Articles on growing alpines

Occasional articles on various aspects of nursery life, growing plants and running a small business.

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  1. Packing Plants

    Since we started selling plants online, many people have asked us how we pack our plants. "Do you just stick them in a box and label them 'DO NOT SHAKE' ? ". The strange thing is - some of them are serious! If only it were that simple.

    There are many different ways to pack plants. Some nurseries remove the plants from their pots and some of the compost as well. It does save  weight, obviously, but I don't like it. It leaves the plant exposed around the neck and the customer is forced to deal with the plant immediately on receipt (plant it).

    The modern way is to use blister packs - moulded plastic bubbles with preformed niches that hold a specific size of pot (and the plant) securely. They are amazing - and costly, and we don't like costly! They only work if your plants conform to the dimensions of the pack. All the big growers use them for mail order; nurseries who produce a limited range of uniform products by the thousand. That's not us!

    When I worked for a large retail nursery many years ago, they wrapped plants in paper or shrink-wrap but packed them into boxes using straw as a cheap and readily available packing material. And it worked very well - unless you suffered from hay fever. Straw, especially if it has been baled ever so slightly damp, is full of dust and fungal spores. It's not nice to handle close up.

    So, what do we use, if not plastic blister packs and not straw? Here we show you how .....

    order wrapping 1 

    An early spring order ready for packing. The plants have been picked out, labelled and cleaned over to remove any dead leaves etc.

    Then we double-check the plants against the printed order. And check the box label matches the delivery address.

    Then we start wrapping. 

     

     

     order wrapping heli 1 Here is a Helianthemum ready for wrapping - not from the above order, obviously, but a good example to use.Next we show you how we wrap the plant so that it will arrive with the customer looking (almost) as good as it does here.   

     

     order wrapping heli 2 We take a sheet of newspaper and carefully wrap it around the neck of the plant. 

    This keeps the grit and compost in the pot but more importantly, it protects the base of the plant.We secure the wrapping with elastic bands. When unwrapping, please be sure to remove the wrapping very carefully - it is often tucked right into and under the plant.

     order wrapping heli 3 A final outer wrapping of a single sheet of newspaper helps protect the top parts and is again secured with a rubber band.It wouldn't matter too much if these stems were snapped off but we like you to receive as nice a plant as we can. Yes, we do use a lot of newspaper! But it can all be recycled or composted. 
     order wrapping box The wrapped plants are laid into a strong cardboard box lined with crumpled newspaper. Any gaps - like corners and between each pot - are packed with yet more paper. It's vital that the plants can't move in the box. Before sealing up the box we include a copy of your order and a few notes on how to care for your plants upon receipt.We often add a business card - for when you need to tell a friend .....  ; )

    This is a slow process - well, it is if you take care of plants the way we like to. Monday and Tuesday mornings are spent packing plants (it's a 6am start when we are busy) and I like to be prepared well before - orders printed, plants lifted and prep'd, boxes selected, courier booked and labels printed. All set for a busy morning with no interruptions - sometimes!

  2. Love me.

    No, not me, I'm happily married - in fact, we will celebrate our silver wedding anniversary this year. No cards, please. But you may send presents!

    No, what I want to highlight is some of our plants which are in need of someone to love them. I have picked out three plants today and photographed them for you see. I'm very happy with these plants - I think the quality is as good as I could manage; they are clean, fresh, well-grown, tough little plants and all are desirable. I would have thought so, but we haven't (I think, from memory) had a single order for any of these plants. Well, perhaps one order, as I say, from memory. I have been married for nearly 25 years - of course my memory has failed! 

    Here we have Draba rigida imbricata, Saxifraga 'Boston Spa' and Morisia monanthos.

    draba rigida imbricata pot sax boston spa pot morisia monanthos pot   
     
    What does a grower do when a plant doesn't sell? I am going to review how I describe the plants on the website - perhaps I have simply haven't 'pushed' the plant enough. In the case of the Draba and the Morisia I have been totally honest in explaining that these particular plants don't enjoy overly wet condtions and may be this has put customers off, I don't know. The easy thing to do would be to just not tell customers about any potential problems when growing a plant in their garden. It's all about getting a sale these days, isn't it?
     
    Most people 'buy with their eyes' and I know that quite a few (OK, a lot) of our photographs don't show our plants at their best and I will try and remedy that. It's very difficult to get a good photograph. I'm not a good photographer for a start and I only use a fairly basic camera. One of the biggest difficulties is finding a plant in peak condition, full of flower and looking fantastic. Most of our larger plants are grown for propagating, not photographing, so some get grown soft and lush so that we get good cuttings from them, others we actually remove the flowers from because we can't root flowers. Then, if I do get a good plant, I have to wait until the wind is calm enough to stop the flowers from waving. And it's not too dull. I never thought being a plant photographer would be harder than being a grower!
     
    Price could be another factor in why some of these plants haven't sold (yet). Times are certainly hard for a lot of people and buying plants for one's garden isn't a priority. We charge £3.00 for the Sax, 'Boston Spa'. I'm sure if you searched hard enough you could buy one cheaper elsewhere. A trend of modern life is that everything can be had cheaper from somewhere. Is £3.00 too dear? We don't think so - I propagated 'Boston Spa' in October 2011 from a plant that was probably 4 or 5 years old, rooted and looked after it until it was potted in May or June 2012. It is now nearly April 2013 and the plants are looking good, full of buds and ready to flower. Perhaps £3.00 is too much but we can't produce plants to this standard for much less. I heard one of those pseudo-Chinese sayings recently that I liked - "Cheap no good. Good no cheap".
     
    Anyway; it's Easter Saturday, it's not snowing (for now) and I need to go for a ride on my bicycle. We wish you a Happy Easter. And our plants say, "Please love us". 
  3. As spring starts to make us think it is almost here, we are starting to get more orders through (thank you!) but we have noticed something odd. When a customer places an order on the website we offer a box for them to add comments and most of those comments apply to delivery instructions. All well and good - but puzzling too, at times.

    Most of our plant deliveries will require a signature when they arrive at your home. Our couriers, like most others, only deliver to an address, not the person, so (in theory) anyone could sign. It could be you, your partner (even a wife or husband!) or perhaps a friendly neighbour will take the parcel for you and sign for it. But some of the instructions we have noticed recently have made us wonder. For example:

    "Do not leave at no. 22" (next door) - an unfriendly neighbour, perhaps?

    "Leave in greenhouse at bottom of garden, place in blue box" - poor delivery driver, hikes down the garden then remembers he is colour blind and can't decide which box is red!

    "Leave concealed at back of house" - have you ever put something of your own in a 'safe place', but can't find it later? I do.

    "Leave on front step" - if it wasn't for 'Elfin Safety' you might fall over it!

    Some of these instructions are, I admit, slightly embellished but they are not far off the truth. But do the delivery drivers take any notice? - that will depend on each driver and what rules are imposed on them, I suppose. So, continue adding your Special Instructions but please be brief - we can only squeeze a few words on each label.

  4. How do we decide what plants to grow?  Well, it's not easy, that's for sure. Some plants are universally popular and always in demand so we try to keep a good stock of those. Occasionally things can go wrong - some years a plant just 'won't do' and we end up with hardly any or none to sell. Some plants are just difficult or just difficult for us in our climate or in our way of growing. Sometimes we persist in the hope of one day having enough to sell, with others we bow out gracefully. We can't grow everything. And if you read earlier about our disaster with mice eating most of our carefully built-up stock of Oxalis depressa ..... I'm still sulking over that!

    Most of these difficulties are just the vagaries of nature or horticulture. When things do get exasperating though, is when we grow lovely plants that no-one wants to buy - what do we do then? No doubt there will be reasons behind that lack of demand but it is never obvious and leaves us, as growers, with our greatest dilemmas. Do we persevere with that plant or give up? If we do give up, the danger is that we might lose the plant entirely and may struggle to get it back if we ever wanted to grow it again. Most plants need to be propagated regularly just to keep the stock fresh and vigorous - although, a few years' rest can help some things too. 

    Fashion plays it's part too, like so much in modern life. We used to grow a nice range of autumn flowering Gentians but gave them up several years ago as we just couldn't sell them (this was wholesale, before we started this website). We could have nice green plants (not as easy as it sounds with Gentians!) covered in beautiful blue flowers in September but at that time of year garden centres were less busy, demand was low and the weather less conducive to 'Joe Public' taking to their gardens. So, sadly, we couldn't waste time growing Gentians and we no longer have autumn Gentians on the nursery. But fashion changes and one nursery had a terrific display of Gentians at the Autumn Show in Harrogate last year and will no doubt be taking orders.

    As I have just said, we no longer have autumn Gentians on the nursery, but we do have lots of other plants. Some will remain popular, some will drop off our list. New plants occasionally appear and they always attract interest. Other 'new' plants will reappear - then the older gardeners and enthusiasts will tell us how they used to grow that plant 40 years ago! As long as we manage to sell enough of something, we will get by.

    If you are interested in the preservation of garden plants, please take a look at the website of Plant Heritage, formerly The National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens (NCCPG). www.nccpg.com