Obligatory Chelsea blog

I had a fascinating 3 days at the Chelsea Garden Show earlier this week, courtesy of Hilliers. What lovely folk – and while I’m on the subject, congratulations on your 66th consecutive gold medal, a record which makes you the horticultural equivalent of Don Bradman. Hilliers have been fantastic partners for our Meadow Anywhere seed project, and fingers crossed my hopeless attempts at helping on the exhibit haven’t persuaded them I’m bloody useless…

I’ve been known to grumble in curmudgeonly fashion at shows, but it seems churlish to here as I had such a rewarding and entertaining time. Let’s just say I really liked Nigel Dunnett’s show garden and really didn’t Diarmuid Gavin’s. ‘Nuff said. I got a huge amount of the show personally, and not just in terms of my own education (I can now recognise the beautiful Sinocalycalycanthus, even though I still can’t spell it). As a networking opportunity it was fantastic, and I’m looking at a whole bunch of new ideas, tie-ups and projects as a result of just wandering around and chatting to people.

For the outside world Chelsea is a great marketing opportunity for one of our best and, seemingly, most undervalued industries. I still don’t understand its economics at all; we regularly sell trees which cost more to get to the customer than they do themselves. The value and quality we get from our top nurseries is as extraordinary as the choice, and events like this are a rare opportunity to showcase them.

The show’s diversity isn’t just restricted to the exhibits and exhibitors, but it also attracts visitors from all over the planet. I was reminded of Jane Owen’s FT article on Taipei’s massive flower show earlier this year:

Michael Balston, a member of the RHS Council (governing body), created the garden to “remind the world through the quiet diplomacy of horticulture that the UK still exists”.

Chelsea, Chelsea, I believe…

I saw The Fratellis at Glasto a couple of years ago, and their “Chelsea Dagger” has been going round my head all week. A cracking song.
Much of my time over the last few days has been focused on a very different and somewhat less gratuitous Chelsea, as the flower show looms. I spent Monday at an event organized by the RHS at Wisley (for which a big thank you) learning about field trials with the jolly corps of the Garden Media Guild. Lovely people, incidentally, and on message – in contrast with one of the speakers – but that’s another story, and the equally lovely RHS has only just about made it into the 20th century, so it’s excused.
Anyway, as you can imagine, the journalistas are beginning to focus on the (sorry, THE) gardening event of the season, with an excitement which this year I share. Having been a paying punter a few times over the years, I’m now helping Hilliers out with their stand, which will feature the Meadow Anywhere seed packets we supply them with. This is an ace project, which among other things has so far raised £4,000 for each of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and Butterfly Conservation. Anyway, we are growing a collection of planters for the stand. I say “we”, but actually one of our suppliers is (before you panic); Herbiseed’s Steve Morton is doing all the hard work for us, and I visited him at a secret location in Berkshire on Tuesday to do a quick check on them. How are they doing?
These planters are going to make everyone wonder why they bother growing anything other than micromeadows in their back gardens. See you at Chelsea.

Meadows Are Go! Newsletter No.11

Apart from the small matter of moving, one of the reasons I’ve been so remiss at blogging this month has been the work I’ve spent on the British wildflower and grass seed mixes we are developing with the lovely folk at Hillier Nurseries. We’re launching our first “Meadow Anywhere” packet at the Garden Media day next week. This one aims to demystify meadows and native wildflowers for the urban gardener without dumbing down the content of the mix, and will raise money for Butterfly Conservation and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. I won’t bore you with the sales spiel (!), but do have a look at the microsite I have built to go with the product range. Hillier, bless them, are featuring the mix at their Chelsea garden, and I have high hopes for it. Among the folk involved in the project has been Hannah McVicar, an exciting young illustrator in Bristol. I don’t think I’ll be able to afford her work (like this) for long!

Newsletter No. 10: December 2010

Enough is enough; even William (11) is now bored with the snow. What a hellish couple of weeks for our bare root tree suppliers. Digging plants out of a foot of snow in temperatures down to -10 is not the perfect prelude to the Festive Season. Thanks for your efforts, which have meant that we are only running into real delays for a small handful of orders. Whether it had anything to do with my article in the FT or not, we’ve had a good season for fruit trees in particular, which has been very encouraging.

We hosted a successful course last week on Starting an Orchard, with tutor Kevin Croucher of Thornhayes Nursery. The next one, on renovating older fruit trees, will be held on 25th January. See the website for details. 2011’s schedule also includes days on meadows and wildlife ponds.

New Products

Hilliers will be launching our new meadow product at the Garden Press Day in February. Hannah McVicar and Jenny Steel are also now working with us on the project, and the result should be gorgeous. Watch this space! We are also working with Butterfly Conservation on a special readers’ offer of gorgeous mixed native wildflower plugs, selected particularly for butterflies and/or moths.

Thank you

Thank you everyone for all your help and support this year. The progress we’ve made has been fantastic, and we couldn’t have done it without you. Happy Christmas!

Oh, and by the way, if you would like to subscribe to this newsletter by email, you can sign up here.

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.