Articles on growing alpines

Occasional articles on various aspects of nursery life, growing plants and running a small business.

Review of 2014

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A review of 2014

It's traditional at this time of year to reflect on the year past and to look forward to the coming year. I'm not usually filled with retrospective thoughts but I have been lately, primarily because 2014 has been a difficult year for us. Did you come here to be cheered up?  Oh dear!

Business, in some ways, has been very trying. This time last year we made the decision to cease growing and selling plants for our wholesale customers (mainly garden centres). It wasn't an easy decision. We started in business supplying that market, way back in 1987, and while we haven't made our fortunes, we have been fairly successful. We have also witnessed a lot of nurseries fail (good and bad!) or simply give up growing to retire or to try something else. We have always stuck with what we thought we did well but times change. Markets, fashions and people's expectations and desires all change too and it was becoming increasingly difficult for us to make a living. Perhaps we should have been more aggressive in our business dealings and relationships but that just isn't us. 

It is all very well being 'a good businessman' but it doesn't always make a good grower. I was already getting increasingly frustrated at what we were limited to growing - the same easy, mundane range of plants that most other alpine nurseries produced, the ones we could turn out at a profit. All the nice plants, those that were perhaps slightly tricky, harder to propagate or in some way 'risky' were gradually dropped from our wholesale list and for someone who loves plants, that is terribly frustrating. And suddenly we realised - all the fun had gone too.

We started our online adventure in an attempt to return to why we started growing plants in the first place. It was all we could do! Actually, though written in jest, that is largely true. But it was (and still is) all we want to do. Yes, growing plants can be difficult as you will no doubt be aware, especially when success is snatched away by the weather or vermin, or plants just go 'off' for no apparent reason. But when we get it right, the rewards are huge. Sadly, they're not financial but we can live with that as long as we can pay our bills.

Health issues have played their part in our year too, sadly. I won't elaborate but we have both suffered and been made to realise that good health isn't something to ever take for granted. We have always looked after ourselves and (long work hours aside) lead healthy lifestyles but we aren't invincible. However, all our own problems fade to nothing compared to those of others. My (slightly) older sister was diagnosed with an unusual form of cancer just before Christmas. She starts chemotherapy in the new year. Who knows what 2015 will bring?

Optimism is a wonderful thing and is probably essential for a grower. I am very afraid that strong optimism will not be enough for sister but my optimism and resolve are stronger than ever for our business. Despite all the other sources of gloom in 2014, it was actually a very good year for our online business. The weather was good and trade was too - they go hand in hand. We now have strong confidence that we are on the right path for us. Some of the comments we receive from customers are, well ..... they almost make us blush! We are obviously doing something right and we aim to keep doing it right; or better if we can. Thank you to every one of you.

We have no major changes planned for 2015. We do have a wider range of plants coming through, we have better stocks of what we find popular and we have ironed out most of the annoyances that slow us down, particularly with regard to packing and dispatch. 

I started this piece by explaining our decision to cease growing plants for wholesale. Our last wholesale orders went out in May. What I may not have made clear is that this website is what we do now - it's how we earn our living. Selling plants online has been an incredibly steep learning curve for us but it has been worth it. We can now concentrate wholly on doing this and indeed, the evidence is already there, growing away on the nursery, waiting for spring. 

We would like to thank every customer who has supported us and we wish you all a happy and healthy 2015. Good Health!, Good Luck! and Good Gardening!