Sunday, 24 February 2013

slow, busy later, then quiet

Today was marginally warmer than yesterday, which is to say that when I left the house to go to work the car thermometer was reading plus half a degree rather than minus a half, and when I cam home again it was a balmy one and a half degrees Celsius instead of freezing.  That still doesn't sound very warm, but it made a critical difference to how it felt, as working outside had become merely chilly rather than insane-makingly cold.

I finished putting on the rest of the labels for last week's delivery, other than one set of five pots of bamboo which I could not find.  I walked round and round inside and outside the polytunnel, though I was fairly sure it ought to be inside, and I could not see them.  They were only £12.50 each, which is not much for a bamboo, and told me they must be quite small plants, but I simply couldn't find them.  Eventually I gave up.  The manager presumably knows where they are, and can tell me tomorrow.

The problem was that by the time this delivery arrived the tunnel was already so full that the plants that needed to go under cover were simply slotted in anywhere they would fit, in no logical order whatsoever.  I believe that is the modern way of filling a warehouse for optimum space utilisation, the difference being that we don't have a computer that records the location of each variety.  All we have is the memory of whoever it was that originally put them away, and what I and my colleague yesterday learned through observation walking about.  If you are interested in plants you tend to remember that you saw Pileostegia viburnoides over there, or Holboellia latifolia in that corner.  If you aren't it is presumably a nightmare green blur.

I rang a few people who'd put their names down for some of the plants that just arrived, once it was late enough to be decent to call them on a Sunday morning, which I reckon is from half past ten.  I spoke to one woman who did still want an Aktinidia kolomikta, but she'd only been waiting since last October.  Some had been waiting for months longer than that, and I was quite relieved in a purely social sense to only get their answering machines.  From a strictly commercial point of view it would be better to know at once if they don't want the plants, then we needn't waste time reserving them, and are immediately free to try and sell them to somebody else.

We saw no customers at all until well after eleven.  I wasn't altogether surprised.  It was cold, snowing very lightly, and it was Sunday morning.  Most people aren't in a tearing hurry to go and walk around a plant centre in those conditions first thing on a Sunday.  In the late morning it began to get quite busy, and I had to summon the owner to come and make hot drinks while my young colleague was at lunch, since I don't know how to do anything involving heated milk, and there were only two of us on duty.  I ended up switching my radio off while I ate my lunch, since the boss was grumbling over the airwaves that my colleague wasn't replying to his calls.  He doesn't always seem to appreciate that the staff need a lunch break, and that if you leave one person to operate the till, tea room, telephone, help customers find plants they are looking for, dig up bare root fruit trees and point people in the right direction for the loo, they may not be free at all times to answer you on the radio.

The day's takings were boosted by a couple from West Sussex who spent over two hundred pounds, and a woman who bought ten red stemmed Cornus at £9.95 a pop.  The West Sussex people were actually in the area to attend a funeral, but were making the most of the trip to visit some local plant suppliers.  Their garden ran to six acres, and they sounded keen and knowledgeable.  She wanted advice on plants that would make dome shapes for a formal garden, since they had the sort of house that seemed to demand some formality, and their garden didn't have any.  However, she also confessed to suffering from box blight and disliking formal gardens.  My advice was not to have one, then, and do what she enjoyed.  We discussed other plants she could use besides box, but she didn't sound as though her heart was in it, since she either didn't like the other plants I suggested as alternatives to box, or already had enough of them, or rejected them as being too slow growing.  Then she filled up her trolley with some interesting shrubs, none of which were remotely dome-shaped, and as she left remarked cheerfully that she thought I was right, and she wouldn't have a formal garden at all.

I felt I could take some credit for the Cornus alba 'Westonbirt' sale since while the customer had arrived with the intention of buying red stemmed dogwood, we had only got one plant out for sale and I found her the ten required using my skill and judgement to retrieve them from the great mass of shrubs I labelled yesterday.

Both dogs managed to get into the shop during the course of the day, and made friends with all the customers in the tea room.  It was lucky that everybody today liked dogs.

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