This must be question of the month, and of last month, for that matter. Early spring visitors to Woodgate see the freshly cleaned and newly painted selling benches and wonder at their emptiness. I hate to disappoint people and try to explain. This ‘hungry gap’ is part and parcel of growing plants in an unpredictable climate. Our customers always seem to be ready for the plants a few weeks before the plants are ready for them.
While we would love to propagate everything ourselves, this is simply not possible. We do not have enough staff, or space, or hours in the day, to produce thousands of plants from cuttings or seed. All our vegetables are seed-raised on site, but for most perennials it is otherwise. We buy in much of our new stock as either bare-rooted clumps or small plants, which we then grow on to selling size.
Our main supplier of young perennials is Howards Nursery at Wortham on the Norfolk/Suffolk border. This friendly, family-run business has gone from strength to strength over the years and won numerous awards, both for its plants and its set-up.
Last week I paid Howards a visit and was impressed, as always, by their operation – from the bright, welcoming glasshouse with its floor furred by sprouting agapanthus seedlings, to the barn where a vast mound of compost hulks in the corner, waiting to be fed into the hopper that supplies the potting machine. Outside, the stock-beds are being depleted, as the big spring orders are dispatched to nurseries, garden centres and designers right across the UK. Shelter-belts of tall miscanthus grass rustle in the chilly March wind.
The second part of Woodgate’s order was delivered by Howards a few days ago. Now I have just over three thousand plants to pot up (without the aid of a machine and with Ollie as my compost hopper.) Although it is my busiest time, it is also my favourite. There is something down-right magical about all those new shoots. But this gardening lark involves a lot of patience and a certain degree of resignation. However quickly I work the ultimate arbiter is always the weather. Will spring 2016 be too wet, too dry, too cold or too windy? It is entirely possible that it might be all of them!
Weather permitting, our summer-flowering perennials will be ready by the end of April. But visit us in the meantime for spring perennials and bulbs and vegetables and herbs and trees and shrubs…