I have often think I would love to have my own nursery, and I bet many other readers share my dream. I know it is hard work and has its pitfalls, but nearly all passionate horticulturists long to grow, as well as to garden.
The satisfaction of producing a crop to sell, and perhaps plants to exhibit at a flower show: what could be better? So how do you start your own plant nursery?
Do you go out and buy a piece of land, put up a polytunnel and then think about what you can produce? Or does it start with a plant – one you have an enduring love affair with?
Over the years I’ve had many love affairs with plants; subjects that have been the focus of my attention. Plants that I’ve had a desire to collect and grow, so I quite understand how a plant can become a bit of an obsession.
For Jack and Laura Wildgoss that seems to be the viola.
I met Jack and Laura at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2015 Press Conference a few weeks ago. They are exhibiting at the Show for the first time this year.
Their nursery is a relatively new venture, they are also newlyweds. I asked Laura to share her experience of starting a new nursery and exhibiting at RHS Chelsea for the first time:
It is hard to believe that there was a time when the wonderful world of perennial violas was completely unknown to me.
I had grown wood violets or Viola odorata cultivars before and thought they were lovely, but it wasn’t until my husband Jack and I made a visit to Dove Cottage Nursery http://www.dovecottagenursery.co.uk/ that we were introduced to the extraordinary diversity and beauty of this genus of plants.
It was April and although the nursery was stocked full of choice and unusual perennials, it was the violas alone that were in flower, their cheery smiling faces standing out against a sea of spring greenery.
These violas were not the annual bedding types that line the shelves of garden centres, with their ‘here today gone tomorrow’ attitude to life, no, these violas were hardy robust and perennial.
Many were beautifully scented and came in a gorgeous array of pastel shades of pink mauve and lilac, through to golden yellow, khaki green and black.
We fell in love with them and started collecting, first from Dove Cottage and then from Bouts Cottage Nursery, run by Mark and Stephanie Roberts.
The Roberts had built up the largest collection of perennial violas in the UK and it is this wonderful collection that we are now lucky custodians of after Mark and Stephanie retired in 2011 and we took on the business.
This is our fourth year of running the viola business, now called Wildegoose Nursery based on my husband’s family name Willgoss, which derived from the name Wildegoose –who were rapists and pillagers from the border lands back then.
Thankfully my husband seems more inclined to peace than war nowadays.
As things seem to have been going relatively well with the nursery business so far, bar the odd polytunnel blowing over and shed roof collapsing, we decided this was the year to take on the pinnacle event in the horticultural calendar, The RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
Having had our application accepted, there is now no going back and the dreams we had as students at The Royal Horticultural Society’s garden, Wisley all those years ago are set to come true.
So now to our Chelsea preparations are under way: the challenge is to put on a medal winning display. It is not a good start: January on the nursery has been miserable; cold and wet and the plants look like they would rather be on holiday.
They certainly don’t look like Chelsea medal winners, so our job is to look for potential in amongst the pots of green leaves. These pots then get put aside for the Chelsea Spa treatment.
Over the next four to five months they are kept meticulously tidy and free from slugs, aphids or any other pests.
They are fed and watered, first with a balanced liquid feed to get them into good growth, and later on with tomato feed to encourage lots of flowers.
The most difficult aspect is the weather and involves us moving the plants in and out of the polytunnels, pinching them back, or leaving them in the hope that they will be at the peak of flowering perfection by the last week of May.
Last year we exhibited at the RHS Malvern Spring Show, two weeks before Chelsea.
It was so lovely to see after all the hard work, pots upon pots of jolly little violas all facing forward and flowering so beautifully. We won a Gold Medal; can we do the same this year? Fingers crossed.
Andy: I’ve asked Jack and Laura to give us their tips and tell us how to grow violas; look out for that soon. Wildegoose produce a very beguiling catalogue. I’ve had it on my desk since I met them. Maybe violas will become my next plant passion?
Check out their website: http://www.boutsviolas.co.uk/