Newsletter No.12: March 2011

Spring is springing in deepest Somerset, although we’ve been working so hard it is rather passing us by. Over the last week we’ve been busy processing plug plant orders from our offer for Butterfly Conservation. The dogs need walking more and I keep putting off writing a book outline I MUST do. I did manage to get my act together enough to write a piece for the FT last weekend, which is always super exposure. I have also finally added some lovely lavenders on the website from Downderry Nursery.

Ponds
We’ve finalized a day for this year’s wildlife pond creation day – 12th May. The course will again be tutored by pond guru Hugh Roberts, and we have a fab site in Redlynch, southeast Somerset, to develop. I’ve also posted a video of Matthew “Landscape Man” Wilson working on a project with our coir rolls and native marginal plants, which gives a helpful idea as to what we offer:[aembed:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UW7pA0FHV7U]

Meadowtastic
Meadow AnywhereIt’s the time of year to be thinking of wildflower meadows – plugs and seed. Our wildflower and grass seed mix, launched with Hilliers last month and featuring at Chelsea, is going really well. We’ve had extensive media coverage and interest from other retail partners.

Newsletter No.7: 1st September 2010

Cold Wind Blowing
It’s my favourite time of year. We took a bumper honey crop at the beginning of August and, despite the wasps, the bees look in good shape. We’ve finished scything the meadow, which was lovely this year, and seeding a couple of new areas. The kitchen staff (surely some mistake – Ed.) are now wrestling with current and impending gluts of courgettes, apples, plums, pumpkins (!), and, more excitingly, usable numbers of quinces, figs, medlars and pears. We’re cleaning the apple press and might even have enough Perry Pears to think about our first vintage. Huge furry new bumblebee queens have started to buzz the sedum and the bats and swallows are zipping about in celebration of a fecund year in the garage. The new pond we made for our course in April has been extraordinary – the latest excitement there has been the arrival of Anax Imperator.

Basking in the late summer sun I should feel content, and looking forward to what I hope will be a busy month as folk start buying seed and ordering bare-root trees. Perhaps I’ve spent too long in front of my computer recently, but instead I feel rather morose. The economic and environmental news over the last few weeks has, let’s face it, been pretty grim, and there’s worse to come.

On the other hand, my resolve is also strengthened. Charities have to find new ways to fund themselves. Small businesses and consultants have to find new ways to market, and the internet should be the perfect medium for them. It should also work well to promote localism generally. This is all very much what Habitat Aid is about.

Most people have been incredibly supportive, but there’s a certain residue of suspicion about what we’re doing, which is understandable. My background was in the City (not a good start), and I have no expertise in many of the areas I’m looking at now, I do know people who have. The idea of a business which isn’t driven by financial profit is still a new idea for a lot of folk; I’m often asked questions like “is your blog commercial?”, or at the other end of the spectrum “who is funding you?” I still feel like we are a tiny boat (coracle?) in a pretty vast and stormy sea, but we are making headway I think. Since we started trading in May last year we have had nearly 100,000 page views, which to me sounds like a lot from a standing start.

Meadows Website

We’re launching a microsite about meadows at www.micromeadow.co.uk. To quote the blurb:

The site is intended to encourage folk to establish smaller scale meadows and to provide access to good quality plants and seeds, as well as to reliable information and advice.

Got it? Have a look and let us know what you think.

Lavender

We’re delighted to announce we are working with Downderry Nursery to sell a range of lavenders from the spring. Downderry are regular Gold Medal winners and owner Simon Charlesworth is a committed conservationist. I met him originally at an open day organized by the Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects at Sussex University, with whom he is working to trial the best bee friendly varieties.

Adverts

We have started to carry adverts on our main site and blog. Not the usual nonsense, but we are being guided by the excellent Digital Spring. Like us, they occupy an interesting spot in the demi-monde between charities and commerce. They have put together a portfolio of ethically vetted conservation related advertisers – binoculars, birding holidays, etc. – whose ads appear on our sites. We make money, they make money – and donate some to a related charity.

Somerset Pride
We’ve signed up to become an associate corporate member of our local Wildlife Trust. It’s a great scheme, and another example of a partnership between charities and corporates where everyone wins.

Fruit Tree Management Courses
This winter we are hosting two one day courses on managing fruit trees, tutored by respected specialist nurseryman Kevin Croucher, owner of Thornhayes Nursery.

About Us
Habitat Aid aims to persuade and enable folk to at least partly recreate or help replace key habitats like meadows, wetlands, orchards and woodland. The company also helps a small number of charities.

We are partly an online retailer selling mostly trees, plants and seeds sourced from really good quality specialized suppliers who often have a limited or no e-commerce operation themselves. Half our profits from sales go to selected partner charities, which are linked to specific products; this doesn’t just help charities financially, but also helps get their key messages across.

We also act as a kind of honest broker. We are building a network of consultants in areas like “wildlife garden” and estate design, meadow creation, and wetland and pond projects. We recommend and introduce these folk to end clients and landscape professionals, to give advice or to design and project manage. We then supply the plants for these schemes.

Lastly, we are developing products directly with our partner charities. We are working with the ‘Adopt a Beehive’ scheme and BBKA Enterprises to supply native seed mixes for bees, for example.

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Lavender

Bees in lavenderIf there is a better plant for bees at this time of year I have yet to see it. I took a rather wobbly video of the 8 metres of lavender hedge outside our kitchen this afternoon, which partly shows the concentration of bees on it. There must have been several hundred there. I could see some of my honeybees, four different species of bumblebee – Garden (Bombus hortorum), White-tailed (B. lucorum), Carder (B. pascuorum) and Red-tailed (B. lapidarius) – and two types of cuckoo bee, the Gypsy cuckoo bee (B. bohemicus) and the Field cuckoo bee (B. campestris). There were probably lots more I didn’t spot, in addition to various hoverflies.
It’s a particularly great garden plant though because it works so well for us humans; it’s a good hardy hedging plant, looks good, smells good, and has all sorts of medicinal and cosmetic uses. What’s not to like?

Hampton Court Show

Floral Marquee, Hampton Court showThese days I upset myself by spoiling perfectly nice events by plunging into a familiar kind of off-putting eco censoriousness, which is as tedious for me as it must be for the people who are subjected to it. So if you want to miss the tedious bits of last week’s day-I-messed-up at the Hampton Court Flower Show, then skip straight to the picture of the Eryngium.

How can I explain what upset me? It wasn’t so much the “garden centre” element, although the Country Living Magazine Pavilion, as a symptom of it, was enormous – and furnished me with three pairs of very good value stripy socks, so I shouldn’t complain. Each to his own, it’s a free world, commercial pressure, etc. etc.. No, I think what upset me are the missed opportunities these shows represent.

Regretting that second pint

Some examples. There was an enormous gushing Magritte like pink penis – sorry – tap – which was my favourite design feature of the show gardens (along with the Falmouth College garden), apparently raising awareness of overactive bladder syndrome. There were a lot of other water features too, and according to the catalogue no less than 17 water feature suppliers’ stands, pitched on the straw coloured grass. Was there a single supplier of water butts or water saving devices there? No. Grey water irrigation systems? No. Reed beds? What about green roofs? You’re having a laugh. Holiday Inn (“implementing sound environmental practices”) sponsored an interesting but modest area called Sustainable Gardens, to “showcase themes relating to the environment and biodiversity”. I guess the other show gardens didn’t? Er…well, now you come to mention it… Certainly the Legoland garden wasn’t a very helpful advert in the International Year of Biodiversity. Of course there has to be a commercial logic to all of this, and it’s absolutely critical not to take the fun out of gardening, but PLEASE can the RHS not treat “the environment and biodiversity” as somehow seperate issues to mainstream gardening, and fully embrace and promote them. It needs to stop talking the talk and start walking the walk. HoneybeeThey could at least start by vetting exhibitors and managing a tiered rate system according to how “eco friendly” they were. They might even actively solicit certain types of exhibitor. I wondered if biodiversity was a consideration in judging the show gardens (I loved the Bradstone Garden at Chelsea, for example, which showed how it can be done)? Does anyone think about the overall impression the show might create? Organisations like the RHS are the kind of opinion formers who need to be at the vanguard of a new paradigm shift.
Right, that’s that off my chest. It was lovely to see all sorts of people at the show. The BBKA were there, and honey bees from their demo hive were much in evidence in (some) parts of the Show, although I wonder how many punters noticed there were no butterflies about. Anywhere.

My main pleasure as a non-designer is to wander around the small nurseries, who can be a delight. Downderry Nursery’s stand in the Floral marquee – top – was lovely. We hope to be selling lavender supplied by them soon. Owners Simon and Dawn Charlesworth are very much on side when it comes to bees; I bumped into Simon originally at LASI, with whom he’s trialling different types of lavender. I also hope to start selling Hellebores from Harvey’s Garden Plants, who also look like just the sort of folk we ought to be promoting. More anon. Jekka’s Herb stand was lovely too – and rather more swamped in bees than the Copella Bee Garden.

Niwaki

It was nice to meet Jake Hobson, one of our suppliers, who imports Japanese ladders and tools and sold me the most beautiful pair of secateurs. I had a nice chat too with the man at Clear Water Revival, who nearly sold us a swimming pond when I was affluent. Lovely company, great product. It would be good to supply them with native aquatic plants. Talking of which, I loved the locally based Dorset Water Lilly company, and other favourites included the Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight. I hope you all had a good show. As to the folk selling bronze butterflies on wires, good luck to you too – soon they’ll be the only butterflies your customers will see.