Monthly Archives: February 2014
Most people who come to this blog usually come via Twitter which I have found to have introduced me to a lot of new horticultural friends. Some of these are not dissimilar to myself and are complete and utter plant fanatics who love the horticultural chat and being educated about plants that they may never have come across or reintroduced to old friends in the plant world. Originally I joined Twitter to help publicise our nursery and the plants we grow but instead of tweeting a plant and saying come and buy it from us and using it as cheap push for products I feel it has more to offer than that. It is a melting pot of people who are experts, hobbyists, enthusiasts, amateurs, professionals and beginners who all want to share and absorb knowledge of horticulture.
Today I was shocked to see The RHS have combined with Interflora and are offering Valentine bouquets at £195! I was made aware of this by several irate british flower tweeters whose main objection was that most if not all the flowers were imported flowers with large amounts of air miles involved. Devils advocate tweets remarked on the fact that perhaps British growers could not supply red roses at this time of year, fair comment I say but…. Why does it have to be red roses? Why has the British flower industry arrived at this situation? Why can’t this change?
I think the answers lie with the support that can be given by institutions such as the RHS and I feel that this move by them has been like a punch in the stomach to the growing number of Flower growers in this country could they not have communicated with British flower growers and come up with an alternative bouquet which could have contained flowers that were achievable by British growers at this time of year. It used to happen but because of the attitude of big business potential and supermarket mentality this country is swamped by imported flowers and plants. Perhaps Interflora approached the RHS and put the proposal and it has just been seen as a money making exercise for the RHS?
This leads me to wondering what is happening to the RHS which was originally set up to quote off their website.
“The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity and our mission is to be the leading organisation demonstrating excellence in horticulture and promoting gardening.
Our charitable purpose is: “the encouragement and improvement of the science, art and practice of horticulture in all its branches”.
How does this latest move achieve that?
To quote again.
“To transform our environmental performance, credentials and culture
Issues of sustainability and resource consumption are foremost in the minds of UK gardeners and we consider it essential for the RHS to reflect this, represent these concerns and provide relevant advice on how gardening can meet the challenge and help tackle the causes of climate change.”
Again those air miles involved with those flowers makes a mockery of these statements.
So leaving this aside at that for the moment the next quote from their website also leaves me wondering.
“TO BRING THE JOY OF GARDENING TO THE LIVES OF A SIGNIFICANT NUMBER OF UK CHILDREN
Gardening adds to the health, wellbeing and general quality of life for everyone and we recognise that getting young people involved in gardens and gardening is central to our role as an educational charity. They are the horticulturists and gardeners of tomorrow; they are also our future members. Engaging with children also has the benefit of introducing them to the importance of their environment and their place within it.”
Yes they are the horticulturists and gardeners of tomorrow but if there is no industry left for them to take the reins of then what is the point? Wages and opportunities are low and also dwindling especially if the example of buying from afar is set by the RHS. Running a small nursery is hard work and the returns financially are low. I would love to be able to take on and employ young horticultureists but at present the only help we get is from the odd volunteer or work experience placement. We have had a couple of people like this and would have loved to offered them permanent employment. I know of other nurseries in this situation.
Horticulture unfortunately is not seen by a large number of the populance as a skilled and essential part of this countries industry whereas we were once considered to be amongst the top ranking countries in the world. Because with a little knowledge most people can grow seeds or do cuttings a lot of people consider horticulture as a menial job.
Wrong! I have lots to learn in this job and learn something new every day what equivalent job can offer that? And I might add give you the pleasure of learning. Horticulture has also been cheapened by the supermarkets and big chain garden sheds who couldn’t really care about the product they sell. For example a local supermarket near us just before Christmas was selling Camellias and Nandinas in 2 litre pots at £7 a price we cannot and do not want to try and compete at. The labels were not offering much husbandry advice and if these plants are not treated properly then they would soon be dead. We watched with interest the sales of these plants and sure enough after about a fortnight of sitting on a danish trolley they were reduced down to a pound because they were obviously suffering and the supermarket wanted shut of them. Karen my wife said “perhaps we ought to buy them give them a little TLC and sell on next season”. This impulse was triggered probably by feeling sorry for the plants and also the fact money could be possibly made as this was a price well below wholesale. I replied with a firm “NO” experience was telling me that firstly to offer these plants at those sort of prices probably meant they were imports and secondly they were probably going to take a lot of pulling back if they were to survive at all. Unfortunately people that will have bought them and subsequently lost them would probably never entertain growing these two garden worthy shrubs in their gardens again, thus destroying any chance of a properly grown equivalent being sold in a nursery. I have lost count of customers that have said I not buying that plant because I lost one of them before. When quizzed no advice given because bought at a bargain price from somewhere not interested in their product or its future welfare.
Ebay is another of my bugbears and I often see people contacting me and trying to beat my prices down because it is cheaper on Ebay! One example was Daphne odora aureomarginata and I was informed that on Ebay they could obtain it for £7 with free postage. I promptly told them there was no way that I could sell them one of my plants at that sort of money so reluctantly lost a sale. I then went looking on Ebay for these plants and was horrified to find that the plants on offer were rooted cutting in 9cm liners whereas I was selling a 3 year old plant at £8. I soon googled and realised at that price I was undercharging and the price went up! I accept that there are people trading legitimately on Ebay but I feel that this particular customer would have paid their money and bought a potential disaster and disappointment. This does not do our trade any good. After this I look on Ebay as a glorified car boot and refuse to purchase from it. Secondly as I understand it Ebay has trade and private sellers with trade sellers paying taxes and being quite legitimate. However I do know some people are not honest and quite often pose as private sellers but are ruining a business which is providing a sizeable income. This does stick in my craw as we are paying rates, VAT and tax on our sales and premises and our product has to cover these costs. If these practices are allowed to continue it will be a further nail in the coffins of proper nurseries trying to make their living legitamately.
With the trade like this what encouragement is there for youngsters to make a career in this occupation?
Another quote from the site that I hold a bit of issue with.
“To build a range of audiences
Increasing our presence in UK horticulture and gardening by enhancing our relevance and offering is essential to widening our beneficiaries and growing our ability to deliver public benefit. We also recognise the need to engage with and provide access to those groups who, for whatever reason, would not usually come into contact with the RHS and our work.”
Why is it that the majority of shows and the flagship shows are London based? It is expensive to travel to London and gardening happens all over the country! We would love exhibit at these shows but because of cost and time involved especially at our busiest time it become prohibative for us. If a show was held nearer to us so travelling and accomadation costs were reduced then it may become a viable proposition plus we would be exhibiting to customers within reach of us.
A few nights ago there was some tweeting going on about hardy exotics and how in London there were some unexpected plants surviving. the subject then came up that perhaps The Garden magazine should do an article on these. I kept out of the conversation but was inwardly seething at the fact that London was once again possibly going to be taking some horticultural limelight. Hardy exotic gardening is not just restricted to London there are many other places in Britain where gardeners push boundaries and probably coming further upcountry and doing an article would be more relevant to the majority of gardeners.
I think the the RHS has a lot to offer and feel that it is being driven by executives rather than horticulturalists whose main purpose is to make more profits for the organisation rather than promote the hobby and trade in general. I am hearing opinions similar to this from fellow nurserymen and plants people whenever I am in conversation with them. If you get a chance to read the latest Garden magazine there is an article by Nigel Colborn describing the merits of British horticulture and the Plant Finder which is an excellent service provided by the RHS. I do hope that this service is profitable because someone somewhere may decide to curtail it.
I know this may seem to be a bit of a diatribe but getting this down in black and white has helped to ease my frustration with a valuable British Institution which I feel is drifting off course a little bit.
One of the many gardening groups I belong to recently had a talk by a renowned plantsman called Kevin Hughes at the time I was really struggling with a very painful back but the lure of attending this talk was too much and I went along.
The title of the talk was “California, Oregon and Some Trilliums” In my time I have grown trilliums but as our soil is not generally suitable for successful cultivation of these plants I have veered away from actually offering them at the nursery for sale as I do like people to succeed in their gardens with our plants. There is nothing worse than a customer coming in and blaming me for a plant dying in their garden. I know that some of the big plant retailers offer year long guarantees on plants but this in my opinion is foolish and gives people the wrong impression of our trade. Once a plant has left our nursery we have no control over its husbandry and what conditions it goes into, we do give advice on how to look after the plant ( as most nurseries will do) and that is about all we can do. However I digress and hate to rant!
The slides that Kevin showed us were a real eye opener of some of the territory that these plants inhabit steep sided valleys and woodland that were almost sheer in places was not what I expected to see and keeping to tracks and paths would certainly be advised. I am a very keen woodland plant person and Kevin showed us a myriad of different woodies which had me salivating! however as the title of the talk suggested Trilliums were a big part of the plants on show and I was soon lost in the breadth of different varieties and forms of this often described a difficult to grow and keep plant in the garden.
So what did I learn about Trilliums? Firstly the climate that they live in is very moist and wet. A lot of the woodland/forest is akin to rainfall of the rain forests and the area is referred to as being a temperate rain forest. You might think that all this wet would lead to the Trilliums rotting as I am sure some of you have found this to be a susceptibility of Trilliums when you have tried to keep them. This leads to the soil which in Trillium territory occurs this is quite sharp and well drained in fact those steep slopes are very good at that. Okay so we are back to those famous words on a lot of horticultural labels moist but well drained! Moisture is kept at the roots by the organic matter from leaf fall and general forest detritus.
Interestingly once down the coastline with less rainfall than in the north Trilliums were thriving as well. Kevin went on to explain that these areas most days have dense morning mist and fogs from the sea which provide that much needed moisture that the Trilliums love.
Secondly the roots are kept cool in Summer which apparently in this country and climate is quite difficult to achieve and often is one of the main causes of Trillium demise in peoples gardens. Again this is down to a well balanced soil so if you are wanting to grow these plants you will need to get this right. Kevin then got onto the mycorrhizal aspect of the soil which creates a symbiotic relationship with plants and fungi. Nowadays as gardeners we a very lucky that we can buy these fungi as a planting aid and here at our nursery we have been using them almost religiously when planting and potting and as a result end up with better establishment and stronger plants. Some of the biggest organisms in the world are mycorrhizal fungi hundreds of miles across!
Another problem of keeping Trillium in this country is they are excellent slug and snail fodder. Apparently in the wild the soil is not conducive to these invertebrates survival being quite gritty and generally inhospitable so they are not a problem. I do have a few Trilliums in the garden and it grieves me when they are felled by budding slug lumberjacks who haven’t even got the courtesy to eat the flipping plants afterwards!
So you might ask why when I have been following all these requirements have I lost Trilliums? This next aspect of Kevin’s talk really explained a lot. Apparently a large percentage of Trilliums sold in this country over time have been from wild collected stock. Kevin described going along some of the roadsides and seeing wild dug Trillium rhizolmes sitting on the sides of roads awaiting collection for selling and exporting, quite often these can be left sitting out in the sunshine for days drying out and getting warm two things that they do not like. Apparently this trade has been seen as an easy way of making a lot of money because Trilliums have always commanded a good price. This price has usually been because growing a trillium from seed to flowering plant takes quite a few years and the grower has priced accordingly. Because of the prices unscrupulous people have dug plants up charged the money and a stressed rhizome has been bought. So moral here is provenance of a plant buy from someone who has grown from seed and not bought rhizome in. A seed grown plant will have a far better chance of establishing in your garden.
Apparently there is a virus which is also becoming very prevalent in Trilliums and this has come in again from infected rhizomes from abroad and is not detectable when you buy a rhizolme and it is not until the plant is actively growing that you are aware of it and then of course it is too late and if you have already got Trilliums then you have put those at risk.
I came away from this talk with a bit more knowledge and guess what? A desire once again to grow Trillium but it will be from seed grown plants or from a reputable grower in this country. Not rhizomes from Holland, Asia or America! I hope this blog inspires others of you to give Trilliums another go.
Trilliums at Felley Priory
If you get a chance to either visit Kevin at his nursery or attend one of his talks please do! An excellent choice of plants and a very interesting speaker. His details can be found at: http://www.kevinsplants.co.uk
He is more than a plantsman he is a true ecologist and his talks contain plants, birds, nature and a touch of humour. As by note another interesting observation made was on the re introduction of wolves into some of these areas. Apparently even though the Americans have a fondness for hunting deer the deer populations have been steadily building and there are areas were Trilliums and other woodland plant existed under threat from a changing environment caused by overgrazing from deer. Where wolves have been introduced again it keeps the deer on the move and these area are coming back into their original condition