April Garden Academy

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Back at Barnsdale after several busy weeks in our garden centres. Spring had leapt out of the soil and the first flush of delicate spring flowers had given way to a mass of loud bright blooms. However, there wasn’t time to linger admiring all of the spring flowers as there was work to be done in Adam’s garden! With the help of Adam and also Jody, who is part of the Chelsea Flower Show build team, we picked up from where we had left off last time. More trees were planted, a paved area to place a seat was laid, more stonewalls were built and coping was added to the walls we had previously helped to build. I particularly enjoyed laying the paving, especially as I had always assumed that paving was difficult to do. It was great to learn some basic construction skills in the garden and perhaps will make the Chelsea build a little less daunting.

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From Barnsdale it was a long drive up to Liverpool to visit two nurseries that supply Homebase with plants. Both specialised in bedding, with one producing mainly planted baskets and containers and the other nursery growing pack bedding. I don’t think any of us knew what to expect at these nurseries, we thought they would be big, but it is hard to imagine until you actually see them. Over 40,000 Senetti plants growing in one ‘greenhouse’ is quite a sight. The visits were definitely a good way to get a perspective of just how much needs to be grown to stock the garden centres and also to appreciate the process of getting just a pack of bedding onto our shelves. We saw the complete process from a clever machine that sows seeds, another machine that ‘pots-on’ the young plants, to the huge remote-controlled watering systems that can be turned on at the touch of a button. We also had a go at working on the production line ourselves, labelling trays of bedding and potting on plants.

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It fitted together perfectly that after seeing the nurseries we also visited the depot where deliveries from suppliers arrive and are then divided up between all the garden centres and sent out for delivery. It is a really skilled operation to get the plants in and out as quickly as possible. We all found it fascinating to walk down the long aisles of the warehouse, each bay was dedicated to an individual store, so you could see what each garden centre in the country was going to receive. The plant buying office is also based in the same building so we were able to get an idea of how they plan quantities and manage the difficulty of plant sales being so weather dependant.

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Unfortunately, the weather was dull and damp when we spent a morning with Weber barbeques. We met them at one of the plant nurseries we were visiting and therefore had the luxury of having the barbeques in an empty polytunnel; bizarre but brilliant! The pressure was on for this training session. We were in charge of making our own lunch, on the barbeques of course. Thankfully the lovely people from Weber were there to help and convince us that we could bake a cake on the barbeque. After a sausage bap to get us motivated, we started with bruschetta, toasting the bread on the barbeque before piling it high with tomato and mozzarella. We then cooked a whole chicken and a huge joint of pork (both covered with delicious spices), plus sweet potatoes and served them with broccoli, which we had charred on the barbeque and a salsa verde. We then finished with banana bread, which to our amazement was cooked absolutely perfectly on the barbeque. It was a truly delicious day and not just about stuffing our faces, everything we cooked required a slightly different cooking technique on the barbeque. Direct heat, indirect heat, wrapped in foil, placed on top of a foil tray, wood smoked, turned every two minutes; the most important thing we learnt must have been that barbeques are so much more than burnt sausages.

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Our final supplier visit in April was to garden tool maker, Fiskars. We had another really hands-on day trying out all of the products. Even though we were seventeen floors up in the centre of Birmingham, we luckily had a selection of sticks and branches to test the products on and understand which one was the best for the job. Fiskars was founded in 1649 and they are famously known for creating the orange-handled pair of scissors; the first plastic handled pair of scissors. The simplicity of design is really important for the brand, so it was really interesting to use the different gardening tools and see the clever design in action.

April has been very busy, so I am quite late writing my update. The good news is that tomorrow I’m going up to London to help with the build of Homebase’s Chelsea Flower Show garden. The build has already been underway for just under a week and I’ll be joining Adam Frost and his team for 6 days, during which time the garden will be transformed to the point where plants will be arriving. I can’t wait!

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