Before starting our second (and final final) week of supplier visits, I drove up to Tatton Park to visit the lovely Kate Savill, Garden Academy student from last year and fellow garden design buddy, to help her make the finishing touches to her RHS Young Designer of the Year garden. After watching Kate come up with the design earlier in the year, then change it, redesign it and change it again, it was amazing to see her final drawings come to life. The garden was beautiful and I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I left the show ground on Monday with everything crossed for the medal decision later in the week.
Our last day with Adam Frost at Barnsdale and just to make sure we had been listening for the last year, our task was to start designing a garden. He was our client, who was looking for a garden of clean lines, with space to entertain and teach his kids how to garden. Obviously we had all been listening, because we busily set off drawing shapes to create areas of planting, pathways and patios. Many of us were amazed that the task of creating a design was not daunting anymore.
None of us were sure what to expect when we visited Stewart Garden. I know I’ve probably said something similar every month for the past year, however I doubt any of us have ever stopped to think about the process of creating practical and decorative pots.
The factory runs 24/6 and produces all sorts of plastic equipment, from Tupperware to propagators. Stewart’s pots are produced by either rotation or injection molding. Rotation molding produces more complicated shapes, which are usually the more expensive, decorative pots. The process is slow, taking about an hour to produce one pot, although obviously more than one pot can be produced at once! Injection molding is a very quick production line, the average product taking around 30 seconds. That is where the iconic orange plastic pot is made. The injection molds are huge, heavy contraptions. The molds themselves, which are stored on racking around the parameter of the factory, look like something out of a sci-fi movie, with an eerie, robotic quality.
In the afternoon we met botanist, pathologist, presenter and writer, Pippa Greenwood. Pippa has worked with Stewart Garden for over three years, promoting growing and encouraging everyone to have a go at home. We braved the ominous looking clouds and sat outside to watch Pippa give us a demo about seed sowing. She gave us some great tips, which I am definitely going to have to put into use.
Eventually the heavens opened and we were forced to dash inside. We all had a great discussion about garden pests, although I was distressed to learn that on average there are 200 slugs per cubic metre of soil! The great thing about meeting so many plant-lovers over the last year is that everyone has their own method of gardening, usually perfected by trial and error. It is always good to hear how individuals garden and be reminded that there is usually no ‘right’ method of doing it.
I spent the rest of the afternoon glued to my phone, waiting to hear news of Kate’s show garden. All the hard work and re-designs paid off, as Kate came home with a hugely well-deserved gold medal.
Our last nursery visit was to Avoncross bedding. Now that we are almost at the end of the summer bedding season, the huge glass houses were looking comparatively empty compared to the usual rows of bedding trays.
From the nursery we drove to Ball Colegrave Trial Grounds, the UK’s leading wholesaler of seeds and plants to commercial growers and another link in the chain of plant production for Homebase garden centres. The grounds are the perfect place for nurseries, like Avoncross, to go and see the available plants being grown to their full potential and select which they would like to buy, to grow the following season. It is a great place to see brand new varieties before they appear in garden centres across the country. Ball Colegrave also test a lot of new varieties, many never making it onto the market.
We were reunited with the fantastic floral celebration cake, which was loaned to the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show for their 25th anniversary. The amazing tiered display contained 3,456 plants and was a perfect place for a photo opportunity! As well as the riot of rainbow colours on display, it was also interesting to see the development of bedding and perennials, as old and new varieties were grown side by side. In some instances, the new varieties were definitely an improvement; the dwarf Digitalis Dalmatian series flowers in the first year and from seed to bloom in as little as four months. However, other annuals I think just can’t be bettered. I didn’t like the dwarf Nicotianas and would much rather have the slender waving stems of the tall, old-fashioned varieties.
I have never been to anywhere like Ball Colegrave before and thought it was fantastic that they had the space to really showcase bedding. They demonstrated that, although short-lived and perhaps associated more with town councils than trendy garden design, bedding could definitely be a garden showstopper. I think the secret is to go big and bold. If garden centres could show-off bedding in a similar way to the trail grounds, then customers would be truly inspired.
The week flew by as usual and before we knew it, we were visiting our very final supplier. Karcher, or to be correct, Kärcher, are a German, family-owned business started in the 1930’s and known for their iconic yellow pressure washers. Like many of the suppliers we have visited, producing innovative, effective products is the aim of the game for Kärcher. In fact, 90% of the products they sell are less than five years old, showing that the company is constantly updating and improving older models. As well as making products for us to use at home, Kärcher also manufacture commercial cleaning equipment and have famously cleaned The London Eye, Mount Rushmore and The Statue of Liberty.
Our group of ten was split into two teams and we spent the day competing against one another using Kärcher’s products. Our challenges included, assembling a hose kit and filling a bucket with water as quickly as possible, cleaning a very dirty mirror – the cleanest was the winner, cleaning marmite and jam off a laminate floor and finally washing a car. The challenges were a lot of fun and a really good way to test the product range; I don’t think there was too much cheating! The final challenge of the day was to design our own product and then the Kärcher team judged our ideas. It was hard to come up with an idea in just 15 minutes, but showed that it is not just the trained designers who can come up with viable designs.
Thankfully, although this was our last week of supplier visits we would all be seeing each other again in September for our graduation and hopefully meeting the next intake of Academy students. I haven’t re-read any my monthly posts from the Academy over the last year, so now I think is a perfect time to reflect on what a truly amazing 12 months it has been.