Wow! Phew! It’s been busy. It’s stayed busy.
We were half expecting that after a fantastic selling March we’d be experiencing a pretty ordinary April, but it hasn’t turned out that way at all. The momentum is still there. They are all good signs but give ‘positive problems’ (if you can have such things), like keeping stock levels up, ensuring you’ve the staff resource to do all the production and operational jobs.
The planning & scheduling we did in good faith back in last summer now seems inadequate. The plan becomes increasingly flexible.
All the sales areas exceed expectation, but you really notice it with the supply to Garden Centres, as that’s the most labour intensive.
Mark Reynard, who runs that sales sector, tells me he can’t put his finger on exactly why it is so buoyant. Perhaps the ‘garden plant’ market is just booming in general? Maybe we’ve grabbed a little more market share? The answer probably lies somewhere between the two.
For sure, he and I have worked on our offer, making it more patio-style and more ‘flowery’, but the basic shrubs and background plants have been equally demanded.
On a fairly serious note, one thing that we had to collectively resolve across the business is our response to the frequent outbreaks of the bacterial disease, Xylella, in parts of Southern Europe.
For those not aware of this, Xylella is an aggressive pathogen attacking, and normally killing, an ever-widening range of woody and herbaceous hosts. The measures that UK Plant Health will take should there be a ‘find’ are very significant.
We have taken the approach that for now we will not import any plants, either directly from or at some point originating from, certain parts of Southern Europe.
We will possibly lose a little bit of business as a consequence but there’s a responsibility to the environment, to our customers and their landscapes, and of course to the business and the staff who rely upon on it.
The situation may change rapidly – hopefully in a positive way – and when we review in six months the decision could be reversed, but right now we are being cautious.
The sales teams are conscious that, for some specifics, Italian plants have been the traditional answer, so without that option the sales and purchasing teams are working hard to come up with solutions sourced elsewhere.
We could all do without this but hope that people can see we are doing the responsible thing.
I have 95% completed a review of all the numerous readily available Heuchera varieties. My trialling has been focused on finding the best three for the general colour range, and one for flowering.
I’m talking landscape durability more than fancy leaf pattern – how they look through winter, how strong they grow, tolerance of soils and how much abuse the plant can take – all just as much the criteria as summer prettiness.
The three top performers for colour are all from one breeding line, and the best flowerer (lots of flowers and not too tall – and not done after flowering) is I think also UK breeding.
I hope to finalise this before my next blog entry.
But as for now, I better get back out and see how the latest delivery of young plant Phormiums are looking, as that’s the focus for one of the nurseries this week.
Posted 3rd May 10:49am
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My latest blog post veers towards the self-indulgent, but I hope you’ll forgive me on this occasion!
Two weeks ago, I clocked over another year with Johnsons of Whixley, and I am now within touching distance of the State Pension – despite my best efforts to live an unhealthy life of cigarettes, pies, beer and other recreations!
But I’m going for counting in weeks rather than days.
And I find myself musing about whether or not I could use the potter’s wheel, or whether or not I’d look completely stupid in front of an easel set up in some well-known beauty spot.
I previously viewed these activities as either pretentious or time-filling, but now I’m less sure.
The irony is that my fervour, intensity, passion, energy for work is stronger now than ever before.
This may be borne out of a fear of ageing, and possibly at the risk of inducing a heart attack by becoming super wound up.
Or more likely it’s just my drive to achieve things accelerating as the time-frame narrows.
It’s such an interesting time for nurseries – with living walls, green screens, health and well-being valuation of plants, better understanding of flora / fauna relationships, better varieties and a new generation of home-owners warming to green environments (excluding the loons who prefer having a front garden of flags and cars!).
Opportunities are there, for sure, but the tie-in between producer and client remains hard to establish.
I can recollect the times when the Parks Departments, who were pretty much the custodians of public green space, and the nurseries, were in direct contact with one another.
Now the situation is much changed.
I could at this point go off on a tirade on Thatcherism, and its practical and mind-set consequences, but that might be unreasonable, and meaningless, to anyone under the age of 55.
But who are the custodians of public green space, now, when it is most needed?
I’ll leave you to consider!
Posted 14th Mar 12:00pm
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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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