Why buy from abroad? by Iain Pentney

On 9th June Grayshott Gardeners gave a virtual welcome to Iain Pentney of Classiflora Imports, a wholesale nursery in North London which specialises in the import of hardy European specimen plants, trees, shrubs and topiary.  His lecture addressed the pros and cons of importing plants to Britain.

The disadvantages are perhaps more obvious – given the transport miles and their associated carbon emissions, and the potential for importing pests and diseases.  So why buy from abroad at all?  Iain took us through some of the benefits that we enjoy when we use plants that have been grown in Mediterranean regions.

The first, and perhaps biggest benefit is that we can “buy time”.  Plants mature much faster in a climate where winters are much shorter and growing seasons are much longer.  And plants need to have reached maturity to flower, when they become most desirable to gardeners.  If we choose climates where winters are as harsh as Britain then we know that the plants will be hardy in our gardens.  So mature, garden worthy plants can be raised in about half the time it would take if they were raised in the UK – and, as we all know, time is money. 

Another advantage of the Mediterranean climate is that it has two dormant seasons – one in the winter and one in midsummer, when it is too hot for plants to grow.  Since plants are best lifted in the dormant season, this means there are two windows for lifting, as opposed to one in Britain.

There are also many trees that are being displaced by development, or no longer produce a commercial crop – for example olive trees and grapevines.  These plants have ornamental value, and there is a growing market for them in Britain.

Iain also explained how the issue of importing pests and diseases is now managed, with many controls, passports and certificates. So lots of paperwork, but providing vital safeguards.

So next time we see an imported plant on sale in a Garden Centre,  we will understand why.  Our choices would be poorer (and so would our pockets) if the plant had not made that journey!