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The ideal plant nursery is...

  • The ideal plant nursery is...

I'd be interested to hear views on what constitutes the best kind of plant nursery to visit?

I'm sure we have all visited plant nurseries in the past and thought...”I could do better than that!”.

Well? What would your imaginary (or perhaps it already exists) nursery look like?

Would it have a huge range of plants or maybe be more of a specialist?

Is price more important than the quality of stock?

Is it important that everything is labelled and laid out A to Z or do you prefer to have a rummage for bargains?

Is quality of sevice and advice important?

Comments (19)

  1. Grower

    Jeremy Wright

    For me it is a nursery with plants I didn't know existed or wanted. Quantity is not as important as interest and someone on hand with great knowledge of the plants, their history, where they come from, how they grow etc.

    I really hate garden centres where the nursery plays second fiddle to all the other junk they want to sell you ... and where the plants and trees are all the most common varieties.

    I think there needs to be a logic to how the plants are displayed, plants for full sun, plants for shade, tree section etc. ... and the plants need to be properly labelled. But strict A-Z not that important for me.

    Quality more important than price (within reason!).

    What are you planning?

  2. Grower

    Angie's Garden

    I echo everything Jeremy says. Locally, to me there are a few good quality nurseries with staff that know what they are talking about. One of which caters for plants only, no other junk (as Jeremy puts it) to distract you. Another, sells everything the gardener could possibly need (aka Junk) but because it's only a short journey through to the plant section I don't seem to mind. All the other paraphernalia is there but not so in your face.
    My one bug bear with the larger chains is the labelling. Generic labels for plants that whether you are in Kent or Inverness the label describes the plant as hardy! It might well be hardy but coping with winter wet is another matter. I've lost count on how many plants I've lost due to me not doing my research before purchasing or bought on impulse . It gets awfully wet here in Scotland. Granted now that I am a bit more knowledgeable I tend not to fall fowl of those marketing ploys anymore.

  3. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    In my opinion, the best plant nurseries are those attached to large, open gardens, so you can see the plants achieving their ultimate growth, then buy small potted ones to take home.

    Next best are the ones where they have made some planted beds, again to show off how good the plants for sale will get.

    Full labelling and simple pricing are essential. I prefer round pounds or 50p for the pricing, and I particularly hate what I call "lazy pricing" where they have coloured plastic labels stuck in the pots and a blackboard saying "red = £5, yellow = £7" etc. Always makes me feel that they are putting up the prices at weekends, and there's often that awkward moment at the checkout when someone has swapped over the coloured labels, and the bargain plants turns out to be hideously expensive.

    I prefer plants to be arranged A-Z but only because I am usually shopping for something specific. A nursery needs to decide if their visitors are knowledgeable shoppers with lists (in which case A-Z), or less knowledgeable plant lovers (in which case, grouped into sun, shade, shrubs, climbers etc) or just casual passing trade, in which case a glorious jumble sale of everything flowering pushed into one group will do the job!

  4. Grower

    A Seed Once Sown

    Thanks for the answers. It’s nice to get opinions from the plant buying public on how they shop for their garden plants. As a complete plant ‘geek’ I find myself drawn to nurseries that look as though there may be something that I've not encountered before, hidden away and half forgotten, regardless of whether I’ve got the conditions (or ability) to grow it. To be honest, I desperately want to see small independent growers thrive but wonder whether this can ever be a viable proposition nowadays. Can plant diversity (that many keen gardeners would hope to encourage) be upheld within a viable money making business? Or does it have to rely on hobbyists and amateurs to promote the distribution of ‘uncommercial’ varieties that may be rather less ‘obvious’ to the public?

    Is the internet the answer? How many of us feel completely comfortable buying ‘unseen’ on the web? I’ve tried it (with mixed results) and am now a little reluctant to buy this way too often. Is there a method of packaging and delivery that really works for container grown stock? Or were containers the solution to a problem that has now moved on and we now require an alternative solution?

    Sorry, far too many questions! I’m sure that there is a solution out there for the small independent grower... just like the recent resurgence for the small independent brewery...mmm beer!

  5. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    Oh, that's a good point - buying online. It's definitely the way forward, and I know very knowledgeable people who ONLY buy online now.

    I used to have a small plant nursery, on a site awaiting development, which now has houses on it ("boo!") and I've been considering looking for another site to rent, but frankly there isn't much money to be made in plants these days, unless you can sell huge quantities.

    If I did it again I would definitely specialise: I think that is the only way forward, but the down side is that if your chosen speciality falls out of fashion.....

    I've been testing the options of selling online and posting, but the postage charges are HORRIBLE. The PO seem to be going out of their way to make it difficult, with all the different sizes: and it's so expensive! The minimum charge for anything above Large Letter is £3.40 for Small Parcel. This makes selling anything less than a £10-£15 plant a waste of time - no-one wants to pay £2 for a plant then £3.40 in postage! So you end up only selling large heavy plants, and spending a lot of time in the queue at the PO, which is rarely a pleasant experience and cuts into the working day. In order to be professional, and to avoid damaged plants, you also really need to buy proper packaging, which costs extra and eats into your profit.

    Courier delivery seems to be the only sensible way to send plants by post, but you do need to have a certain volume per month to get a contract: it's not particularly cheap, and there is still the problem of having to be "in" for the courier. Which would be ok if it were your full-time job, of course.

    I'm not sure what you mean by "container grown stock" - if you mean plug plants then urgh, avoid either buying or selling those by post as they are just too small to make the journey, and invariably arrive stressed and in need of tlc before planting out, leading to a lot of customer dissatisfaction.

    If you find a good answer to your questions, do share them, as I'd love to grow and sell plants again!

  6. Grower

    Paul H.

    I much prefer the smaller independent nurseries, they generally offer a good selection of interesting plants at prices that are often kinder to the pocket. Those larger establishments are enough to drive one insane, whilst trying to manoeuvre around the endless aisles of golfing pullovers and scented candles. The space therefore allocated to plant sales is probably far less than the independent.

    The internet can work on occasions but, having had a few nasty surprises, I tend to steer clear of it, especially when purchasing anything other than bulbs or plug plants.

    So, what is the answer? ... perhaps that beer. ;-).

  7. Grower

    A Seed Once Sown

    Nothing saddens me more than returning to a nursery that had, on a previous visit, been struggling to establish themselves, only to find it has closed down.
    There is a sad irony in the fact that the successful component of the horticultural trades industry, the large commercial growers, are in danger of reducing the range of plants available to us simply because of their relative commercial success. I’m sure we’ve all been tempted by the ludicrously cheap plants sometimes available at the supermarket. I know that I have. But of course the big growers will only grow a range of plants that they know they can shift quickly, their margins being so small. Perhaps it will forever be up to the amateur and hobby grower to be guardian of garden plant diversity. Maybe it always has been!

  8. Grower

    Jeremy Wright

    Your last point is so true and none more so than in the case of open-pollinated Heritage vegetables which, having been handed down by generations of gardeners, flourished and diversified/adapted to local growing conditions over 11,000+ years. These have all but disappeared in the last 40 years (95+% gone) replaced by F1 hybrids that can't reproduce true to the parent type, with huge potential risk to future food chains. It's not just gardens that stand to lose. Look what happened in the Irish potato famine with over-reliance on one variety!

    Should GreenPlantSwap do more to arrange plant swap events? One to one selling/swapping struggles because of the packing/postage issues Rachel describes. It's often just too much effort for too little reward. We've also found members rather shy of approaching other individual members, even though they may have plants that interest them. But get groups of like-minded growers and general public together at larger events could be the way to go. I think the Rare Plant Fairs, which feature individual specialist growers, at unique garden venues is a good model, because it offers the pull of both the plants and the gardens. GPS Plant Fairs could be along similar lines, but be open to all GPS members, and more, to sell/swap their plants. After all there are millions of gardens in this country with multiplying plants. It still seems odd to us that so few are exchanged at a local level by the people who grow them, when we could all have more variety, interest and quality (reproducible) plants in our gardens by doing so.

  9. Grower

    A Seed Once Sown

    The idea of swap events is a nice one but the logistics and coordination required for such things is immense. In the end, so much work is needed, and such costs incurred, that the whole thing becomes unviable. Also, we have become so used to getting things when we want them, that any idea that doesn’t offer instant gratification is destined to fail, or at least to not prosper.

    Should the onus perhaps lay more with the large estates and gardens - particularly those run by national heritage and horticultural organisations - to offer plants not solely to make money but rather to promote plant diversity. I’ve often noticed when visiting such gardens, that the plant centre very rarely offers the more unusual plants held within the garden itself. These institutions also have the nationwide infrastructure to disseminate the plants across a large geographical area. I feel a petition coming on!

    Must calm down now, getting far to agitated!

    Autumn... mellow mellow...and breath.

  10. Grower

    A Seed Once Sown

    Or do I mean breathe?

  11. Grower

    Winifred Field

    Oh I love a good garden show, but the big ones "Gardeners World" etc. have got far to expensive when you take into consideration the travel costs, parking, ticket price, food and drink before you can go into the plant sales areas. I love the garden fairs which pop up at the big houses and we have one at Ashridge forest once a year. For me it's the small specialist every time, they have variety and they charge the appropriate cost of producing the plant not by the pot size. The only encouragement to people to look out and support these small producers would be more publicity in garden programmes and local tourist information sources to shout about them. The Gardening News used to have sections on nurseries and garden centres in different areas of the country at one time but have not seen anything similar for a long time. Perhaps we could do our bit by recommending ones we find on this site if that's allowed?

  12. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    I agree, about both the expense and trouble of organising a Plant Swap event, and with you, Winifred, about the way the big shows are getting out of reach of our pockets.

    The last time I went to the Gardeners' World one, it was awful - took me longer to get into the car park that it did to drive all the way there, then it was a fight to get into the place, and yet another fight to even find the real plants, let alone look closely at them. The show gardens were small and unreachable ( I was tired of fighting by that point) and my ankles were so sore from those blasted baskets on trolleys that I gave up and came home. I'd bought two small plants, that's all (one, a posh primula, died: but the carex grayii is still going strong).

  13. Grower

    A Seed Once Sown

    On the theme of conservation of plant diversity the BBC has posted an article at:

    Obviously more concerned with species plants than garden varieties but an interestingly similar conundrum nonetheless.

  14. Grower

    Jeremy Wright

    We also have a piece The bigger picture for plants on this theme in our 'About us' section. While GreenPlantSwap itself is, of course, a drop in the ocean, we believe we are on the right track in helping gardeners record what they have. If this activity grew, the potential of recording by private gardeners is orders of magnitude larger than that of the botanical gardens. Being idealistic, it would be great if the two linked up using one universal, location-based plant database. Who knows how many plants thought lost are actually lurking in private gardens and unmapped habitats. Plus the potential for conservation in distributing 'at risk' plants through private gardens is tremendous if resource could be found to finance the work.

    The Wollemi pine is a fantastic example of how a species thought lost with the dinosaurs then found in a single stand of trees in an Australian gorge could be saved by distribution through the commercial nursery/garden market. But it is a really interesting tree with a great story behind it, which has helped hugely to make this happen. Very few 'at risk' plants will have that.

  15. Grower

    A Seed Once Sown

    Thank you Jeremy, I hadn’t seen that. On reflection I am now almost convinced that GreenPlantSwap, or something like it, will be the answer. Providing an indexed catalogue rather than a repository for the actual plants themselves. The nature of the network provides a resilience that other methods would struggle to achieve. It would be nice to see this taken further by the true plantsmen and women of the UK, the National Collection holders, the specialist nurseries etc. I’m sure a lot of them would welcome a stable platform on which to build their database. Particularly if it pointed potential customers their way...hold on, I think I understand what GreenPlantSwap is all about now (sound of penny dropping)!

  16. Grower

    Andy J

    This thread has raised some interesting questions about how we buy and exchange plants, particularly of the rare or unusual kind. At the risk of wandering off subject, I'd like to pick up on the theme of mail order and plants in pots, which has has been raised in several comments.

    I think it was Carol Klein, in an episode of Gardener's World a few months ago, who argued that the introduction of plastic plant pots has been the most influential innovation in gardening during the last 50 years. Along with increased car ownership, the humble plastic pot made modern garden centres possible. Their economic clout has ensured that nurseries and growers have fallen into line, to the extent that the plant buying public could be forgiven for thinking that plants have always been supplied this way. For my part, I still find it amusing that garden centres can shift large numbers of bulbs, in flower, and in plastic pots, when you can get 10 times the quantity at half the price if you buy them dormant by mail order. Instant gratification isn't a top priority for many of us.

    The downside of the ubiquitous black plastic pot, filled with heavy damp planting medium, is that it really wasn't designed for sending plants through the post. Even when expertly packed, and sent by courier, in my experience damage is still almost inevitable, .... and don't get me started about the cost!

    It wasn't always this way of course. Before the plastic pot, mail order nurseries supplied practically everything bare-root, root-balled, or in dormant state. You could get lots of viable plants in a small volume, and weight was rarely an issue.
    Couldn't GPS encourage growers to re-adopt these practices? It would make it much easier/cheaper to exchange plants by post, whilst reducing carbon emissions by having lighter packages (OK, the last point is pushing it a bit). At the moment, the 'Selling and Swapping Plants' section of GPS seems to assume that all plants offered will be potted. If growers can offer bare-root plants, then it would also make sense if the GPS search helped buyers find them.

  17. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    All good points, Andy, but unfortunately the PO have scuppered plant sales by introducing the painfully complicated and expensive postal system, as mentioned by me, above.

    And regarding bare root, well, plastic pots were invented because bare-root plants need a certain amount of expertise to handle, both when lifting them, and when receiving them and planting them out. You could almost say that the nursery trade has had to "dumb down" in order to make gardening accessible for those with no knowledge or skill in gardening.

  18. Grower

    A Seed Once Sown

    Could it be that the past gives an indicator for the future?

    The problem being that the majority of the plant buying public tend to go dormant at the exact same time as the plants!
    However, the saving at the nursery could certainly help offset the post and packaging costs involved with internet shopping.

    Apart from hedging, are there ANY retail nurseries now selling bare rooted stock to the public in the UK?

  19. Grower

    Andy J

    Well I wouldn't advocate bare-root as being the way forward for commercial growers and the general plant buying public. However, I would guess there are plenty of reasonably skilled gardeners out there who would be happy to make the extra effort in order to get hold of rarities that would otherwise be difficult to obtain. It's in postal exchanges between them that I would see the big gain in dispensing with the pot.

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