Garden centre closure response

Having worked as a grower in a garden centre the last month I have now been left unemployed. In the news, this morning was the story that millions of plants will now be binned. There has been lots of outcry against this story. I would like to add a few points from my experience in the last few weeks.

1. Can’t they be given away

I have seen this comment again and again the last hour. Many of the plants the growers will be talking about binning will not be ready for giving away. They will be tiny little seedlings that have weeks before they are ready to go out. They are plants that sell very cheap anyway so arranging delivery of these is not going to be cost-effective. Many of the plants will be tender plants that cannot just be placed outside the garden centre to be picked up. We are talking pelargoniums, cosmos, dahlias, petunias. Plants that will not survive outside yet. On top of this just placing plants outside the garden centre, as one person suggested, is going to cause people to travel unnecessarily. Just what we are trying to avoid by closing. Large groups of people descending on one spot. No one needs to see grannies fighting over petunias. It would happen, mark my words. You’re not asking the pubs to just give their beer away, same applies to plants. No grower wants to dispose of plants they have lovingly cared for but they can’t persist growing plants that can’t be sold or distributed. I have tended to and planted on tens of thousands of plants just in the last month. I don’t want to see them die but I won’t expose people to risk for them.

Dahlia soulman

2. Some are being given away

That said, some are being given away. However, it is being done in controlled ways passing on to care homes and places where the residents can benefit. But only some plants will be suitable. Many of the houseplants that would have been sold for mothers day. Garden centres are not being wasteful they are showing great generosity. The same has applied to many of the garden shows with numerous stories coming out showing the plants from big events like Chelsea being donated to hospitals and community groups.

3. Many customers were vulnerable

My garden centre was still open over the last week but has now closed for the protection of staff and customers. They stayed open as they sold essential food, hardware and pet supplies but many of the customers were in their seventies. One of the key groups we are trying to protect.

4. People were still coming for a day out

Even though the advice was to shop for essentials people were still coming for a day out. They were slowly browsing around with no set aim. While plants have many benefits for mental and physical health they are not essential. Anyone who has read my blog over the last few years will know I highly value plants but pelargoniums are not worth risking death for. I have still seen people coming for tender bedding plants. People were panic buying our tomatoes as they knew the centres would be shut soon. I have seen people more concerned with getting their bedding plants. I don’t blame them. I’d have been the same if I wasn’t working at the garden centre stocking up on compost. But it isn’t safe to be open right now.

5. Supply chain

A few people online have suggested that the garden centres should be allowed to stay open as they are largely outdoors. The issue with this is the risk of groups as already discussed. People still queuing to close together and exposing more people. But on top of this, the supply chains have broken down. The majority of plants sold in the UK come from abroad, predominantly Holland. With most centres now shut deliveries aren’t coming through. We were fiding it harder to ring companies. We didn’t know if we’d have compost to plant on our seedlings. If they stay open they quickly wouldn’t have anything to sell.

rococo tulips

6. Uncertain re-opening date

At the moment none of us knows when the country will return to normal. It will probably be later rather than sooner. While the centres are closed a skeleton staff will still be keeping many of the plants alive in the hope they can be sold. This will be tough as the plant’s growth can be slowed through sprays and not giving them optimal conditions but it can only be so long. But no company is going to want to write off stock if there is a chance of selling.

7. Can’t they be bailed out

There are calls for the horticulture industry to be given support. One comment I saw asked why should aviation get support when horticulture does more good for the planet? For a start horticulture actually does a lot of damage with plastic waste and peat use, but that is a separate discussion. The government is trying to avoid supporting the aviation business as they can call on the shareholders to support. Richard Branson can manage just fine I’m sure without government handouts. The government is trying to help though. It has started with in order of priorities with the government supporting 80% of wages still being paid. This didn’t apply to me as I was just a temp hired too recently. I don’t begrudge my company they didn’t have much of a choice. If we reopen soon I may still have a job but if not I’ve had a good time working with a great bunch of people, learnt a lot and picked up a few plants along the way.

But where companies can they are trying to support their workers. Many of the bigger firms will be able to manage but the smaller businesses won’t. So please, where you can support small independent growers to keep them afloat.

8. Online sales not the answer

The BBC article stated that online sales are not the answer. While the industry won’t survive on these alone it will help many small businesses. Many are purely mail order anyway. It’s a good time to check out the peat-free nursery list and Candide listing. Seeds are still easy to post. While you may not have the compost there are a lot of options that can be sown directly into beds.

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A crocus from Gee-Tee bulbs.


A few random thoughts there from my short time in the industry. It’s a tough time for everyone but ultimately garden centres cannot justify opening right now unless they stock enough essential items. I would love to return to my job but it isn’t safe to right now. I hope you all stay safe and can enjoy the pleasure of a garden whatever state it is.

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Six on Saturday: 28.3.20

Well, it’s been an interesting week. I’ve worked potting on hundreds, into thousands of dahlias, marigolds, and petunias. We’ve been the only garden centre open in the area but it came as no surprise when I got a call yesterday to say I was no longer needed. I’ve enjoyed my short time as a grower despite everything going on. But I can know help at home and stay safer. It’s been a hard strain on Amy as a teacher, teaching from home and looking after a three-year-old at the same time. So still plenty of positives. Plus it was my birthday this week. A bit of a cake shortage but I got a few nice presents.

1. Frost

We’ve had a good few nights of frost this week. The hydrangeas are looking like their leaves may have suffered a bit and the camellia looks like its flowers will suffer a bit when they open. That said, it does look pretty on many of the plant’s first thing in the morning. I’ve held off some of the veg sowings in the new raised bed until after the weekend when the temperature is gradually going to rise again.

2. Acer-Going green

The Acers have foolishly started opening their leaves. So far they seem to be doing alright but I won’t be surprised if they get some frost damage. Here is going green bought last year. The bright green is a welcome sight in spring and more so currently.

3. Daffodil-Sealing wax

These were bought from the bargain trolley at the start of January. We each choose a pack of bulbs and these were Amy’s choice. They are about the only variety I know the name of as the rest have been bought as part of cheap mixed bags.

4. Forget-me-nots

The forget-me-nots are coming into flower for the first time this year. They self-seed themselves around the garden. They bring little bursts of cheer and various insects enjoy visiting.

5. Mini-greenhouse

It was my birthday last Tuesday and I got a mini-greenhouse from Amy and Alice. This is now filled mainly with sweetpeas and lupins. I would like to have a sift around so I can get it up against the warmth of the house and on the sunnier side but I wanted it tucked in for now as it has been windy. I should be able to put the sweet peas out soon. I’ll plant most up next week and keep a few back in case they die off. The lupins will be fine out but I’ve got the space so they can sit there for now. The tall plant sticking out is one of the passionflowers I grew from seed last year.

6. Direct sow

I’ve been giving Alice packs of seeds that can be direct sown to keep her occupied. So far she’s done some nasturtiums and here she was sowing a pretty dark red double cornflower. She has gone quite heavy in one corner so I may need to do some thinning if any of them grow.

So, a strange week. But I am more fortunate than many out there right now. I’m looking at my work dismissal more in terms of keeping me and my family safe than as a lost opportunity. I’ve got plenty to keep me busy. Manure to go down on the raised bed and seeds to sow. A bit of weeding to do and some potting on that needs doing. I hope you are all managing alright through this crisis and finding reasons to be cheerful.

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Building a raised bed

As part of the RHS course, I need to look at veg production which is currently one of my weakest areas of knowledge. I have grown potatoes as a teacher with classes and I’ve always grown something to eat each year in pots: tomatoes, lettuce, beans, etc. But, for the course, I need to know details such as spacing for various veg. With the state of food shops, it seemed like a good idea to get cracking on growing. It’s also an excuse to remove another section of lawn. I could quite happily change the lawn into a potager but we’ll try just one raised bed for now.

I built this last week before we went on official lockdown starting with a trip out to the builder’s yard. Three boards and a few corner braces and I had the start of the frame. One board was cut in half to make the short sides and then screwed together. It’s just a small bed at about 2m by 1m. But it’s long enough to grow a few different choices. The lawn here is pretty worn so we’re not losing pristine grass.

A layer of card went at the bottom to suppress the grass.

A layer of leaves from the leaf mulch bags went down on top. It’s not as well broken down as I’d like but it should carry on breaking down and adding some nutrition to the bed.

I added the compost and a frame made from two willow trellis panels. The two panels were leant in together and opened to lock into each other in a tent shape.

I sowed dwarf broad beans last week to go up the frame and then I have radishes and lettuce to go in the space. Alongside this, I have a few tomatoes from work to grow in pots and some early potatoes chitting inside. It won’t give us a mass amount of food but the routine of tending to it and watering it will help give some routine during the lockdown and adds another activity to help engage Alice’s attention while she’s off. Wish us luck!

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Tuesday poetry-The garden Nicholas Grimald

A little bit of poetry to take solace in while we are in strange times.

The Garden
THE issue of great Jove, draw near, you Muses nine!
Help us to praise the blissful plot of garden ground so fine.
The garden gives good food and aid for leech’s cure;
The garden, full of great delight, his master doth allure.
Sweet sallet herbs be here, and herbs of every kind;
The ruddy grapes, the seemly fruits, be here at hand to find.
Here pleasance wanteth not to make a man full fain;
Here marvellous the mixture is of solace and of gain.
To water sundry seeds, the furrow by the way
A running river, trilling down with liquor, can convey.
Behold, with lively hue fair flowers that shine so bright;
With riches, like the orient gems, they paint the mould in sight.
Bees, humming with soft sound (their murmur is so small),
Of blooms and blossoms suck the tops; on dewed leaves they fall.
The creeping vine holds down her own bewedded elms,
And, wandering out with branches thick, reeds folded overwhelms.
Trees spread their coverts wide with shadows fresh and gay;
Full well their branched bows defend the fervent sun away.
Birds chatter, and some chirp, and some sweet tunes do yield;
All mirthful, with their songs so blithe, they make both air and field.
The garden it allures, it feeds, it glads the sprite;
From heavy hearts all doleful dumps the garden chaseth quite.
Strength it restores to limbs, draws and fulfils the sight;
with cheer revives the senses all and maketh labour light.
O, what delights to us the garden ground doth bring!
Seed, leaf, flower, fruit, herb, bee, and tree, and more than I may sing!

Nicholas Grimald

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Six on Saturday: 21.3.20

This week has seen many hundreds of petunias and fuschias potted on alongside a lesser number of begonias. The first tomato plants I potted on at work are now making it onto the shop floor and are selling well. I can’t decide whether it’s just the time of year or whether people are planning to dig for victory but the grow your own seems to be selling well.

1. Fairy garden

I’ve finally got round to sorting Alice’s fairy garden. She bought this solar panel teapot a few weeks back. It has little lights inside illuminating it at night. We worked together covering the pot surface with various stones and glass gems. A pond area and grass area have been designated.

She recently got a few new residents as well.

2. Feeder cam

I won a nest camera kit last year. However I pretty much never get birds nesting so I decided to remove the camera and install it within a fence feeder tray. It’s wired and can be connected to my laptop to get a closer view of what is visiting. I was inspired by having seen Karen’s blog showing her new wildlife camera. She has a superior version with its own power source and no wires. But I’ve had this camera a year and done little with it so feel better for giving it a purpose.

Currently, that’s nothing. But the birds will find it soon I’m sure.

3. Bargain shrubs

I’ve been pretty good about not buying from work but these were super bargains. The Magnolia ‘Susan’ is a small variety that I can hopefully manage in a pot. They don’t really suit my conditions but at £1.49 I’ll take a chance. Then the Ilex creanta ‘Stokes’ will probably used in the front garden. I planted a hedge line already. So I may use these to thicken it up a bit. Or might keep these just keep them to try and do box type balls.

4. Daffodils

The daffodils are out in force now around the bench of happiness. These were planted when we first moved in and are now well established. They were just cheap bags of mixed daffodils. I’m not that fond of daffodils but Amy likes them and they do bring some cheer to this corner before the ferns and hostas get going again.

5. Bulb lasagne-muscari

The crocus is still going strong in the front pots and the muscari are coming through in the back pot now. Tulips to follow. These have been good little Tesco bargains.

6. Dahlietta Surprise Becky

The first dahlia of the year is flowering. This was bought as a plug when I went for my interview at the garden centre. It has been growing on inside and we now have the first flower. I’ll be pinching out in a day or two and taking the growth back a bit to encourage bushiness but for now, it’s stunning. I had one of these little container dahlias last year and it went for months on end. I’m hopeful this one will do the same.

I hope you are all ok in these strange times and getting some comfort from your gardens. I got round to updating my contents and added a 30 days wild page of ideas. Many of them can be done in the garden if you are confined to quarters. Don’t forget to check the other six on Saturday blogs through the founder’s blog. Check the comments on his latest for more blogs. Stay safe out there.

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Six on Saturday: 7.3.20 The patio

I have completed my first week of work at the garden centre. 100s of petunias, pelargoniums and tomatoes have been potted up. 100 hanging baskets made. I’m working with a friendly bunch of people, the sun has been shining, the robins have been singing. A good first week. It hasn’t taken my love of gardening as I’ve still potted up my own lupins on an evening. I have done well resisting all the plants. My only purchase this week was grass seed which would have been purchased anyway. The lawn is a mess. I’m not sure I can even refer to it as a lawn anymore. The biggest temptation at the garden centre, a 2m Acer in the reduced section, has gone so that’s one less to seduce me.

This week I have been working on putting the patio back together. After a year of building work, the pots can go back on. We’ve had to continually shift things around. This is part of why the lawn is so bad as it had pots and garden furniture sat on it for much of last year. It’s a work in progress as looking out the pots aren’t quite in the right place. But, I’m happy to be able to at least make a start.

1. Shady corner

I’ve started the patio shift around by sorting the plants into the conditions they like. This end of the patio is shaded for more of the day. It still gets a fair amount of sun as it’s south-facing but between the two walls, it has less light than the other end of the patio. The pots here contain a mixture of ferns and heucheras, grasses, hydrangeas and more. Most of the pots with irises have also got hostas in. So the irises are starting to fade now but he hostas will come out as they fade. looking at the photos I’m going to shift the pots around to try and push them up to the line of the cracked concrete floor to cover that up. I’ve discussed on a previous blog how I’m collecting driftwood to add a bit of edging to the pots. It gives it a bit of a feel of a path even though we don’t often come out of this door. It’s not obvious from the photos but the pots are raised at different heights. Some are on platforms made from tile samples on top of bricks. Others are just on bricks and some are on the ground. It still needs a bit of rearranging but I’m happy with the plants. They’ve largely held up well through winter and I can see signs of growth on the deciduous ones.

2. Alice’s kitchen

Alice’s mud kitchen I’ve made a feature of within the patio and the planting. She likes using it here scooping out the water onto the plants. The kokedama sat on the top seem to be happy there. The moss is gradually greening up. The pots are foxglove seedlings that I may have dumped there for now.

Then the shelves are filled with a mixture of decorative objects and things for filling, emptying and pouring. She’s been quite into perfume making at the moment.

The fairy seems to have taken up residence here with the bird stake featured last week behind.

3. Display table

The table I painted a few weeks back has taken its place on the patio. These pots were Tesco specials. They have Crocus, Muscari and Tulips in. The Crocus are coming through now and then they should be followed by the Muscari, then the Tulips. Once these are done I will probably try and empty the bulbs. If I can separate them the crocus can be added to the lawn. The table and patio are filling up with charity shop finds. The urn was a 50p find. I thought the colours would complement many of the irises and fit in amongst many of the shade lovers but it has gone here for now.

Then the table is scattered with charity shop finds. Alice wanted me to have this one to go match her dragonfly lantern on her mud kitchen.

4. Plant stand and box cold frame

The plant stand has got the tins of sempervivums I featured a few weeks back. The rest is ab it of a mess. The compost is sitting here as between me, the builders and the weather the lawn is a mess. Once the weather has died down a bit and the crocus have gone over I’ll spread the rest of the soil improver mixed with some grass seed on the lawn. I’d like to add some stepping stones across the back lawn and drill some drainage holes to protect in future years but I’ve a few other projects in mind I’ve already got the materials to complete.

The really useful boxes at the back are in use as cold frames. These are a cheap option that is easy to move in and out of the house if necessary. I used this method for the dahlias last year and it worked well. Currently, the most exciting thing in there is the white bleeding hearts (Lamprocapnos Spectabilis Alba) from Wilco’s. These have put on good growth and should be able to go in the front garden soon.

5. Log store

The log store has been restocked last weekend. We were almost out of wood and thought we might need a bit more before it starts to warm up again. The stores also look neater oddly for being full. The pots here are largely just dumped there while I work out where they will end up. I like the Pinus mugo there but not sure about the others. The big black tub is Alice’s fairy garden which is about to get an overhaul for the new season. There are agapanthus in a couple of the pots. These will hopefully return and look good in summer but not very interesting at the moment. There are two cordylines dotted around the patio. These came from my last house and have quite good stems on them. They need to go in the ground and I don’t really have a space they’ll suit. But, I don’t have the heart to get rid of them.

I’d put up hanging brackets a few weeks back to add the solar lights. I had this lantern spare so thought that it would go nicely in the middle.

6. The backdoor

The backdoor is currently the weakest of the pot displays. The water butt proved very useful through last year and I managed much of my watering through the summer using it. The pots closest to the sliding doors have got sempervivums and agapanthus in. The barrel has a Fuschia in which hasn’t really died back for winter and is already putting on new flower buds.

The pots here are more of a randomly assembled collection than the planned effect of the shaded corners. The metal tray with the conifer is Alice’s dinosaur garden. The Christmas tree was bought as a cheap one for inside and hasn’t found itself a proper pot yet. The tall pot with Katherin Hodgson irises is lovely but doesn’t really combine with the other pots. It has a hosta in which will start rising up soon. The other metal pots have Allium karataviense in. This is a short allium with a large ivory globe. It was one of the first alliums I ever bought but currently, they just look like empty pots.

By the back door are sempervivum and sedum pots. These I like and they are in a good position for getting the sun and warmth they need. The rest of this patio area needs a bit more thought.

I’ve just got the one day off this week before returning to work. Then I will have Friday and Saturday off normally. I’m glad to still have one family day as it was looking like I would work each day. I’m not aiming to do many garden jobs today. I’ve got a few pots to tidy and some strawberry planters I want to fill with sempervivums but I’m not sure if I’ll manage to get time. Enjoy your weekends.

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