Posted on 10:39pm Tuesday 23rd Apr 2013
Since we started selling plants online, many people have asked us how we pack our plants. "Do you just stick them in a box and label them 'DO NOT SHAKE' ? ". The strange thing is - some of them are serious! If only it were that simple.
There are many different ways to pack plants. Some nurseries remove the plants from their pots and some of the compost as well. It does save weight, obviously, but I don't like it. It leaves the plant exposed around the neck and the customer is forced to deal with the plant immediately on receipt (plant it).
The modern way is to use blister packs - moulded plastic bubbles with preformed niches that hold a specific size of pot (and the plant) securely. They are amazing - and costly, and we don't like costly! They only work if your plants conform to the dimensions of the pack. All the big growers use them for mail order; nurseries who produce a limited range of uniform products by the thousand. That's not us!
When I worked for a large retail nursery many years ago, they wrapped plants in paper or shrink-wrap but packed them into boxes using straw as a cheap and readily available packing material. And it worked very well - unless you suffered from hay fever. Straw, especially if it has been baled ever so slightly damp, is full of dust and fungal spores. It's not nice to handle close up.
So, what do we use, if not plastic blister packs and not straw? Here we show you how .....
This is a slow process - well, it is if you take care of plants the way we like to. Monday mornings are spent packing plants but I like to be prepared well before - orders printed, plants lifted and prep'd, boxes selected, courier booked and labels printed. All set for a busy morning with no interruptions - sometimes!
Posted on 2:54pm Saturday 30th Mar 2013
No, not me, I'm happily married - in fact, we will celebrate our silver wedding anniversary this year. No cards, please. But you may send presents!
No, what I want to highlight is some of our plants which are in need of someone to love them. I have picked out three plants today and photographed them for you see. I'm very happy with these plants - I think the quality is as good as I could manage; they are clean, fresh, well-grown, tough little plants and all are desirable. I would have thought so, but we haven't (I think, from memory) had a single order for any of these plants. Well, perhaps one order, as I say, from memory. I have been married for nearly 25 years - of course my memory has failed!
Here we have Draba rigida imbricata, Saxifraga 'Boston Spa' and Morisia monanthos.
What does a grower do when a plant doesn't sell? I am going to review how I describe the plants on the website - perhaps I have simply haven't 'pushed' the plant enough. In the case of the Draba and the Morisia I have been totally honest in explaining that these particular plants don't enjoy overly wet condtions and may be this has put customers off, I don't know. The easy thing to do would be to just not tell customers about any potential problems when growing a plant in their garden. It's all about getting a sale these days, isn't it?
Most people 'buy with their eyes' and I know that quite a few (OK, a lot) of our photographs don't show our plants at their best and I will try and remedy that. It's very difficult to get a good photograph. I'm not a good photographer for a start and I only use a fairly basic camera. One of the biggest difficulties is finding a plant in peak condition, full of flower and looking fantastic. Most of our larger plants are grown for propagating, not photographing, so some get grown soft and lush so that we get good cuttings from them, others we actually remove the flowers from because we can't root flowers. Then, if I do get a good plant, I have to wait until the wind is calm enough to stop the flowers from waving. And it's not too dull. I never thought being a plant photographer would be harder than being a grower!
Price could be another factor in why some of these plants haven't sold (yet). Times are certainly hard for a lot of people and buying plants for one's garden isn't a priority. We charge £3.00 for the Sax, 'Boston Spa'. I'm sure if you searched hard enough you could buy one cheaper elsewhere. A trend of modern life is that everything can be had cheaper from somewhere. Is £3.00 too dear? We don't think so - I propagated 'Boston Spa' in October 2011 from a plant that was probably 4 or 5 years old, rooted and looked after it until it was potted in May or June 2012. It is now nearly April 2013 and the plants are looking good, full of buds and ready to flower. Perhaps £3.00 is too much but we can't produce plants to this standard for much less. I heard one of those pseudo-Chinese sayings recently that I liked - "Cheap no good. Good no cheap".
Anyway; it's Easter Saturday, it's not snowing (for now) and I need to go for a ride on my bicycle. We wish you a Happy Easter. And our plants say, "Please love us".
Posted on 9:01pm Monday 18th Feb 2013
As spring starts to make us think it is almost here, we are starting to get more orders through (thank you!) but we have noticed something odd. When a customer places an order on the website we offer a box for them to add comments and most of those comments apply to delivery instructions. All well and good - but puzzling too, at times.
Most of our plant deliveries will require a signature when they arrive at your home. Our couriers, like most others, only deliver to an address, not the person, so (in theory) anyone could sign. It could be you, your partner (even a wife or husband!) or perhaps a friendly neighbour will take the parcel for you and sign for it. But some of the instructions we have noticed recently have made us wonder. For example:
"Do not leave at no. 22" (next door) - an unfriendly neighbour, perhaps?
"Leave in greenhouse at bottom of garden, place in blue box" - poor delivery driver, hikes down the garden then remembers he is colour blind and can't decide which box is red!
"Leave concealed at back of house" - have you ever put something of your own in a 'safe place', but can't find it later? I do.
"Leave on front step" - if it wasn't for 'Elfin Safety' you might fall over it!
Some of these instructions are, I admit, slightly embellished but they are not far off the truth. But do the delivery drivers take any notice? - that will depend on each driver and what rules are imposed on them, I suppose. So, continue adding your Special Instructions but please be brief - we can only squeeze a few words on each label.
Posted on 2:20pm Sunday 27th Jan 2013
How do we decide what plants to grow? Well, it's not easy, that's for sure. Some plants are universally popular and always in demand so we try to keep a good stock of those. Occasionally things can go wrong - some years a plant just 'won't do' and we end up with hardly any or none to sell. Some plants are just difficult or just difficult for us in our climate or in our way of growing. Sometimes we persist in the hope of one day having enough to sell, with others we bow out gracefully. We can't grow everything. And if you read earlier about our disaster with mice eating most of our carefully built-up stock of Oxalis depressa ..... I'm still sulking over that!
Most of these difficulties are just the vagaries of nature or horticulture. When things do get exasperating though, is when we grow lovely plants that no-one wants to buy - what do we do then? No doubt there will be reasons behind that lack of demand but it is never obvious and leaves us, as growers, with our greatest dilemmas. Do we persevere with that plant or give up? If we do give up, the danger is that we might lose the plant entirely and may struggle to get it back if we ever wanted to grow it again. Most plants need to be propagated regularly just to keep the stock fresh and vigorous - although, a few years' rest can help some things too.
Fashion plays it's part too, like so much in modern life. We used to grow a nice range of autumn flowering Gentians but gave them up several years ago as we just couldn't sell them (this was wholesale, before we started this website). We could have nice green plants (not as easy as it sounds with Gentians!) covered in beautiful blue flowers in September but at that time of year garden centres were less busy, demand was low and the weather less conducive to 'Joe Public' taking to their gardens. So, sadly, we couldn't waste time growing Gentians and we no longer have autumn Gentians on the nursery. But fashion changes and one nursery had a terrific display of Gentians at the Autumn Show in Harrogate last year and will no doubt be taking orders.
As I have just said, we no longer have autumn Gentians on the nursery, but we do have lots of other plants. Some will remain popular, some will drop off our list. New plants occasionally appear and they always attract interest. Other 'new' plants will reappear - then the older gardeners and enthusiasts will tell us how they used to grow that plant 40 years ago! As long as we manage to sell enough of something, we will get by.
If you are interested in the preservation of garden plants, please take a look at the website of Plant Heritage, formerly The National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens (NCCPG). www.nccpg.com
Posted on 3:57pm Sunday 28th Oct 2012
Running a nursery doesn't allow us much time off; there is always too much needing done. It shouldn't be this way, of course, but it is, so we just get on with it. We did take a holiday once - I think it was 1995 - but we haven't felt the need for another one! We take a day here and a day there as our workload and the weather allow. To most people - those who are employed - this may seem very odd, especially if they only work a 39 hour week, every weekend off, get public holidays, statutory holidays, paid sick leave etc., but people who run small businesses and care for plants or animals need to live to a different rhythm.
Anyway, I was forced into taking a few days off last week. One day, I needed to take my father to hospital for his check-up. Another, I went to a local trade show. Then I had a migraine followed by the cold (not a good combination - if you suffer from migraine, you'll know what I mean!). So, over a few days I didn't really get much done on the nursery and we were really just seeing to the basics. Cuttings OK, no plants dried out, nothing blown away, no sign of rabbits etc., etc.
Sometimes, this can be a good thing. When I spend all day looking at the same plants, day in, day out, they never seem to grow much. They are growing, but just too slowly for me to register. But take a day off, especially during the active growing season and I return to a nursery full of Triffids!
Occasionally, plants can disappear too. This pretty little pink and yellow flower is Oxalis depressa, a nice little alpine which grows from little underground 'bulbs'. And mice like them! Well, they have this year - every pot has a neat little hole excavated where the mice have dug for their dinners. I had a good stock of these too (about 100 plants) which I have been slowly building for the last few years; they don't multiply quickly. Ah well, win some, lose some - or in this case, lose all. I will be surprised if there are any are left but we do have a large pot set aside which may, rodents allowing, let us offer a few Oxails depressa for sale next summer.
Time off? It's just not worth the risk!
Posted on 8:09pm Friday 14th Sep 2012
The use of peat in horticulture has become a hot topic in recent years. Apparently, peat harvesting releases carbon dioxide and it's killing Polar Bears. And spiders and little mosses nearer home. It's all bad news and the 'government' (whoever and wherever they are) has set targets for us all to reduce or stop using peat.
I haven't explored the arguments too thoroughly, surprisingly, given that my living has depended on the use of peat. But I agree generally with the whole 'reduce,reuse, recycle' ethos and we try to follow those principles when we can - so we have tried to reduce our peat use, with some success. But not complete success.
Cost, as ever, quickly becomes a major consideration but even that is not straightforward. Peat prices have rocketed in recent years - high demand, poor harvests due to wetter summers, the cost of fuel for harvesting and transporting, unavailability of new sites for harvesting etc. And very suddenly we have reached a point where once-expensive peat-free alternatives start to become financially viable.
Here at Craigiehall Nursery we mix our own potting compost to our own recipes. Alpines can be quite fussy about compost, especially in the unnatural confines of a small plant pot, and with so many varieties grown we need various potting mixes to keep everything happy. Recently we have been using an entirely peat-free commercial compost as our base and adding loam, grit etc. and fertiliser as required. We have grown some wonderful plants this year - but not everything is happy.
Look at these pictures - these are plants (Phlox) we have grown in larger pots for our garden centre customers. The small ones on the left are grown in 100% peat-free, commercial compost with identical fertiliser to those on the right, grown in our own commercial mix based on peat. (N.B These are very different to the mixes we have used for all the plants available in our Plant Shop - thank goodness!). It's a poor sight, isn't it?
Adding additional fertiliser has improved the stunted plants a little since these shots were taken but they still aren't happy and it's impossible for me to tell what is wrong. Physically, the compost looks and feels good - that much I can tell - and it's very free-draining. But chemically, the balance is off. Too much of one substance makes another unavailable, too much acidity does likewise. One of the wonders of peat is that it hardly varies and offers the grower a basic ingredient to which is added precise amounts of lime and fertilisers according to plant need - just like a baker adds things to flour to create a loaf, the same flour can also be used to bake a cake, just by adding different ingredients.
Most of the plants we offer in our Plant Shop have been (almost) entirely grown without any peat using a mix based on the above peat-free compost but (thankfully) the addition of loam and grit etc. has been enough to transform it into an excellent growing medium. Unfortunately, these additions make it too expensive for large scale production.
The peat-use debate is huge and complicated and I'll probably come back to the subject in the future. But whether we continue to use peat on our nursery or adopt alternatives full-scale - I honestly don't know. There is a lot of science involved in growing plants commercially but also (for me) a fair bit of intuition, superstition and blind faith and sometimes I am just reluctant to change what works. But I'll be asking this compost manufacturer for some comments!
Posted on 4:53pm Saturday 4th Aug 2012
The gardeners' enemy - and the growers'. Alpine plants can suffer more from weeds than other, larger plants. Tiny cushion plants can become almost smothered with weeds and if weed seeds lodge among the leaves they are almost impossible to remove. And weeds never look pretty.
How do we as growers control weeds in the pots we sell you? Well, I don't know about other growers, but we operate on a policy of Zero Tolerance. We constantly keep them in check - entirely by pulling them out when we see them. It's not easy, but it works for us.
Does it matter if an alpine in a pot has a few weed? I think it does. I have visited nurseries which were jumping with weeds and even though I knew I would regret it later, have bought plants. Some weeds can just infest small alpines - there is no other word for it. Weeds seeds can get into the heart of the plant and are there forever. We avoid this on our nursery and won't send out weed-infested plants.
These are my top three weeds - the ones that would cause us most concern.
Hairy Bittercress, also known as Snap weed or Pop weed is common on most nurseries. Its seed capsules have an exploding mechanism which catapult the seed far and wide. And within a few weeks those same seeds will have grown and be ready to produce the next crop so we must be vigilant. What really annoys me with Bittercress is that some growers will weed their plants before dispatch but within a few days of purchase you suddenly realise what else you have bought. Grrr!
Liverwort is a strange, primitive plant and another troublesome one. It thrives in moist, damp conditions, just like we have on our nursery. It grows over the surface of compost and can smother very small alpines. See those little cup-shaped bits on the leaves? - they are filled with minute pieces of plant that are dispersed when rain or irrigation water splashes them around. In dry conditions they won't survive but with over-watering (or a Scottish winter, or a Scottish summer!) they can spread rapidly. Liverwort also produces 'seeds' (actually spores) that can germinate too, and are produced from angular capsules on short stems. The best control is dry conditions.
Pearlwort is a common weed that produces masses of tiny seed. These can be especially troublesome on smaller alpines and like Liverwort, is most annoying if you grow alpines in troughs or in pots.
So there you have them - my top three weeds to avoid in alpines. Be vigilant!
Posted on 10:09pm Tuesday 3rd Jul 2012
We thought you might like to meet our staff. Eagle-eyed readers will be clicking back to re-read our About Us page - didn't they say they did all the work themselves? Well, some jobs just can't be done properly by a human.
Main duties - night-time security and rodent pest control. Kiki came to us as a stray. She was homeless and rough sleeping in the freezing temperatures of December a couple of years ago and was looking for work, so we took her on. Two and a half years later and we would be lost without her.
Main duties? Nell is only 13 weeks old (pictured here at 11 weeks) and we have still to find a role for her. For now, her only task seems be preventing us from working too quickly. She gets her nose into everything and because she is so small, her body can follow. Let us just say - the nursery has been reorganised somewhat.
Liitle Nell was one of natures' 'happy accidents' - mum is a small Jack Russell Terrier and dad a working sheepdog - a Border Collie. She seems at this stage to be a bit of both; part terrier, part collie. And she really does have the 'cute puppy' factor. Coming from two working parents, she is probably very intelligent. She already knows some words - walkies, biscuits and bed - all the essentials! As soon as she learns, 'Don't eat the plants!' we will find a proper role for her.
Posted on 8:30pm Sunday 10th Jun 2012
Well, here we go ....
The website is published at last! It has been a long, hard task and it's not finished yet - far from it.
They say that everyone has a book in them; well, creating a plant catalogue is a lot like writing a book, except there is no plot, the characters have all been written about before and the only 'start, middle and end' is an A to Z. OK, so it's nothing like writing a proper book at all but it's probably as close as I will ever come.
One thing I have had to do in common with authors, is research. Many of the plants we hope to offer for sale have been grown by us for years, others are recent newcomers to the nursery, but they all need describing accurately - height, soil preference, flower colour and time of year, other preferences, hints and tips, etc., etc.
I like to think that I know my plants quite well but where I have really struggled is in describing colours. A red flower - or is it crimson, claret, pillar-box red or ruby-red? Or my favourite - vermillion! I love the word vermillion but I'm not even sure if I have dared use it because I'm not entirely sure how it compares to other shades of red.
I hope to have every plant we offer shown in a photograph but often the camera cannot quite catch the exact colour. Maybe it's the camera or the quality of the light - or, more likely, the fact that I have never been 'into' photograph. Many of my photographs are ..... let me be honest - rubbish! But they will have to do for now. Better a poor photo' than no photo'?