Walking through the RHS Garden Harlow Carr Plant Centre you might spot Fran pruning the roses, Andrew stocking up the wildlife products, Marie putting together a new display or any one of our team busy keeping the Plant Centre looking ship-shape. But there’s more to this than what you might see on your way through. Behind the scenes the team are busy in front of their computers ordering plants and sundries from a whole range of suppliers around the country and overseas.
Needless to say this is no mean feat, particularly during the summer months, as new plants come into flower all the time and a feature on Gardeners’ World or in the coverage of our RHS shows can change demand overnight! To simplify things, members of the team have responsibility for different areas of the Plant Centre and use their knowledge of those departments when ordering, to make sure we meet demand and give our customers the best the season has to offer.
Two of our main suppliers, The Farplants Group and consecutive RHS Chelsea Flower Show gold-medal winners Hillier Nurseries grow a wide range of plants for us; everything from shrubs and climbers to bedding and veg, and earlier this month myself and my colleague Alice got the chance to visit their nurseries on the south coast. The visit was a roaring success, giving us the opportunity to see how our orders go from a computer screen in the sales office to a trolley full of clean, labelled plants ready for dispatch.
Feeling a bit like kids in a sweet shop, we also had the chance while walking around their acres of beds, polytunnels and glasshouses, to put together a nice long shopping list of new and exciting plants to bring back to Harlow Carr, plants which have been flying off the shelves since we got back.
We were particularly impressed with a range of hardy fuchsias including ‘Display’ and ‘Walz Jubelteen’ and a selection of bee-friendly Nepeta cultivars including N. racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’ and ‘Pink Cat’, which are looking fabulous in full flower. We were also able to bring back one of our most popular groundcover plants which grows in the garden here, Euphorbia cyparissias ‘Fens Ruby’, a lovely perennial spurge with feathery leaves and greenish-yellow flowers.
And while the plants were undoubtedly the stars of the show, we were blown away by the scale and efficiency of the finishing centre at Farplants and I must admit that I particularly enjoyed seeing the automated trolley wrapper in action and watching hundreds of newly-potted plants travel around the site on conveyor belts – a bit sad I know!
In the future we’d love to visit some of our more specialised suppliers around the country but we’re in no rush, I think we’ve had enough motorway services’ sandwiches to last us for a while!