From the beginning of August each year, we begin to make our stock for the following year. Much of this stock is produced by propagating existing plants, then each year we try to add two or three hundred new varieties to keep our regular customers happy. Our aim is to produce between 1000 and 1500 different varieties each year, so this really is a massive undertaking.
What is harder is the fact that we have just two months after Christmas to pot up all these plants before the season begins at the start of March. This, coupled with all the repairs and maintenance resulting from winter wear and tear, and of course, the gardens which need to look at least under control if not at their best, means that January and February are absolute chaos. (The gardens don’t really start to look their best ‘till end April onwards).
While I spend most of my time potting, using up to 4 tons of compost each week, Pippa has been working in the sales area, emptying the sales tables, cleaning them, repairing, and all that the sales area requires, then plotting out where the stock plants will actually go on the tables. With just 10 days to go, we are both more or less on target, but anyone visiting us would find that hard to believe. Over the last two months, any unsold and unwanted plants that have been left over from last year have mounted up in piles on the paths so black pots everywhere. But this is our ‘bonus bonanza’. Plants that are surplus to our nursery stock, but too good to throw away are perfect for filling in gaps throughout the gardens.
Our main garden which will be over two acres is designed so that all plants within one colour range are planted in colour zones, separated from the next colour by different hedges. Reds, Pinks, Oranges, Purples, Hots, Whites, each colour zone covers over 1000 square yards, so our ‘bonus bonanza’ has a great value, and gradually those chaotic piles of black plastic pots get moved from the paths around the sales tables and are given special attention being placed exactly where we want to see them flourish in their right places. Then as time allows, they get planted in the gardens.
The top garden is less ‘themed’, being a great mix of perennials and flowering shrubs but without any planned structure to where they are planted, so this is where the remnants of our bonanza end up. Jo Saddler, our part-time gardener has been doing a Stirling job this year doing her very best to make all the gardens look their best, but she has a real uphill battle. Imagine having a job spec. which takes every minute available to achieve, only to find that every year, your job gets bigger by 1000 square yards without any extra hours to achieve it. Welcome to Jo’s world.
Jo is one of the regions best willow sculptors specialising in life-size willow animals. So good that if she places one of her pieces in the garden, our dog, Rosie, will spend several minutes with heckles up, barking at the stranger in the garden. Even now, after a year or two of new creatures appearing out of the blue, the dog still has not got used to it. If you visited Dillington Court for their Christmas weekend this year , you would have seen Jo’s work in the form of Santa Claus’s reindeer. https://www.instagram.com/jojo.sadler/ will get you in touch with her.
The forecast for the next two or three weeks is not looking too good, with a suggestion of very cold days to come, but the word ‘Average’ means that even if we have a slow start to the season, it must eventually come good. I know that we’ve had a particularly wet winter this year, one that has been characterised by very low light levels, and I know that this year our plants seem very slow to start growing, but one thing for certain is that plants very quickly catch up, so by mid April onwards, things will be fantastic. We have had years when very early Spring has been fabulous, only to see all the new growth burnt back by the sting in winters tail. I’d rather have a later start to Spring.
So, organised chaos reigns, 10 days to go, tables to stock, gardens to complete, stock to pot up, car park to tidy, winter repairs to carry out, simple!! Oh I’ve forgotten something. ‘Elf N Safety’. Apparently, if I were to leave a massive, very bright yellow hosepipe across a path, then you tripped over it, it would be my fault. We need to very diligently walk the entire site searching for anything that could be construed as dangerous. So anywhere that rain has washed mud over paths could be a slip hazard. Any timber path edging that might have rotted – trip hazard. The giant Euphorbia pasteurii ‘John Phillips’ that now spans half the path as well the bed it was planted into – hazard. Cut it back next week, then the highly caustic sap will be exactly at child eye-height – big health Hazard. Paths shifted to leave them uneven – hazard. Dead elm tree that started loosing twigs last year, could shed branches this spring – hazard, 60 X 45 feet pond full of very cold water – hazard. I’ll stop my health and safety assessment there because otherwise, I’ll just buy a bigger padlock then throw away the keys.
Anything else? Oh #Yes, Gale force wind from the north west last week revealed that the timber base-ring round our biggest poly tunnel has rotted to nothing. So nothing to hold the ground matting down, and nothing to hold the plastic sheet up. If we can’t do a temporary fix until the tunnel is empty, it may be better to cut off all the plastic rather that risk damage to our stock. Just hope it stays good ‘till spring. Oh the joys of owning a nursery.
As you may know, I always try to add a little bit about our wild birds, and today is no exception. We seem to have had the last of this seasons bramblings, but we’ve had a massive influx of the beautiful little siskins turning up on the feeders in the last couple of weeks. Often more that a dozen birds at any one time, and in that time, they have begun to show their true breeding plumage, so the males are sporting their lovely black crowns. Almost never a second without at least a couple of them right outside the windows. What a treat.