The weather has been very variable over the last month, and we have had at least 2 or 3 frosts in the morning, this is very different to recent years when the first frosts have not occurred until late December. The total rainfall for the month has been about average, but the several days of mild and sunny weather during November have made working outdoors very pleasant.
The local village project of planting 18,000 daffodil bulbs in the village approach roads was finally completed in late November, amazing how many volunteers suddenly remembered they were on holiday or their bad back was playing up when their area to plant became due!!
September and October are normally quiet months for us, and the staff take the balance of their annual holidays, but this year demand has been so good that we have been short-staffed trying to service orders,
particularly for the landscape market, where we have broken all records for September, through to the end of November. Sales to Garden Centres have also been quite good, but not as spectacular as the landscape sales. Some of our biggest orders are requiring up to 50 loads of trees and shrubs delivered over several weeks. I understand that one of our transport providers was saying that we were using 17 of his trucks on a daily basis, and this in addition to our own 5 trucks and another 10 contracted.
We continue to worry about the staff situation in the years to come, overseas labour is getting harder to find, and we have virtually no UK job applicants, and no UK applicants for apprenticeships.
We find it difficult to identify where all the money is coming from to support this increase in sales, and we have no idea if it will continue after Brexit, which makes trying to plan for future years almost impossible.
How can we estimate the number of trees required in 5 to 6 years’ time so that we plant the correct numbers and species this coming Spring?
Now is a really good time for planting trees and shrubs, the soil is still relatively warm and is also moist, so that young roots should develop almost immediately before true winter conditions set in. It is important that newly planted trees and shrubs are planted firmly and staked if necessary, in order to prevent the plant rocking and damaging the newly developing root system.
The plant disease Xylella continues to focus the attention of nurseries and garden centres. Thankfully there have been no outbreaks in the UK to date, but the threat from diseased plants being imported from southern Italy and some other areas surrounding the Mediterranean remains constant, and is the reason we wave made the decision not to buy, handle or sell any plants from these suspect areas, either to grow ourselves or to sell on. It is encouraging that so many others in our sector have made a similar decision.
A year ago, there were some 90 plant species which had the potential to be infected in the UK, and this has no risen to over 400. The disease is carried by froghoppers, more commonly known as Cuckoo Spit, and at present there is no known control. Our published attitude is as follows:
Johnsons of Whixley Ltd.’s procurement policy in relation to Xylella spp.
Based upon information currently available from DEFRA, APHA and other sources globally, Johnsons of Whixley Ltd will not knowingly procure any stock directly from or originating in an area that has had a confirmed outbreak of Xylella spp.
Currently the areas included in Johnsons of Whixley Ltd.’s procurement exclusion are:
Italy – all regions Spain – all regions France – Provence Alpes Cote d’Azur (PACA), Corsica Principality of Monaco Germany – Saxony and Thuringia
Czech Republic- all regions Switzerland – all regions
This statement is subject to amendment if deemed appropriate in the light of further information or legislation.
Should you have any questions in respect of Xylella and Johnson of Whixley Ltd.’s position, then please direct those to our Senior Procurement Manager, Jonathan H. T. Whittemore.
Johnsons of Whixley
Posted 16th Dec 10:37am
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Whatever the weather
The weather has been good for us this last month – only 10mm of rain in the month – making it the driest since we started keeping records. This low rainfall combined with almost continual winds will mean that we could all be short of water later in the year, with a potential for hosepipe bans.
Fortunately, the lack of rain has not yet prevented landscape contracts from being completed, or retail customers buying from garden centres.
Traditionally the best way to conserve moisture is to use some form of mulch as a ground cover, or to keep hoeing the ground to maintain a dry tilth on the surface, with no weeds. Watering is most efficient using drip irrigation to each plant, but, if not possible, give plants an occasional, really good drench, rather than a frequent spray overhead.
Seedbeds can be kept moist by covering with horticultural fleece, which will also give some protection against the cold and drying winds that seem to be so common this spring.
In the Vale of York we are particularly fortunate to have the biggest underground aquifer in the UK, which is great for those of us extracting water from boreholes, but we are not excluded from the national legislation related to water use.
In our area, natural underground water is alkaline with a pH of around 7.0 to 7.5, but a recent analysis has shown it to be relatively high in Nitrogen, originating from farm fertilizer applications and animal manures.
This means that the area is not best suited to the planting of acid-loving plants such as rhododendrons unless the soil is treated with sulphur, or sphagnum peat is incorporated at the rate of a 5cm thick mulch.
A spring in our step
We had another good sales month in April, exceeding budget in our three main routes to market and achieving £1m+ of sales for the third successive month. May tends to fall away somewhat as commercial landscaping reduces, but surprisingly, we still have a very substantial landscape order book.
Froghoppers wreak havoc
The bacterial disease Xylella fastidiosa continues to wreak havoc in southern Italy, particularly amongst Olive plants. The disease is spread by Spittlebugs, also known as Froghoppers, which protect their young with blobs of ‘cuckoo-spit’. There are 1000s of different species of this insect, which is common throughout Europe.
Over 170 species of ornamental plants are known to be affected by the bacterium carried by the bug, and at present no control has been identified to manage infection on this scale.
Dates for the diary
Anyone interested to know what the commercial UK horticultural industry is capable of would enjoy a visit to the HTA National Plant Show at Stoneleigh Park, Coventry, on June 20 -2. The event combines with the HTA Nursery Supply Show at the same location on the same dates – with loads of interest for anyone remotely stimulated by horticulture!
Two local events to savour are the Tulip Trail at Harlow Carr taking place throughout May, and the Rhododendron weekend on the 13th and 14th.
With well over 400,000 visitors to Harlow Carr in 2016, the gardens are second only to Wisley in visitor numbers, and should be congratulated on their continued investment and the development of horticultural projects to interest young people. Harlow Carr has been awarded a gold accolade by ‘Visit England’ as part of its Visitor Attraction Quality Scheme.
More than 400 gardens will be open on the weekend of May 27-29 to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the National Garden Scheme (The Yellow Book).
Old boys and older tractors
I have always had an interest in old agricultural equipment, and last weekend I went to the 60th anniversary reunion of my old horticultural college in Essex.
It had been arranged that we should visit the tractor and machinery collection of a local farmer who is in his 80s. I was expecting a dozen old tractors, but he had over 500, all fully restored and dating from the very first ever made, through those sent over by America during the two world wars, right up to about 1970.
There were all sorts of other machines, including thousands of ploughs, and other machines, waiting outside to be restored. The collection must be valued in the millions!
Finally, continue to stake and tie in herbaceous plants as they grow, not forgetting the ‘Chelsea Chop’ when appropriate!
Johnsons of Whixley
Posted 9th May 11:46am
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A seasonal reminder
The weather has been very acceptable over the last month, although we had a couple of days of very heavy rain. The total for the month has been about average, but the rain together with the lack of frosts at night has ensured that the season is reasonably well advanced, with the sound of lawnmowers being frequent.
With this early spring growth, don’t forget the lawn fertilizer, or, if necessary, combined fertilizer and weed-killer. You may well need another application of a higher nitrogen fertilizer in another five or six weeks.
Springing into action
March is going particularly well for us, the weather has been kind, enabling us to keep working every day without a single pause due to frost or snow, and all our field grown stock has been lifted, and planting for next year in well under way.
Garden Centre orders are going well – they had an early start – we have more customers and they are requiring more repeat orders. The one downturn is the requirement for smaller but more frequent deliveries.
The Amenity sector is going really well, with big projects across the country and Northern Ireland, and Cash and Carry has also benefitted from the early start to the year.
We should certainly exceed our budget sales for the month, while planting and potting is also well up to target.
Knot our problem?
Japanese knotweed continues to be referred to every week as the cost of eradication increases. It was first introduced into the UK in the 1880s from Japan, where it grew on the sides on volcanoes. It was sent to Kew, but soon became distributed by nurseries. The plant is so aggressive that the smallest piece can root and spread with great speed and force its way through garden after garden, bursting through tarmac and concrete driveways with ease. It has become such a problem that affected gardens may well prevent the sale of the house or the prevention of mortgage facilities.
It cost £70m to eradicate it from the Olympic Park in 2012, and at present almost £175m per year is being spent on eradication. I have no idea where you would dump affected soil, as it will recur from 3m down. It has become invasive on large tracts of railway line, and created enormous problems for people who have adjacent gardens.
I understand that it would take several applications over many years to completely eradicate it. The moral is, ‘If you see it, don’t spread it, and inform the owners that it is a notifiable problem’.
Shrub deadline approaches
The weather is now warming up quickly and plants are tending to come into growth early in the north as we have had no seriously hard weather.
If you intend to plant bare root shrubs, please do so before April 7th. After then it could be too late, or you may need to use the more expensive container grown plants.
I take pleasure in seeing forced rhubarb in the shops at this time of year. I grew up on the family farm between Leeds and Wakefield and one of the principle crops was, and still is, forced rhubarb.
200 acres were grown for forcing in the third year of production and grown in the traditional rhubarb sheds so common in that area. They were established in that area because of the very cheap fuel available as a by-product of the many coke ovens supporting West Riding industry in the first half of the 20th century. Most of the rhubarb was pulled, packed, and sent to markets in London by train.
As a 17-year-old I enjoyed my job of taking three to five tons of rhubarb each day to be loaded on to the ‘rhubarb train’, which left Leeds station each evening.
One to ponder…
Finally, anyone got a bright idea as to how we will cope with Brexit in view of the potential for far fewer EU workers in agriculture and other lower paid sectors?
Posted 29th Mar 12:53pm
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January 2017 had exactly a half of the rainfall which occurred in 2016 (48mm v 97mm) and it was also a month which was pretty unique for January, where we saw the lightest of snow coverings on only one day, and frosts have been relatively limited.
Sales to garden centres tend to be limited in February, and this has definitely been the case, but we expect to beat garden centre budget for the month by Feb. 24th. Sales to the amenity sector continue apace, it is obvious that all parts of the country have been free of ice and snow and contractors have made good progress. With a winter free of bad weather, we expected our order book to be in decline into the Spring, but we continue to replace all our sales with new orders.
Having spent my youth in vegetable production and my later life in ornamental plant production, I can safely say that I have had a working life in horticulture, but recently I was again referred to as a horticulturalist, quite a tongue twister! The correct name for our ilk is ‘horticulturist’, not that it makes us any more successful or uniqe, after all we don’t call florists ‘floralists’!
I spotted a really interesting book last week, ‘Hedge Britain’, a curious history of a British obsession, by Hugh Barker. New price is £16.99 but a good copy on Amazon was £5. It features drawings and photos of an enormous range of hedge species, shapes and forms, together with the origins of the first hedge applications and its formation from the original wildwood as a way marker and defensive barrier.
How things change, at this time of year 30 years ago, we would have been getting out our home-made planting machine to plant 75,000 cuttings of willows in about 15 varieties as there was great demand for the wide selection of stem colours available, not sure if today’s landscape architects are even aware of the use of such plants, we certainly don’t get asked for many. Those were the days, four of us on the machine behind the tractor, pushing cuttings into the ground behind a row marker. Back-breaking, cold, nose running, only another 20,000 to go!!
One of the most satisfying plants I have ever propagated from cuttings is Metasequoia glyptostroboides, which was believed to be extinct for 2 million year until it was found in a remote valley in China in 1948. I first saw it as a young tree about 5ft high in 1955 at Cambridge Botanic Gardens. It is one of the few deciduous conifers and has lush green foliage, cinnamon-red bark and becomes very tall and majestic. I have had one in every garden I have owned.
I went to the west coast of America looking at nurseries with the Hort. Trades Association in 1977. We saw the redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) forests which stretch from California for over 400 miles into southern Oregon. The size of them is awe-inspiring, they can reach over 320ft. in height with a girth of up to 18ft. I doubt if I will see my Metasequoia reach that size!! An interesting fact is that such tall trees cannot transport water from ground level to the uppermost branches by the normal process of osmosis, they rely on the mist and fog which rolls in off the Pacific to keep the branches turgid, which is the reason for them being limited to a 30mile wide strip along the coast.
For the time being, news of impending disease spread has become quieter, but we are aware that Xylella continues to head north and has been found in Spain, Mallorca, south of France, and an isolated case in a garden in Germany. It seems ridiculous that UK retailers are now making promotional moves to sell big quantities of olive trees in the UK, this tree is the biggest contractor of the disease in Europe, and the virus is transmitted by leafhoppers, a common UK insect. If every nursery in the UK must be closed down if there is an infected plant found within 10Km, then heaven help us.
Brexit is becoming an increasing source of concern as the number of existing foreign staff leave the UK to return to other EU countries in order to earn the full value of the Euro. Fortunately we have not suffered yet, but a busy Spring could be a big problem for both our production and sales, and also for our customers.
May the Spring be kind to you, and the grass grow no faster than you can cope with!!
Posted 21st Feb 9:38am
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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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We hear so much on the News about the consequences of inflation, and I have just been looking through the 1775 price list of the famous old nurserymen, Telfords of York. Examples of prices at that time were:- Beech, one year seedlings, 50p per 1000, (Now £19) Beech 4ft high, 1 per 100. (Now £120) Standard apple trees, 10p each (Now £25) Rose seedlings, 2.5p each, (Now 30p) Pyracantha, 1.8p each, (Now £2.20) Rhododendron 75p each. (Now £14) With the rate of inflation between then and now at 137 times the prices have shown big variations, and wages have increased by almost 300 times
Demand for trees and shrubs is currently very high despite the dry conditions in November, and with an order book the highest ever, we must try and keep our customers happy! Not easy when so many orders allow little more than three working days between order and delivery anywhere in the country.
I recently attended the assessment day of the RHS ‘Green Plan It Challenge, Yorkshire’. This was a project to encourage schoolchildren aged 12-13 to become involved in a project to improve a chosen area of public land in their locality from design to implementation. In this first instance 8 schools participated and were judged on their understanding of their project, the beneficiaries, the construction and further project developments, each school having a little help from horticultural industry mentors.
The children were focussed and enthusiastic and appeared to really enjoy the project although they said they had no real motivation at the outset. There were prizes for the winning schools in a number of categories, and I am sure the RHS will be pleased with the completion of this first element of their project.
In a motivational talk by Jamie Butterworth, he referred to a saying by Confucius, ‘Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life’. That has most certainly applied to my attitude to work!
Sales to landscaping projects continue at a level in excess of last year, both by small businesses and the really big projects. Who knows what the impact of Brexit and Trump will be on our industry in the future, it appears impossible to read. How much should we be planting now for sale in 3 to 6 years’ time? We got caught out by planting too much in 2007 and cannot afford to make the same mistake again.
The prevention of imported plant diseases remains high on our priority list, we recently attended a meeting in Oxford to try and reach agreement on the way we should monitor imported plants. It was agreed that whatever we do we should encourage all growers and importers in the EU to take a similar stance, and not purchase plants from areas where diseases are known to be rampant. Even if the UK does not import any plants at all, we will still be in the path of European wind-blown spores and insects carried by birds and vehicles, packing cases etc. Global warming is helping to spread north the problems created by a warmer climate, and the reduction in available chemicals is dramatically limiting our ability to control these problems.
Now is the time to be cutting hard back those trees and shrubs which are old or congested. Don’t do it when frosty, it will not only stimulate young growth, but will also reduce the spread of trees and shrubs over herbaceous borders.
It is easy to forget wall shrubs, but they need trimming and tying in. Prune out shoot growing towards the wall or away from the wall and re-arrange branches to fill gaps if necessary.
Be ready to knock snow off conifers to prevent branches being pulled downwards, some forms will benefit from being loosely tied together. Remember to service and maintain all those tools ready for the spring, don’t let them sit there rusting away!
All parts of the oleander (Nerium oleander), a beautiful Mediterranean-native flowering shrub, now popular in the UK, are poisonous. Ingesting oleander leaves can cause gastrointestinal, cardiac, and central nervous system problems and possible death. Children beware!!
Enjoy a gardening break over Christmas, and over New Year plan what is to be done in 2017!
Very Best Wishes to all horticulturists.
Posted 20th Dec 11:12am
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Moving from autumn to winter
It’s November 9th and we’re experiencing the first snow of the winter. Still, we mustn’t complain after 10 weeks of really good autumn weather – we were down to 33mm of rain in October, only 40% of the average over the last three years.
There is exceptionally good autumn colour this year due to a lack of frost, wind and rain, but as nurserymen we see the ground too dry when lifting field grown plants and the leaves are also hanging on too long.
Demand for trees and shrubs is currently very high despite the dry conditions, and with an order book the highest we have ever seen we strive to keep our customers happy!
Newly planted trees and shrubs will need watering a few times to guarantee success, but the soil is as warm as we could hope for in order to get quick new root growth.
Providing that turf or grass seed has been watered, it has been an excellent autumn for laying a new lawn. If there has been some shrinkage between rolls of turf, I would recommend filling the gaps with slices cut from left over turf or from the edges of the lawn and ensure you firm in well.
Don’t be too hasty in removing heaps of stones, leaves or rotting wood from the garden, the colder weather over the last few days will have encouraged a broad cross-section of wildlife to go into hibernation and these areas are ideal for that purpose.
Now is also a really good time to improve those drainage problems which become so obvious in February to April. Perforated flexible drainage pipe now makes the problem so much easier to rectify, and the digging keeps you warm on cold mornings!
Did you know?
Were you aware that by pure chance our current nursery is based on the same site as the Backhouse Nurseries which were established in 1816 and occupied our current 50 acre site, plus a further 100 acres on the adjoining level fields?
Employing approximately 100 men, with all cultivations undertaken by horses, the nursery was the leading nursery in the North of England, with its own railway siding at Cattal Station.
The nursery reduced in size in the 1920s, moved to York, and concentrated on the building of rock gardens nationally. The nursery closed in 1955, but lives on in the name of Erica carnea ‘James Backhouse’ and Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Backhousiana’.
Sales to landscaping projects continue at a level in excess of last year, both from small businesses and large-scale projects. Who knows what the impact of Brexit and Trump will have on our industry in the future – it appears impossible to read at this stage.
The prevention of imported plant diseases remains high on our priority list and we recently attended a meeting in Oxford to try and reach agreement on the way we should monitor imported plants. It was agreed that whatever we do we should encourage all growers in the EU to take a similar stance, and not purchase plants from areas where diseases are known to be rampant.
Even if the UK does not import any plants at all, we will still be in the path of European wind-blown spores and insects carried by birds and vehicles, packing cases etc.
Global warming is helping to spread north the problems created by a warmer climate, and the reduction in available chemicals is dramatically limiting our ability to control these problems.
Keep planting whilst we can!
Posted 16th Nov 10:20am
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First week in October and we are still basking in the good weather which has now lasted a full 5 weeks.
Only 36mm of rain in September compared with 52 last year and 62 in August this year. A really good rain in the near future would do no harm at all.
The autumn planting season will soon be with us and we need more moist conditions to lift plants out of the ground with a good root system and also to get them to re-establish well. Autumn has always been the very best time to plant as the soil is at its warmest and young roots will make significant new growth before the winter sets in.
I understand that salads, fruit and vegetables have done well again this year, they got off to a really good start with the lack of any late frosts, and potatoes have shown only limited blight symptoms with the lack of continuous wet spells. In some areas slugs have been a problem, they were certainly anticipated after the very wet January and mild winter, but appear to have been variable in the way they have affected different areas.
Nursery stock has done well through the summer, we have used about the same borehole water as in recent years and growth has been good with few weather related losses. Whilst shrubs did well in early summer the increasing demand for herbaceous plants through the summer is very marked. Fortunately, we have been following this trend within our production, and our current ‘looking good’ weekly colourful list features a majority of herbaceous plants. Lavenders still remain a key plant and we never seem to have quite enough at the right time! As we continue to reduce production for Homebase we are increasing the number and range of herbaceous plants and the overall production of amenity landscape plants.
Sales to landscaping projects continue at a level in excess of last year, both by small businesses and the really big projects. When planting in current mid-summer conditions it is important that plants are really well watered before planting and watered frequently until they get established. Square planting holes are best in order to prevent spiralling of the root systems, and ensure the compost surface is just below soil level so that water will not be wicked out of the root-ball. As we use long release fertilizer in all our compost it should not be necessary to add feed at the time of planting.
The plant disease Xylella continues to affect more host plants in northern Europe and we try to steer clear of them. There are now 92 plants on our list of plants which cannot be sold without a plant passport although not all are affected by Xylella. I have not heard of any recent sightings in the UK.
The Chalara Ash disease continues to spread slowly across the country, but it appears that growers and landscapers are diligently following instructions not to sell or purchase ash trees. The recent Arboricultural Association Conference heard that trials of resistant specimens are ongoing, with some 155,000 trees currently being grown in Southeast England. Dr Peter Thomas said. “We still need diversity because otherwise a mutation of the pathogen could still wipe them out. We know there are more virulent strains in Japan.”
We continue to come out of the recession, garden centre orders have increased again this year from all over the country, and amenity landscape orders have also increased significantly, with big projects in all areas of the country doing much better than in previous years. Last year was reasonably good, but this year has been even better!
Sales through the wholesale cash and carry have shown a significant increase, and sales through July, August and September, normally our quietest months, confirm that at last we have got over the bad years of 2008 to 2014, but what Brexit will eventually do to plant sales, none of us have a clue! The collapse in the value of the £ against the Euro must mean that production costs will increase across the board. We appear to have forgotten the slow increase in oil costs is having on UK plant trading.
Watch out for the next instalment!!
Posted 4th Oct 2:54pm
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