cut it with a strimmer – how easy is that?
With Euonymus Greenspire you’ve got all the disease issues with Box – both in the nursery and when planted out – so why do it when Greenspire can do the exact same job, but is as green as green can be, and has no health problems?
Our Elaegnus ebbingei clone is brilliant – tougher than the type, much more branched and, above all, with none of root instability traditionally associated with straight ebbingei.
It makes the most fantastic grey/green hedge.
It’s very hard for us to change the plant palette of architects but we work on it, and it’s fired – for me, anyway – by a genuine desire to have a better green around us
We shouldn’t be too down on that, because we’ve been getting qualified and student Landscape Architects here for the day throughout 2016 and that’s gone really well.
It’s given our ‘partners in green’ an opportunity to learn about what we do, how we can work together to improve things – and we have a bit of a laugh along the way.
I feel absolutely kn******d after the day, but it seems appreciated.
Off on to the nursery now for some thinking time and to meet up with one of the unit managers to discuss prepping stock for the retail season – which just round the corner, we hope.
Posted 31st Jan 2:58pm
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Our 2 acre pond at Thornville looked a picture of serenity this morning. Moorhen’s darted for the reeds as a brown hare sat ‘bolt upright’ straining to listen for imminent danger. The surrounding grass glistened in the early morning frost and the pond surface was a combination of concentric circles and fractured semi frozen shards of ice.
The pond is a favourite place for quiet reflection, a spot of summer evening fishing or simply a walk with the dog. However it also supports our environmental credentials hosting a huge and diverse wildlife habitat and also serves as an essential intercept lagoon for drained water.
Holding at least 400,000 gallons of water the pond is a valuable storage resource that acts as insurance against failure on our network of boreholes that supply irrigation water on demand.
Posted 25th Jan 1:45pm
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Have you seen #ElliesEight?
This edition is all about plants that encourage birds into your garden, and is in support of RSPB’s Big Garden Bird Watch this coming weekend (28th / 29th January).
Posted 23rd Jan 4:37pm
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As he prepares to celebrate his 80th birthday later this year, Johnson’s of Whixley chairman John Richardson offers an insight into his career as the head of the business – and the life he’s lead around it.
Most 80 year olds are at home reading a book or watching TV. At 79 you are still at work four or five days a week. What does an average day entail?
My average day at work involves managing a series of administrative tasks related to quality and environmental systems, health and safety, packaging waste, agricultural census requirements, as well as answering letters with no other obvious recipient. I maintain a number of ongoing historical records and attend meetings appropriate to my role.
How will you be celebrating turning 80 this year?
Possibly by going out for a meal with family one evening.
What got you interested in horticulture and what has kept you motivated all these years?
I grew up on the traditional West Riding farm run by my mother’s family, producing cereals, vegetables and 200 acres of rhubarb. I worked from age 11 on the farm during every non-school hour. I wasn’t motivated by classroom subjects – only woodwork!
On leaving school I applied to go to Askham Bryan College, but the principal suggested that I should go to Writtle College in Essex and do a two-year Diploma course, which I did.
I tried salad production, tomatoes, vegetables and spent three years selling fertilizer to commercial growers before deciding to focus on nursery stock production.
What are you most proud of?
I’ve never owed anyone money, other than a mortgage, and I am delighted to have the family I have got.
If you hadn’t opened a successful nursery what career path would you have gone down?
Almost certainly I would have gone in to some sort of mechanical engineering. Aged 16, I applied for an apprenticeship with Rolls Royce, but was turned down, as my maths results were not good enough.
Was there any point at which you felt like quitting?
I’ve never felt like quitting anything other than Latin! Every time we’ve had a problem I try and see the way out, never look back and consider what we might have done differently.
Is there anything you would have changed, knowing what you know now?
I may have developed a garden centre if any of my sons had been motivated to run it.
What are the biggest changes you have seen in the industry over the last 50 years?
Climate change and the impact of foreign holidays has revolutionised the range of plants now used in private gardens. There have also been big changes around the use of plastic. 50 years ago there were no plastic pots, no poly tunnels and no polythene bags. And there were fewer summer sales because nothing was in pots. Mechanisation has also increased significantly.
What is the biggest change in shopping trends you have seen over the last 50 years?
The first garden centres were seen on the outskirts of London just 50 years ago. The first supermarkets followed soon after. The local authorities used to order plants for their own parks departments to plant – now local authority work is almost entirely through contractors.
Is it nice to see the different generations of the family coming into the business?
It’s really satisfying!
Do you have any advice for people starting out in horticulture or their own business?
Attack the project with fire and enthusiasm and gain as much knowledge as possible related to the entire project area you are interested in. Learn about it as much as you can. Watch every episode of Dragons’ Den and you will then realise how many people don’t know the basic facts relating to their proposals but expect support from others. You will have one or two setbacks – but skill, enthusiasm, personality and quick thinking will carry you through. No job will be as rewarding as working for yourself.
…and finally, will you ever retire?
Retiring is something you do when you go to bed! I love my association with my work, the staff, our customers – and the plants! – too much to consider packing in. What would I do? I have 14 books waiting to be read, and I try and get through them, but only very slowly!
John was in conversation with his granddaughter, Ellie Richardson.
Posted 23rd Jan 4:26pm
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I hope you all had a good Christmas, the weather was reasonably kind to us, and not many events which required emergency attention.
In 2016 January was the wettest month and December the driest, the overall annual rainfall at 597mm (23.5”) being the lowest for several years. August is the wettest month on average over the last 5 years.
Sales to landscaping projects in December were at a record for the month, and sales continued in significant volume right up to our last working day, with 6 truck drivers having to work a further day.
Sales in January continue at a level in excess of last year, both by small businesses and the really big projects right across the country from the upgrading of the A26 and the Canterbury by-pass, both near the south coast, to the road improvements in Larne (NI) and site refurbishments for Premier inns.
The value of our order book has jumped again, it is now almost half our annual sales forecast. We must be doing something right, but not quite sure what it is! We came second in the tender for the supply of all plant material associated with the HS2 rail project. Disappointing not to win it, but we couldn’t have afforded the price of the winning quote, and we are now confident that it may turn out to be a serious problem in view of the continued discussions on the economy of the project and lack of forward ordering.
For Christmas I was given ‘The Long, Long Life of Trees’ by Fiona Stafford, a fascinating book which delves into the history of 17 common UK trees. I had no idea that edible apples originated in China and didn’t get here until the Romans came, or that Mountain Ash was believed to ward off evil spirits and events so that it was used for making children’s cradles, walking sticks and masts for small boats. Rowan sticks were also used to stir milk churns on the basis that the milk would not become sour!
30 years ago, it was standard practice for us to work on Saturday mornings, but we haven’t done so since that time, only coming in to load trucks or other important production tasks. The Cash and Carry has always been open on Saturday mornings but we now notice a distinct falling off by Saturday customers, we assume the landscape industry has cut back on Saturday working. Any further reduction in Saturday sales may well mean we need to reconsider opening on Saturday mornings.
It is easy to forget the differences between roots, rhizomes and tubers.
Roots are the means by which plants anchor themselves to the ground. An auxin in the root tip responds to gravity and directs the root tip downwards, generally known as being positively geotrophic (responds to gravity), whereas aerial shoots are positively phototrophic (respond to light). Rhizomes generally grow horizontally and are nutrient storage organs combined with growth buds which can regenerate from individual pieces. Examples are poplars, bamboo, couch grass and many ferns. Tubers are modified roots which act as storage organs from which new plants can develop the following spring. Tubers have growing eyes which will produce root ‘eyes’ or growth ‘eyes’. Good examples are potatoes.
Another problem has now arisen for horticulture, it is currently being proposed that plants grown for their entire production life under protection will mean that their buildings will in future be rated, not only production buildings, but all other buildings, offices, workshops etc. The proposal is being addressed by the HTA and the NFU, but quietly, in order to prevent a full industry wide confrontation.
Quick reminder: The world’s biggest Horticultural Trade Fair takes place on January 24th. To 27th at Essen in Germany. 27 halls of exhibits, 1545 exhibitors, 1.4 million trade visitors. Whatever your interest you will marvel at this remarkable show!. www.ipm-essen.de.
We have recently completed our selling price comparisons for trees and container shrubs sold between 1992 and December 2016. Still little movement in containers, which are now 11% higher than in 1992, with trees up by 107%. In the same period the craftsman level of wages has increased by 115%.
Fingers crossed we don’t get overwhelmed by snow in the next month.
Posted 16th Jan 4:03pm
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What an amazing year 2016 was! We had a brilliant 12 months and would like to thank everyone who made it such a great year.
Below you can find just some of the highlights of the year – can you believe we supplied over 11,000 variations of stock?! And 1,794,000 miles were driven by our fleet’s 23 trucks!
We have lots of exciting things planned for this year and expect 2017 to be just as successful.
Posted 16th Jan 3:59pm
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Many will assume that production grinds to a halt in the depths of the winter. Not so, our potting programme is a truly all year round process.
Here are batches of Cornus (Dogwood) varieties in a 10L format potted a few weeks ago and already establishing the beginnings of new roots. At the point that light levels and the temperatures improve these superb plants will burst into life becoming saleable later in the summer.
Posted 13th Jan 11:44am
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As the cold weather continues into the New Year, office supervisor Ellie Richardson shares images and notes of her favourite January winter plants.
Posted 10th Jan 4:36pm
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Here at Johnsons of Whixley, we are well-equipped to deal with the chills of a British winter thanks to the advent of super-light thermal technology.
Batches of our stock are protected against the elements beneath large gossamer fleece blankets, which offer excellent protection in sub-zero temperatures.
With temperatures expected to drop even further during the days and weeks ahead, ensuring our plants are protected from harm and allowed to develop unaffected is one of our major priorities.
Posted 9th Jan 5:08pm
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Set in the beautiful Yorkshire countryside, why not visit our nursery to discover what we have to offer?