What makes your local Garden Centre tick?

Grayshott Gardeners started the new year with a fascinating peek behind the scenes at one of our most popular chain of Garden Centres. Sarah Squire, Chairman of Squire’s Garden Centres, gave our first lecture of 2020, and explained the history and the ethos of this long standing family business. She also gave us an insight into some of the challenges Garden Centres face today, and how they try to manage them.

Squires was founded in 1936 by Sarah’s grandfather, D.J. Squire. It started as a company that took on small scale landscaping work, and soon expanded into plant nurseries. It wasn’t until the 1950s and 60s that Garden Centres as we know them today came about – driven by the fact that people now cared for their own gardens (employing gardeners had become a thing of the past), widespread car ownership, the availability of container grown plants, and the emergence of garden centres in the US.

W hen DJ retired Sarah’s father, Colin, took over the running of Squires. He remained Chairman for 30 years, and still plays a part in running the business today. Sarah took over as Chairman in 2019. She has had many roles different roles in the company, starting off as a Saturday girl, and has worked outside the company as a solicitor specialising in commercial property.

Squires today has 16 Garden Centres in the Surrey/Sussex/Berkshire/West London area – three of which are very familiar to Grayshott Gardeners. Squires are happy to keep this tight geographical footprint, as it allows them to really understand their customers and their needs. They employ nearly 1,000 people, across a whole range of disciplines, from IT and Marketing to plant and animal experts.

Their business is very seasonal, with plant sales peaking in spring and early summer. And throughout the year Saturdays and Sundays are their busiest times. In order to attract customers outside of these peaks, diversification is key – with restaurants and Christmas decorations being good examples of this. However, we were left in no doubt that it is plants that are the raison d’être of this great family business, which raised a cheer from this audience of gardeners!

S.W.

Spring in the Garden with Steve Bradley

Grayshott Gardeners celebrated the last of our 2019 lecture evenings and the return of speaker Steve Bradley and his wife Val with mulled wine and mince pies, enjoyed thoroughly by a very large turnout of members, on a cold December night.

Steve has appeared on TV and writes extensively about practical gardening techniques and skills. Together with his wife Val he answers questions and offers advice on panels and in the Sun newspaper, which entails keeping up to date with new production techniques, products and plants.

Steve’s light-hearted talk illustrated with slides allowed members to reap the benefit of Steve’s knowledge as tips and recommendations, starting with frost protection, and followed by pruning advice (loppers in the case of Mahonia, to protect fingers), lawn care, bulbs and pots and propagation were offered in quick succession. Steve’s love for roses stemming from his youth spent in a rose nursery was evident; experience has taught him that hard pruning produces better and longer-lasting blooms, especially if followed by feeding (well-mixed into soil or compost); he advised to plant grafted roses an inch proud of the soil surface at the graft point, in order to prevent suckers. Another very interesting detail was the latest technique for grafting small tomato and other related cuttings, with amazing results.

Having answered a number of questions from the floor, Steve was then thanked by Gordon Rae, our patron, for a very interesting and useful talk.

Notice to members:

As announced at last month’s AGM, our President for the past 5 years, Gill Purkiss, had to step down at the end of her term of office. This left Grayshott Gardeners with a vacancy, as nobody had come forward to take over from Gill. Gorden Rae has now kindly offered to take up the post in the interim, which will need to be confirmed by members at the next AGM.

Steve and Gordon

Grayshott Gardeners AGM 2019

Our Annual General Meeting held on 13th November 2019 was well attended, well-organised and featured some lively discussions. The Minutes with full details are published on the “From the Committee” page. Gill Purkiss stood down as President after her 5-year term office, and was presented with a bouquet of flowers for all her help and support. Terry Boorman resigned as Programme Director as he and Maureen have plans to move away, and both were also thanked for their unstinting work for the club. The meeting concluded with wine and a delicious spread of nibbles, enjoyed by the members.

Plant Sale 2020: Karen Flood has compiled a list of plants which members may be able to donate to the Plant Sale next year. The Plant Sale generates a large part of the club’s income from which members benefit. Karen is also looking for “plant sitters”. Full details on the “From the Committee” page.

Stuart Lees: Adventurous Container Gardening

The speaker at Grayshott Gardeners’ September lecture was Stuart Lees, a trained horticulturist and experienced head gardener, who now runs his own Garden Design and Consulting business. A keen supporter of the Perennial Charity which helps people and families in crisis who have a connection with horticultural trades, Stuart has donated his speaker’s fee to the charity.

Stuart Lees and Club Patron Gordon Rae (Photo John Price)

A series of slides taken at various client locations illustrated not only the variety of pots available (different sizes, shapes, materials) and the various functions (framing doorways, indicating presence of steps as a safety measure) but also the different effects created by the planting schemes. These ranged from empty but decorative pots, to pots with one plant, or containers with combinations of various species of plants, often with phorbiums to add height and an architectural touch. Stuart favoured shrubs over bedding plants, as the latter are labour-intensive, although excellent for providing colour when planted in window-boxes; we saw slides of some magnificent pub front displays. Nevertheless, colourful displays are also possible without annual flowers, as shown by the Christmas-themed schemes in a collection of similar containers devised by Stuart.

Answering a question from the audience, Stuart admitted to always adding crocks in plant pots “to keep slugs and insects out”.

Harry Baldwin

Harry Baldwin is a young dendrologist (study of trees and shrubs) and horticultural taxonomist, currently working at Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew. His CV lists an impressive number of diplomas, honours and awards, as well as an array of practical experience and botanical travel trips worldwide. His articles have been published in botanical publications, he has been involved in organising and giving lectures, and is particularly passionate about reaching out to youngsters faced with making career choices.

Harry Baldwin and our Patron Gordon Rae (photo John Price)

Wednesday’s lecture, accompanied by interesting slides from his travels in China, South Africa and the USA, followed his career to date, starting with helping his Dad in his landscaping business, his particular interest in trees (he calls himself an “oak man”), and relating the many opportunities and choices he encountered along the way. His enthusiasm is infectious, and on Wednesday he managed to both entertain and educate our members, who may be looking at a career from the wrong end, but who are now well-equipped to advise the next generation about careers in horticulture!

Snow Cup and Close Brooks Cup

These are local and inter-village competitions, held annually. This year Headley hosted both at their Autumn Show.

For the Snow Cup, local horticultural societies were asked to enter an exhibit entitled: The Haymaker’s Story (poem by John Clare), and Terry and Maureen B., Terry F. with help of others put a lot of thought and effort in their composition, awarded with a third prize. The Snow Cup was won by Headley.

The Close Brooks Cup was just as demanding, and required entrants to submit a collection of vegetables, fruit, a pot plant as well as 2 displays of flowers. Anne W. sourced all vegetables, with contributions from John, Leslia, Vanessa, Rosario, Lynn, Margaret, Piers, Ann P. and Joy and John S. Despite all efforts, Tilford managed to trump both Grayshott and Headley with their XXL vegetables, with Headley coming second, and Grayshott third.

Next year will be another chance to aim for the top, please look out for an appeal to members for flowers or vegetables in peak condition!

Graham Blunt on Exotics

Graham Blunt made ‘Exotics for the Garden’ an Evening for Laughter as well giving us a very serious message on CITES

The Gardeners who braved a much less-than-exotic August evening were treated to a very entertaining talk which had most if not all of us laughing enthusiastically. However, Graham Blunt (of Plantbase Nurseries, Wadhurst, E. Sussex) had a number of serious messages: firstly, on the further effects of the changes to CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) coming in on 14th December 2019 particularly, for the purposes of the evening, in relation to the trade in all plants, flowers and seeds and how the extended implementation will affect the import of all such flora (plants, trees, seeds, fruit and vegetables) into the UK. For those interested further in the effects of CITES, there is even more on the internet : start with DEFRA’s “Don’t’ Risk It” campaign https://www.gov.uk/government/news/public-urged-not-to-bring-plant-pests-and-disease-into-the-uk (updated April 2019 so the information is current). Also Border Force has a leaflet on the internet but it has not been updated since 2016 so look out for a new one. Graham cited the devastation that has been wreaked in Italy by the presence of the Xylella plant disease in continental Europe. It has not reached the UK (and its thousands of broad-leaf trees), but it could without the provisions of CITES .

Basically, Graham’s message is if it’s a plant, or part of a plant, or will be a plant, don’t import it, and certainly not without certification – the fines for doing so without the essential certificate are hefty so do not bring in even a sprig at the end of your holiday. And don’t buy on the internet unless the foreign seller has provided the necessary certified permission – you will be fined for so doing.

Graham also mentioned the Nogoya Protocol which, simply put, means that the country of origin should be the beneficiary of a plant used for whatever purpose – such as pharma companies. For example, Madagascar made nothing from a plant used by big pharma who made millions.

Exotics exhibit

Somehow Graham, who had brought a number of his exotic plants with him to the talk, managed to make such an important subject as CITES hugely enjoyable, often by including his personal experiences of caring for the exotic plants that he grows himself in the UK and in which his nursery trades. By such means, for instance, as filling up his dry, wood-lined bathroom for overwintering. Whilst he would not necessarily expect us to do the same he went on to weave his magic telling us how to look after any exotic plants we may already have – we had with such phrases as “Crocks (in the bottom of pots) are a waste of time and more than that, they are a haven for slugs so get rid of them – after all the pots have holes in” and “castrate your cannas” after flowering to bring on more flowers. We also heard his enthusiasm for plants such as cacti, succulents and exotics which can be grown outdoors, in fact some of them, such as cannas, should be planted in the ground outdoors rather than in pots as they are much less likely to freeze in the ground where only the top centimeter or so is frozen.

G. Blunt Exotics

Altogether, Graham’s enthusiasm was infectious and everyone greatly enjoyed his humorous approach to being a grower and seller of ‘Exotics’.

H.R.

Visit to the Flower Farm

As Claire Brown, who runs Plantpassion, explained: her business is flower farming, therefore we should not expect pretty garden scenes, her flowers are grown as crops. That morning, well over 2000 had been cut and were conditioning (soaking up fresh water) in buckets inside the barn, awaiting collection by customers in the morning.

Outside we were immediately struck by the magnificent views across the gently sloping fields towards a range of hills and possibly London in the far distance. The hilltop farm is surrounded by woods, and Claire explained how she’d arrived at an accommodation with the wildlife, including deer, squirrels, moles, and even a measure of appreciation: kites, aphids (food for beneficial insects which kill the harmful ones).

We saw the poly tunnel (to extend the growing season) and the field with many different beds of flowers and shrubs, in all stages of growth. She explained her work-saving no-dig, no weeding method, and that the chalk subsoil her plants are grown in promotes healthy and sturdy flowers.

Back in the barn for refreshments and a flower arrangement demonstration, Claire extolled the benefits of locally grown flowers, condemning those for sale in supermarkets. Perhaps a little harsh, as surely there’s room for both kinds?

Claire Brown’s flower farm is in East Clandon, website: Plantpassion.co.uk