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This Week’s Guest Blogger is Colin Moat co-owner with his wife of Pineview Plants and Chair of Plant Fair Roadshow

Pineview Plants: Germination and Growth

In fairness it was one of those germinations that took quite some time to break dormancy. Like many people, I was influenced by my parents, my Dad being a roses and veg man, with my Mum more about fruit and flowers. In fairness, like most kids I wasn’t terribly useful, I’d trail along to the allotments and tried, generally unsuccessfully, to set light to a pile of weeds which were too green and with too much soil clinging to the roots. My Dad probably thought it was worth the price of a box of matches to have a bit of peace and quiet! My memories of our flower garden are still quite vivid, even after nearly 60 years, with bearded iris, being Mum’s pride and joy (her favourite was Lily of the Valley though, which I still grow, and offer about 9 different varieties at the nursery). Unfortunately my Mum died when I was 14 so there was a bit of disruption to my horticultural evolvement.

It wasn’t until my twenties, when I’d put my own roots down that my propagating urges re-emerged. But, with offspring of my own to nurture, I had to make do with sowing seeds, of, as was fashionable at the time, many annuals, and vegetables. Importantly, I also joined the Alpine Garden Society, for their amazing seed list, containing thousands of plant seeds, many of which, I’d never heard of. A few years on there was an emerging interest in fuchsia’s and many cuttings started to be taken. About this time my wife had a job working for a major nursery, who also supplied some of the largest high street retailers. A number of these plants came back unsold, and after a bit of negotiation, I was able to ‘recycle’ these at local boot fairs. This, however, was very hit and miss, the plants needed a lot of TLC and whilst it didn’t last very long, it proved a catalyst for things to come. An important lesson learnt was not to try selling plants at boot fairs!

All during this time I had a ‘proper’ job in financial services, which provided a certain flexibility of working hours, with most of the advising part taking place in the evenings, and it allowed me time during the day. A major part of that time was spent in the garden, but a seismic change happened when my Dad purchased a 12’ x 8’ greenhouse for me. My fuchsia acquisition and production accelerated, at its height reaching 200 varieties. With a minimum of 3 cuttings each, potting and housing became a bit problematic, but worse was to come, my first encounter with (but not my last)….VINE WEEVIL! That finished fuchsia’s for me, mainly I think as It coincided with joining the Hardy Plant Society, and finding the local Kent Group had a members plant sales table! Not only that, but they positively encouraged members to bring along suitable offerings, and they just took a small percentage of the sale. This was the turning point for me, I found myself quite shortly (on reflection, with almost indecent haste) on the committee and, excitingly, in charge of the members sales table. The major downside was the group didn’t have indoor meeting during the Summer, so lots of plants weren’t on offer. I put forward the suggestion that we ought to have plant fairs during the summer, perhaps held at members with larger gardens? This definitely accelerated my plant production, the combination of access to interesting and unusual (and affordable) plants from HPS members gardens, a growing ability to propagate these, and the opportunity to sell, had coincided. In my ‘proper’ job, I constantly ran over figures in my mind to try and make this passion a financially viable proposition, but I was a good enough (by then an Independent Financial Adviser in my own company) to assess that it was extremely unlikely to produce enough income to fund a mortgage, especially in the area where we lived.

The other factor, which experience had taught me, is with horticulture, you are completely in the hands of factors outside of your control like the weather. Not just in terms of the growing of plants, but also the selling of them. Droughts and hose pipe bans, on one side, and rain, snow or wind at plant fairs on the other. I thought there was a danger that I would fall out of love, with the vocation I most enjoyed. At the turn of the millennium my ‘proper’ job enabled me to move to a property which gave me more room to grow, from a garden that was 25m x 8m, I now had ¾ of an acre, and I moved 3 transit loads of plants to it, plus my ‘Dad’s’ greenhouse, and added another of a similar size. What I hadn’t quite taken into account was that a garden of that size, also needed maintenance too, and my ‘proper’ job had developed into a ‘PROPER’ job!

So when a plant fair came around there a lot of late evenings spent tidying, staking and generally prettifying. I learnt, mainly from my fellow nurseries, (by this time my fledgling nursery had a name Pineview Plants, named after our house, Genius!) that presentation was important too. I looked up to people like Jenny Maillard of Usual and Unusual plants, who, if my stand didn’t look up to scratch, gave it a quick organisation! Observation of what was being offered and bought also taught me lessons and gave me ideas. From my sales background I learnt not to undersell my plants, if you don’t value your product, you can’t expect it of other people. Having spent most of my working life in an office, I had been dragged, kicking and screaming, into being familiar with a computer. I was able to teach myself how to print labels, and more importantly pictures for labels! Silly as this sounds now, this was a major transformation, with the added use of a laminator these then were re-usable! This small change probably saved me about 3 hours a night, before every plant fair, writing out display labels! It also meant I could sell plants, that weren’t in flower, they didn’t sell as well as the plants that were, but you were still able to turn over stock.

By this time I had got to know people in our new village a bit more, and after making a few enquiries about 12 years ago, I was offered the use of a Polytunnel on a neighbouring farm, it was the last one of a whole field of about 30, but had been abandoned due to being too shady. However, it was ideal for my shade loving plants, the range of which had steadily expanded. There was a water source and a shed with electricity nearby, so with an industrial sized hopper and a pond pump, I was able to water my plants.  This gave me space to lay out the plants and keep them looking good, and I definitely felt we had moved on. In a reorganisation on the farm last year, the nursery has subsequently moved to much more accessible location, but with all the associated upheaval. Normal service is nearly resumed!

In 2012 I was able to take a gradual retirement from my ‘Proper’ job, and indulged in expanding and improving the range of plants I offered. It has enabled me to act as Co-ordinator for the HPS Kent Group’s display in the Great Pavilion at RHS Chelsea, in 2015. In addition, I have put on displays at the RHS Orchid and Early Spring Show at Westminster, earning Silver medals. In 2018 I chaired a RHS Roundtable for assessment for Awards of Garden Merit for Epimedium, and currently act as an assessor, for the RHS Sanguisorba and Persicaria trials at Wisley. I love working in Horticulture!

Colin Moat runs Pineview Plants in partnership with his wife Cindy, please see their flyer below for a list of events they will be attending this year, their website contains plant lists that gives a flavour of some of the plants he has to offer www.pineviewplants.co.uk

He is also Chair and event coordinator for Plant Fairs Roadshow www.plant-fairs.co.uk

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