Day three in the plant centre. It was a tiny bit warmer again, just enough so that it was drizzling instead of lightly snowing, but it was still cold. Really quite cold. The manager was trying to stock-take the climbers to see what needed ordering, and grumbled that he could not feel his fingers as he clutched his clipboard and pen.
After being assigned to stick price labels on the week's selection of pansies and hellebores from the van of pretties that visits on Mondays, I thought I might as well volunteer for a proper job, rather than being given a series of little tasks. I therefore offered to start loading the plants I spent yesterday and Saturday labelling on to a red trolley ready to come over for sale in the plant centre. Not all of them, only those that can be stood outside at this time of the year, but they were enough to keep me occupied. Loading the red trolley does not just mean picking up the pots and plonking them on the trolley. Each plant has to be weeded, if there are any weeds, have any moss and liverwort scraped off the surface of the compost, and any dead or broken twigs cut off. If roots are growing out through the drainage holes they need to be trimmed as well, and if there is space in the top of the pot and the existing compost is uneven or has any roots showing, a top-dressing of fresh compost works cosmetic wonders. Finally each pot is given a sprinkling of pre-emergent herbicide, except for those species that don't like the active ingredient. These include Hydrangea, Spiraea, Syringa, and Cytisus. When you start working in a plant nursery you will be told which plants not to treat with Ronstar. After a while you are expected to know.
There wouldn't have been room in the plant centre for the entire delivery, so I took all of the ones with coloured stems and variegated evergreen leaves, that are useful for making ornamental displays at this time of year, but no more than five of the others, enough to make up one row on the shrub beds. Before loading the trolley I had a quick scoot around the shrub beds to see what was already out for sale, and which ones only needed topping up with two or three pots at this stage. By lunchtime I'd filled both tiers of the first trolley, and was ready to start on the second. As I cleared some of the pots from the ground, the remaining truncated rows looked messy spread out over the plastic landscape fabric in front of the polytunnel, and I moved them to fill in the gaps created elsewhere so that I had a bloc of plants still in neat rows in one corner, instead of little lines of pots scattered everywhere. When I'd filled the second trolley I had two varieties left over that wouldn't fit on, so left them to one side ready for the next person loading trolleys. One of them was a rare Philadelphus that we've had someone waiting for since 2011, so I thought I'd let the manager make that call, to see if they still wanted them. They might, in which case they could be delighted to hear from us after all this time, but they might not. I tried to interest a customer in a Gaultheria mucronata that he'd been enquiring for as recently as January of this year, but he'd already found one elsewhere.
When I'd finished loading both tiers of the second trolley I found a broom and swept the spilled compost off the cleared area of mypex fabric. After I'd had a cup of tea I unloaded the first trolley, which the young gardener had towed across to the plant centre. That left me with fifteen minutes to spare until going-home time, but I thought that by then I'd earned the right to sit down. I have not attempted to calculate how many times my own body weight in compost I lifted through the course of the day, but it must have been a lot. Many times. Many, many times.
It is actually quite peaceful moving pots of plants around in a purposeful fashion. Some of the day I spent thinking about my own garden, and some of it not thinking about anything in particular. I should say I had a physical workout equivalent to going to a gym, and a mental one not far short of going to a meditation class. As a reward to myself I bought a particularly beautiful primula with small, intense violet flowers on very long stalks. It is such a chunky plant I wonder whether I could split it into three.
Someone has written up an enormously long list of hot drinks which we theoretically serve on the blackboard in the cafe, which left my young colleague who is supposed to make the drinks trying to remember what exactly a Mocha is. That's another advantage of spending most of the day on the far side of the car park, shifting pots. You don't have to answer the telephone very much, and are a long way away from the cafe.