Phoargh! Nice Understory…

We’re establishing a kind of mixed orchard area at our new house. I say “kind of” because I’ve slipped a few other things in there, about which more anon, but also because we’re developing a really interesting understory. I’m baffled by folk who plant trees and don’t do anything about the ground around them, which can often be barren. We hear quite a lot from people wanting wildflower meadows in traditional orchard schemes, which is a bit tricky, and we thought we would do something different to match our informal design and interesting plant choices. I started our understory planting last winter when I popped in some Rosa rugosa, together with various berries and currants, and now it’s the time of year to move on to bulbs.
I’m in the middle of planting 3,000; Bluebells (English, of course), Wild daffodils, Wood Anemones, Crocus, winter aconite, Common Snowdrops, Ramsons, Fritillaries – some of my favourite things. They’re going to be perfect as the canopy develops, and I hope there’ll naturalize freely like they’re supposed to because I’m not planting another 3,000! These bulbs have a number of fabulous qualities:
1. They’re beautiful flowers.
2. They often flower at helpful times of year, not just from an aesthetic point of view but also for…
3. …wildlife. Bees crave early season pollen for their developing brood from early flowering plants like winter aconites and crocuses, for example.
4. They generally do well in the shade, where not much else might thrive.
After these have gone in I’m getting some Meadow Cranesbill going in a sunny spot, plus native Foxgloves of course. These are great bumblebee plants; many of our bumblebee species’ natural habitat is, after all, woodland edge, where they thrive.
I’ve got Nepalese and Szechuan pepper plants coming from Otter Farm, and there’s a lot more to go in, but all in good time. We need to let the trees get going and the site develop.

Newsletter No.9: 9th November 2010

Much as I love Autumn the weather this week has been hard to bear, coming as it does hard on the heels of the last episode of Downton Abbey (incidentally, what one could do with staff!). This year’s cider is safely abed, as are the bees, and we’re bottling the sloe gin ahead of the North Dorset Rugby Club Christmas Fair (don’t ask!). Although we’ve just about finished bulbs now, we’re at the start of the bare root season so it’s organized chaos (or perhaps I shouldn’t say that – “very busy” perhaps). I’ve been delighted by the number of traditional fruit trees we are selling, where we’ve almost become victims of our own success as we’re already sold out of a number of apple varieties. We’ve now listed them on the website by region of origin, which seems to have gone down well.

We’ve extended our range by adding another supplier, Ian Sturrock, to our list. Ian specializes in old Welsh fruit trees, so we’re now able to sell apple trees like Anglesey Pig’s Snout and Pigeon’s Beak. We are now also working with Dulford Nurseries in Devon, who we are using to supply extra-large sizes of native trees.

Our big corporate news is still largely under wraps, so I can’t reveal too much until the New Year, but we’ve teamed up with Hilliers to produce an exciting new range of meadow products which will be sold through their retail, mail order and online networks. Without wanting to sound too much of a suck-up I’m delighted; we have been looking for a reliable, supportive and ethical retail partner for a little while (it’s harder than you might think!) and Hilliers fit the bill perfectly. A portion of the profit on sales of the products will go to either Butterfly Conservation, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, or the Grasslands Trust, and we will be using the opportunity to promote them as well.

We’ve been very active on the social media front, and now have well over 500 followers on Twitter, some of whom listened to my latest appearance on lovely BBC Somerset (if you can “appear” on radio?). The website currently has its highest ranking yet in the UK according to Alexa (well in the top 15,000!), which has been helped by some kind references and blogging ranging from the stroppy to the fruitily esoteric.

My marketing efforts over the winter will be aimed at landscape architects. We’ve picked up more business from them as a group as we’ve gone along, but we need to promote ourselves much more heavily to them as suppliers of native plants and seeds in particular. If you’ve got any helpful contacts please let me know!

Oh – and “Habitat Aid” is now a UK trademark. That’s got to be worth a few quid even if everything else goes pear shaped. That’s Perry Pear shaped, of course.