We are – finally – planting our small formal garden. I wanted to source the plants for it directly from the nursery – the British nursery – which grew them. I’m lucky because I knew enough about the trade to draw up a short list of folk to approach. One of our suppliers, R.V.Roger
, also grows shrubs as well as the fruit trees we sell from them. Kelways
are a well known local Peony nursery. Hardy’s Plants
I knew about though social media and trade shows. All lovely plants at very reasonable prices.
I think I’d have found all these folk had I not known about them previously. Some nurseries are not so obvious; they either can’t afford or don’t understand how to market in the 21st century. I found one listed in the RHS’s Plantfinder which was listed as growing a couple of the more obscure perennials I needed. They were very helpful and the quality of their plants turned out to be good. The bizarre thing was that they were 15 minutes’ drive away. I’ve lived in the area for 13 years; I’m a keen gardener and have been in a related business for the last 6 years. I’d never heard of these guys. I pointed this out to the manager when I picked the plants up, and he said people didn’t realize they were there as a row of new houses had been built between the nursery and the road. And this is isn’t even a retail outlet!
It might be that nurseries can’t afford the marketing budget to sell directly to trade or the public, rather than through resellers. The advent of social media means this is less likely; look at folk like the delightful Common Farm Flowers
, around the corner from us.
We don’t pay nearly enough for our plants. It’s incredible that for £52.50 you can have three apple trees of an ancient variety of which only 10 might be grown IN THE WORLD that year. And that includes £18 for packaging and delivery. For £60 (including delivery and VAT) you can buy 1kg of wildflower seed
, enough to cover 250 square metres. It’s freshly harvested, dried and cleaned from a medieval meadow. Nurseries and harvesters have very limited pricing power; people aren’t picky enough about what they want. They’re encouraged not to be by the retailers. Many people don’t even realize the difference between a nursery and a garden centre. The chances are remote that the particular Astrantia you want is not going to be in your local garden centre, but they will have an Astrantia. Chances are it will have been grown abroad.
The same goes for fruit trees, shrubs, or anything else. Online resellers are better able to help, particularly if, like us, they deal with multiple growers. Even they suffer from the sometimes irresistible temptation to keep things simple and funnel people down narrow options. It’s physically very difficult to manage an online shop offering thousands of lines which are constantly going in and out of availability.
People aren’t picky enough about the folk they use to do their gardening for them either. There’s more to gardening than mowing the lawn and cutting the hedge. A qualified gardener should be on a higher wage than an unskilled labourer. Because there’s no money in horticultural businesses there’s no money in working for one. The good quality people I know who do, do it for love. This is the source of much hand wringing in the trade. I know money isn’t everything. I bet, though, that if nurseries could make good money a lot of this would change. How can they persuade customers to pay properly for their product?
God knows, I’m not qualified to comment, but it seems to me that nurseries need to emphasise provenance and quality, and to lobby to make better labelling a statutory requirement. Specialization must help them with pricing power and search engine optimization, which probably means using resellers. These should be required to disclose the source of their plants. Like my local wholesaler, nurseries can generally market themselves much more effectively, using contemporary media.
One of Habitat Aid's most important functions is to promote British nurseries. Contrary to popular belief, they can provide exceptional value as well as quality. Additionally, using them to supply our "native" plants means we keep local genetic variations alive, as well as ensuring that the delicate relationship between flora and fauna is not disturbed. There's no chance of importing diseases either.