THE MODERN MINT BLOG
Speaking with a gardener this week, we began discussing what they would do if they started a nursery – how would they go about it? What would they grow? What challenges would they face and what joys could they expect from it?
The conversation veered between the vested ideal of what running a nursery is (and should be!) to the hard realities of life as a grower. It was immensely entertaining and so we wanted to share with you some thoughts on starting a nursery. Please note that some of this is wide-ranging, and it is probably a subject for us to explore in other articles, and make clearer and sharper (as we did in a very popular blog we wrote last year about growing cut flowers) but it gives us a start to the subject, one we can begin thinking on.
What plants to grow?
This must be the first question. The answer can range from ‘the plants I love’ to ‘the easy ones that propagate by division’. We guess most nurseries start out by taking cuttings from plants in their garden (or their parents garden?) and growing them on, or buying them in as plugs.
The gardener we had this conversation with suggested growing perennials and annuals – he loves creating huge displays of flowers in hanging baskets, so this is definitely a case of propagating what you love. But there is certainly a fashion trend from designers in the UK to stop using as many perennials and begin charming people with shrubs. Expect over the next ten to fifteen years to see this garden design evolution (or return?) and hear more and more about dedicated shrub nurseries.
Grasses and perennials have not had their day, but the gardening world moves on – not quickly, true – but it does want change, so if we were starting a nursery today we would not be propping perennials. We probably wouldn’t start with shrubs either, as we wouldn’t wish to follow the fashion, but try and second guess the next gardening movement that will start around 2025. We are going to say the trend in a decades time will be…
Fast growing annuals in gaudy colours mixed in with long-lived, edible perennial vegetables and fruit.
Now sit back and wait ten years to see if our call is right!
Silliness aside, starting a nursery has two sides – the production of the chosen plants, and the selling of those plants. Many people can grow plants and get their stock ready (the standard can be so high at times, we feel so proud at some of the markets and garden shows we do when we see these small, local nursery women and men displaying their beautifully grown plants… we have a fabulous climate for growing in!) but a lot of people struggle to move it on.
With perennials that isn’t an issue, because you can split the stock up and try again next year, but what about annuals? And what do you do with all those vegetable plants you have left over?
This means, if we started a nursery, we would spend twice as much time gathering an audience and learning what they need from us, as we spent time growing plants.
The idea of letting your customers lead you in what to grow can be counterbalanced though – you can just as well educate them on what they need in their gardens. Architectural Plants does this wonderfully well, making the plants they sell sound such great fun by being open and informative about how the plant grows.
They also run a tight ship at their nursery – the place is clean, the plants are well-tended and you can feel ‘quality’in the air. This is a mark of all the best nurseries – plants look great quality, the nursery is tidy and cared for. If you start a nursery now, this should be hammered into your mission statement and into everyone who works there.
Another choice you can make is to use your nursery as a resource for changing the world – see the work of Rosi Bee, who selflessly researches the most bee-valuable plants – now that is a mission we can understand and get behind! The interview we made with her (linked to above) gives you a few ideas for the production side of the work as well – using flood beds to make watering easier and making sure you set up well before you even begin.
Last of all, your nursery and the plants you grow may happen because of the type of land you have to work with – sandy soil will encourage you to grow buxus and topiary, while a wet earth may leave you planting bog plants and marginals. Your niche is found by circumstance, rather than what you care for…
This is a fascinating subject and one we will come back to, as we are keen to get a plant production side set up here at Modern Mint, using organic growing practises – whether it be a nursery for vegetables, topiary, perennials, shrubs or any of the other wonderful plants available on this earth!
Guanock House needs a trainee topiary artist! Some of you may know it as the first home and garden of designer Arne Maynard, but is now owned and maintained by Michael Coleman and his wife Michelle. They offer meditation workshops and retreats there and it is as beautiful a house and garden as you could wish to visit. They called me in last Autumn to help shape up some of the topiary as it was all getting out of hand, but what it really needs is someone with a steady hand and lots of patience to take over the clipping …
Here are some photos of work I have been doing at the garden of Charlotte Molesworth in Kent. Snow and ice brings out the depth of the different planes and angles carved into the boxwood. A garden has to look beautiful in winter – and topiary (green architecture) helps do that! For more topiary pictures, click here.
I am an experienced teacher of topiary and pruning, running workshops in the topiary garden of Charlotte Molesworth in Kent, as well as for The English Gardening School and The European Boxwood And Topiary Society. So if you are a keen gardener, a garden club, a group of friends who want to know more or even an absolute beginner who has been bitten by the gardening bug, then do contact me about what you might like to learn. What a laugh we are having in this workshop session I ran for a group of friends in Essex… Many people employ …