Sunday, 27 January 2013

signs of life in the horticultural trade

Last night's rain melted the remaining snow nicely, with only the odd tiny patch skulking here and there as I drove to work.  There were some huge puddles in the back lanes, though.  I was alone in the plant centre for the first hour, since my young colleague is on holiday, and was beginning to wonder whether the rumour that the manager had booked one of the other part-timers to come in was true, when she appeared.  She is a useful but not quite perfect substitute for my young colleague, since she normally works behind the scenes potting and weeding, and while she will operate the tills she doesn't do telephones.

She announced her intention of going to pot bulbs until we got busy or I wanted my tea break, and disappeared across the car park.  I thought I might as well get on with the stock take, and went on working my way along the shrub beds through Chaenomeles, Cornus, and Corylus.  By the time I got to Enkianthus the rising wind was starting to flap the pages of the spreadsheet about rather aggressively each time I turned over, but I kept going until the phone calls started, and I found myself trying to run around the plant centre in search of Metasequoia glyptostrobides in half a gale of wind, with the phone in one hand and the flapping spreadsheet in the other, while needing a third to turn plant labels the right way up to read them.  That was the end of my stock taking for the day, though I thought I'd done quite well getting to the end of Prunus.

The Metasquoia man turned up with his wife, and bought the yellow leafed version 'Gold Rush', which he hadn't previously heard of but liked the sound of, along with three Sorbus and some fertiliser.  Someone else came to collect three trees which had been reserved for her since early October, though to be fair she had rung us a couple of times since to ask if we could keep them a bit longer.  A couple from Islington arrived via Beth Chatto, having asked there what other nurseries there were in the neighbourhood and been sent to us.  They hadn't quite known what to expect, but liked what they saw, and bought a Magnolia tripetala, roses and Sarcococca.  Trying to remember what had been stock taken, meaning that sales had to be written down, and what hadn't, made the whole process more complicated than it would have been otherwise.

An elderly lady who had moved house fairly recently, and employed a gardener on our recommendation, was delighted with her gardener and equally delighted with the garden design and build firm the gardener had in turn recommended.  Phew.  It would have been rather embarrassing if she'd said the gardener we recommended was completely useless.  She wanted a standard bay tree in a pot, and chose the particular specimen she liked, which was already planted in a different pot as one of a pair used to grace the cafe earlier in the year.  She wanted us to plant up the pot and deliver pot and plant to Colchester.  My colleague said the pot was not that heavy and look, she had already lifted it, and took the bay and the new pot away across the car park for re-potting, while I charged on the basis of a standard delivery to Colchester.  After the elderly lady had gone my colleague reappeared, saying cheerfully that she didn't think one person could lift the bay in its new pot, since the pot lacked a rim to grip, and the whole thing had come out unexpectedly heavy.  Though, she added, she had put plenty of crocks in the bottom.  I felt rather crushed that I hadn't charged for a double person delivery, then it occurred to me that the gardener could simply un-pot the bay again, put some of the compost in a bucket, and transport the whole lot in three parts for final assembly at the other end.

My most entertaining customer of the day was my first, who wanted some plants for a tub at work.  It turned out that he worked on the tugs in Felixstowe harbour, and that work was not even an office, but a small flowerbed he'd made out of an old box somewhere on the deck of the tugboat.  He said his colleagues thought he was mad, but he loved his plants.  He was blase about the dangers of his trade, saying that he only worked inside the harbour.  Even so, the forces involved are huge, as the memorial in Ramsgate to the crew of an overturned tug testifies.  I hope his crocus survive to flower.  They don't have the strongest flower stems.

My new horticultural fact for the day is that male and female flowers of sweet bay, Laurus nobilis, are carried on different plants.  I never knew that until a customer asked about it, and I looked it up.  You don't generally grow bay for the berries.

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