Secrets of the selling beds


We run the bathroom tap all winter to ensure the pipes do not freeze, (don't panic, it is our own water source, we are not wasting a drop, but it does still stress out Australian friends when they visit and watch all that precious water gushing endlessly down the drain) so when the day comes when we can turn off the tap and feel with 95% confidence that it will not freeze again that night, why then, it must be about time to begin the season and start to fill up the nursery with the plants that have spent the winter cosy in their poly tunnel homes.
The frosty winter of 2010 hit us hard, very hard, and we lost a lot of great stock plants that had come through many winters before. We have learned from our mistakes, and this last winter we invested in more bubble wrap, fleece and polystyrene insulation to ensure we were doing all we could to protect the plants if the thermometer hit -15 once again.
Thankfully it did not and with a relatively mild winter, the losses were far less.
Another change we made, which turned out to make a marked difference, was simply moving certain plants between poly tunnels to conditions that seemed to suit them more. For example, I took all the Bellis plants from the smaller tunnel, to the larger airier tunnel and they have thrived on it, preferring to have more air flow around them and less of a tight environment.
We have also been lucky to survive without a great deal of mouse damage, and more sadly; with the loss of West in November; there was no vizsla damage either. His horticultural impact was never intentional; it is just inherently tricky to bury a venison bone underneath a tray of crocosmia without there being a few casualties.
So, we walk the stock beds and select what is to be first out into the nursery, then hoist up some trays of plants and take them to the shed; which is marginally warmer and has marginally more chocolate hobnobs than the poly tunnel; and there we do any required weeding, cutting back, removal of old foliage and generally ensuring it is looking its best before sale. Some plants will at this stage get potted up to a larger size to go back to the tunnels for sale later in the season.
A new label is written out by hand for each plant, (yes, by hand, we are still old school, and unless the original seedlings came with some snazzy coloured labels, we still get hand cramp from writing out ‘Persicaria affinis campanulata £3.50’ fifty times) and then I channel my inner Theroux to write up an evocative label to describe the appearance of the plant, explain its growing habits, soil preferences, size etc.
Being eco-conscious, we recycle and reuse many of our pots, labels, trays and other materials necessary for running a nursery, and in this we are ably assisted by Shelia our fabulous employee, who dedicates her own time to collecting and cleaning off plant labels for re-use. (We also have a collection point where customers are encouraged to bring in all the plant pots they have accumulated over the years, we will use what we can and pass on the rest for further recycling.)

After the prettification step, the plants go out onto the nursery selling beds. As the nursery has grown, so to have the number of tables, and we now have a substantial amount which require yearly winter maintenance by means of a scrub down with a wire brush to remove the grime and moss, followed by a fresh layer of special varnish which protects the wood from rotting and prevents moss growth. A very tedious task I'm sure you can appreciate, so one I do my best to delegate.

Now comes an attempt to delve into the psychology of the plant buyer - look into my eyes, you are feeling an irresistible urge to buy 17 meconopsis.
We do not have a bag of tricks like the evil genius's at the supermarkets, and i'm not going to give everything away, but we have been known to watch customers out the corners of our eye to see which routes they take between the tables and which areas are the focal points, or 'hot spots'. Into these spots I position those plants that are looking particularly great, are in full flower, or which are enjoying a season of fashionable popularity.

Next out, some complementary plants - texture, colour, size, planting conditions - all come into play when laying out the table.
Delicate marking displayed at eye level for maximum appreciation, big pots on the ground so they don’t have far to fall on the windy days. Climbers not too close to the trellis or you will never be able to untangle them........

Then a few more mind games - the removal of a couple of pots from each tray, (A full tray is too intimidating), position the descriptive label at a readable angle and job done.

Smoko time?


Drumsticks of Delight

Primula Denticulata
(The Drumstick Primula)

 Beautiful spherical flower heads.
Cheerful, early, and indestructible.
They grow almost anywhere and look lovely planted as a group.
We sell as seperate colours (Red/Pink, White and Violet/Blue)

£3 each - £10 for four

The Boiling Pond

Like the GilbertWhite of Abriachan, I crept stealthily up the path towards the pond, camera switched on, lens extended, fingers hovering expectantly over the focus.
I was down-wind, I had deliberately neglected to put on potent midge repellent lest it disturb the still morning air, I was wearing my most woodland-blending combination of greens, greys and browns, surely this time they would not see me coming!
SPLAsh SpISH SPlarg Gloop ShLUuop splOSH


Once more outwitted by frogs, 16 frogs to be more accurate (at last count), the newest and most endearing residents of the pond.
(I promise they are in the photo somewhere)
They moved in last week and since then the water has been boiling with their activity, there are now several big patches of frog spawn floating like translucent sago pudding, yet despite my best efforts, my attempts to sneak up and photograph them as they lounge on the banks and leaves have failed, and all I am confronted with are 32 big eyes on teeny frog faces peeking up at me.
One of my winter jobs was the transformation of what Margaret termed "The Quaking Bog" into something that once more resembled a wildlife pond.
So with a set of waders, a spade and a look of steely determination in my eye, I went forth and did battle.

January/February is the best time for you to tackle your ponds, as it is when you are going to cause least disturbance to wildlife which is at its lowest ebb in the winter months, and also when you are best able to divide your pond plants before they start to grow away in the spring.

The rapid flow of water through our pond, (connected to a fast flowing burn) brought with it a great deal of silt and other detritus, so I had to dig a great deal of content out, to return the pond to a depth of 3ft, restoring it to a suitable environment for wildlife and readying it for fresh planting in the coming months.
If you own a stand-alone pond which you refill/refresh/pump or otherwise oxygenate, you will probably have far less content to clear out as there will only be the fallen leaves and rotting plant material to deal with, however it is still a job that should be done tri-annually to benefit the health of the pond.

Here are a few tips to help you in your endeavours: 
  • Waders are a great investment - Digging out a pond from the bank is near impossible and you are like as not to strain your back, and receive no sympathy from friends and family as "You should have known better."
    Also, a welly boot, once full of sludgly mud, tends to be more of a hindrance than a help and may lead to you becoming wedged in the gunge in the very centre of the pond, having to perform a complex manoeuvre where you use the spade to lever out one foot so you can make a lunge for the bank, leaving the other welly behind in its new watery home, where it looks at you smugly while you sit and wring out your socks.
  • Stop the flow of water into your pond while you are cleaning it, and if possible drain out most of the water to make your job easier.
    I would imagine that if you have fish, transferring them elsewhere at this stage would be a pretty good idea.
  • As you dig out the contents of the pond, shovel it all onto the bank and leave it there for at least a few days, so anything that has been living in the murky depths can wriggle its way back down into the water.
  • Once the silt is wriggler-free, you can move it elsewhere.
    I have used ours to fill a new bed which I will plant with Primulas later this year.
    You may have to mix the pond contents with compost and additional feeding depending on the level of nutrients - I will be adding manure and leaf compost to ours.
  • Dig deep to get out the roots of all the plants you do not want in your pond. In our case, reeds, rushes and grasses which would, if left, invade the whole pond area.
    You can keep a small patch of reeds for your wildlife if you like, but there are plenty of alternative plants which wildlife love and which are easier to keep under control.
  • Divide your lilies, irises and other abundant pond plants, plant them elsewhere, give them to your neighbours, sell them, donate them, barter them..... just ensure you leave enough for oxygenation and habitat.
  • Hold off on re-planting with new plants until after the last of the hard frosts.
  • Ensure your pond has at least one gradually graduated side, so frogs, toads, newts and other wildlife can get in and out easily.
Best of luck with your own ponds, they are such a great addition to your garden and as well as providing an environment for animals and insects to live, breed and feed, they give many more birds and animals with a place to drink and bathe.
Our own wee Scottish food chain contains damselflies, dragonflies, water boat men, pond skaters, whirligig beetles, caddis flies, water snails, frogs, toads, ducks, a visiting heron......  and recently observed, the lesser-spotted mud-encrusted Scotsman.

Written by Donald
Frog graphic from the fabulous Graphics Fairy
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