Monday, 25 March 2013

last orders

I took the long way to work, to avoid the back lanes which certainly won't have been gritted.  As I approached the Ardleigh level crossing, which is the main reason why I normally use the lanes as a rat-run, the gates were up.  Just as I thanked fate that I hadn't been caught, the amber light came on with fifteen metres to go.  I don't believe in jumping lights at railway crossings, and resigned myself to spending the next quarter of an hour stuck the wrong side of the railway line, so it was a nice surprise when just one train went through, and I was only held up for three minutes.

Although I was early to work, a white van had beaten me to it and was already sat in the car park. This turned out to be a delivery from a supplier based down in the West Country, a one-man band who propagates some rare and unusual plants.  His van, a very old Transit with home made wooden shelves along both sides, was absolutely stuffed with pots, some of which were for us and some which weren't.  He handed these out to us one at a time, picking his way through his crates of plants and murmuring that this one for us, that one wasn't, there had to be another of these somewhere.  Occasionally he managed to offload a whole crate at once.  He obviously didn't believe in wasting money on labels, so some pots were individually labelled, some varieties just had one small stick-in label between all seven pots, and some weren't labelled at all.  The manager seemed happy that between them they added up to his list of what he'd ordered, so I expect he'll manage to work out which pots of dormant twigs are which.

They were nice plants, well grown, which is to say that they didn't look too much like the things grown for instant appeal pumped up on the plant equivalent of steroids, and aimed at the garden centre trade.  We sell those too.  These plants were quite young, still fairly skinny, and not cosseted with too much heat or nitrogen.  Moved into the ground as soon as the soil warms up they would grow away like crazy.  Proper nurseryman's plants, not nearly as lush and opulent as the ones that arrive on Dutch trolleys from bigger suppliers, but garden-ready.  Dutch trolleys are those multi-tiered metal racks with wheels that you have seen around the place in garden centres and farm shops.  We try to keep them tidied away behind the scenes, if the suppliers even leave them with us, and never put stock out for sale still on them.  They are having an insidious effect on plant breeding, since if you can fit more shelves into a trolley you reduce transport and delivery costs, and this is creating a commercial pressure to breed shorter plants.  Truly.

Our supplier from Devon just scraped in under the wire, since the boss and the manager agreed this morning not to order any more plants until the weather warms up.  I knew they were bound to do that.  The van with colour came, as it always does on a Monday morning, and apart from taking some trays of things we'd ordered, half of which were for a particular customer anyway, we didn't have any plants.  No pansies, no daffodils, no Pulmonaria.  I'm afraid much of their current stock is destined to bloom unseen, not on the desert air but in the back of a van driving around the Eastern counties.  What they do with it when the flowers fade I do not know.  Perhaps there will be bargains to be had in Norwich market, for gardeners who are prepared to be patient and wait for their Pulmonaria to bloom again next year.

It was desperately quiet, and cold.  I put together a good-sized mail order collection for somebody who telephoned from Wales.  I thought Wales was buried under snow, but obviously not his part of it.  Another customer rang to defer delivery of their order, because the last half mile of track to their house was impassable.  Two elderly ladies bought an extremely nice hellebore as a present for someone, and I made it look as smart as I could with green florist's paper.  The young gardener managed to find himself a warm job in the morning, printing off more labels for the plants in the garden, but then in the afternoon had to go and tie the labels on, and reappeared at five o'clock with numb fingers.  I played hunt-the-pot in the tunnel on the other side of the car park, to stick prices on various herbaceous plants in 11 centimetre pots.  The older gardener drew the short straw, and had to muck out the chicken house.  We all tried hard to make ourselves useful, but what we need is customers.  Customers and not snow.

The dogs have been chasing the turkeys, and drove one of them into the pond, where it was fortunately discovered in time and rescued by the owners' daughter.  The owners are trying to teach to turkeys to go into the chicken house at night, instead of sitting on the lawn in the snow.  Last night both eventually went in through the pop-hole, which represents progress, though they did have to be herded with sticks, and the cock is so large he can scarcely squeeze through the door.  We debated whether they needed poles to roost on, though as the gardener said, in a commercial operation the turkeys manage in their sheds without poles.  Whether or not they get poles may depend on how long the weather remains unsuitable for gardening.

In the plant centre we were reduced to de-icing the path from the shop with dishwasher salt.

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