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!
Phillyrea is one of my favourite plants for topiary. I have been using it for quite a few years as a specimen shrub, mostly due to the fact it clips well and has a tough habit – all good characteristics for a topiary plant. It also has a reputation for being an excellent nectar source for bees… Read more about Phillyrea here. Mentioning this to Malcolm Thicke, a market garden historian and writer, he sent me a some photos of topiary and phillyrea mentioned by John Worlidge in Systema Horticulturae from 1682…. incredible! He also mentioned to me that in …
Kites and Strings is a podcast about creativity, hosted by US-based Stephen Ploum and Catherine Chinnock. Back in March they asked me to come onto their podcast and talk about topiary, my past writing plays, the stand-up I did and how creativity can fit into your life. The Kites and Strings podcast was great fun and Stephen and Catherine are fantastic hosts. Listening back today I am surprised by some of the ideas I talked about (somehow I even started to describe a future where I run a ‘School of Creativity’ by the sea…. where did that come from?!) but it …
Robinia is often forgotten – by me, actually! – when thinking of plants for topiary. But when I work on it I do love it, brittle and soft as the wood is if you climb into it. But that danger of snapping a branch with a heavy step and falling out of the tree aside, I love it for the dappled light it allows into the garden space. Robinia Near The Sea Below is a Robinia I have gently clipped over the last few years, down near Leigh-on-Sea in Essex. The tree was large when I arrived, although it is …