Sunday, 19 May 2013

the art of watering

This could be a short blog post.  I might go to sleep before I have finished typing it.  I left the house this morning just before half past seven, and it was twenty past seven this evening by the time I'd finished the watering here, after my day in the plant centre.  I have no idea how many pots I have shifted in the past two days, but it was a lot.  All the red trolleys and the silver trolleys and some of the roses.

Apart from running the automated irrigation this morning on the trees, and the roses because they looked dry, we watered everything else by hand.  The plant centre had got into that state where some plants were bone dry, while others were sitting far too wet in saturated compost.  The manager's list of jobs for the weekend told us not to over-water, or water things for the sake of it, since some had been over-watered and had died, but one of my colleagues set every bit of the automated system to run that could be set, before even opening the shop door and seeing the list. It would have been a better idea for the manager to have spoken to him about the watering on Friday, but that is the problem with management by leaving notes.  It's generally better to speak to people.

I like to believe that I am good at watering, better and more observant than some of my colleagues, but this is probably a fallacy.  When asked how good their driving is, most people who drive rate themselves as above average.  I consider myself a rather mediocre driver, and make allowances accordingly, but that's not to say I'm not delusional about my watering abilities.  Judging how much to water pots in a commercial setting is quite tricky.  At home you can test the weight of the pot, but when you have hundreds to get through, if not thousands, while you can lift the odd one you mainly have to do it by eye.

The colour and texture of the surface of the compost will tell you a lot, but sometimes the pots are packed together so densely that you can't see the compost.  Sometimes you can see the surface of the pot, but it is not representative of what's underneath, because the pot has been top-dressed with a fine layer of loose compost, or else a layer of crushed bark.  Top-dressings may make pots look smart, but in practical terms they are a damn nuisance.  First of all the plant centre staff can't see whether to water the plant, and then the top-dressing falls out in the customer's car.

Once a plant has started to wilt it is obvious it needs watering, unless the reason for it wilting is that it has been so systematically over-watered that its roots have died, but our aim is to catch plants before they are anywhere near that stressed.  Subtle changes in the colour of the leaves, and the angle at which they're held, can flag up thirsty plants to the practised eye, and after a while we get to know which are the usual suspects, the specimens which are either getting slightly pot-bound, or else from suppliers who have been using a special joke non-moisture retaining compost. As growers try to move away from peat, there are some truly horrible composts around.

I answered the phone to someone who wanted to know whether we had various plants in stock, and when I'd finished looking thanked me for my help and all the walking about.  We don't have a live stock system on the computer, so the only way to find out whether we have a particular variety at that moment is to go and look for it.  I'm there to help people, but it's nice to be thanked, nicer than yesterday's caller whose response to my answer that unfortunately we didn't have Daphne retusa in stock was a long, theatrical sigh followed by a faint and infinitely weary Thank you.

The village turns out to be twinned with somewhere in France.  That information is probably written on the road signs, and I have simply been ignoring it for the past decade.  This weekend saw a visit by some of the French twinners (twins?  Twinnees?) and the plant centre rang for a time with cheerful French voices.

The design journalist came in for some lavender plants, and we agreed that spring was a wonderful thing.  One of the local RSPB people called in on her day off, and we talked about birds.  We are at that stage of acquaintance where we know each other's names (though my surname has probably foxed her) and will chat in the plant centre and when we bump into each other at wildlife fairs.

The owner had a very successful day yesterday at the Hadleigh Show, much better than last year. This could be because the economy is picking up and consumers are more confident than they were twelve months ago, or because she had a better pitch this year, and more people could find her. Who's to say?  The Hadleigh Show doesn't run to supporting mobile credit card machines, and the owner manages by dint of simply taking people's card details, provided they look honest, and processing the sales the next day.  It works a remarkably high proportion of the time, though when I went home she was on the phone to somebody whose card wouldn't go through.  She didn't seem too fussed about that, saying that she had probably written the number down incorrectly.

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