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?



  1. What a fascinating read. I yearn for a nursery and maybe one day I will get there so it is useful to glean all these tips of the trade.

    I have a perverse habit of always wanting the plant with the big label in so it has to be removed and replanted!

  2. So sorry to hear about West, he made us all feel so welcome when we visited.
    Now look into my eyes, sorry ,but I only bought one Meconopsis which is now very happy here in the shade in Devon. At last I have mastered the art of saving the seed, planting it and growing the plants on to flowering then starting all over again!

  3. Thank you Pauline, West is sadly missed, I am happy he entertained you during your visit.
    I am very glad the meconopsis is happy in your garden,I hope the primula settle in just as happily. Best Wishes, Cat

  4. Batten down the hatches again looks like the weather is about to change. We often buy Bellis in early Autumn and plant them directly in the border to give a Spring display, there was no sign of them in the garden centres last year.


Thank you for leaving a comment - it is always great to hear about other peoples gardens and lives. If you ever drop by the nursery, make sure you say hello. (Margaret & Donald)

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