Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Chelsea Flower Show || Colin Dale Interview

Roger Compton Notcutt
Both of my parents are very into gardening and as a result I feel as though this has influenced me massively. I love flowers and making trips to garden centres (I'm not a total loser I swear) and I also love the idea of growing your own vegetables and fruit; growing your own food and taking pride in what you have grown / are eating.

My parents are currently doing up our garden and as the Chelsea Flower Show has been on at the same time, they have been avidly watching the BBC's screening of it to get inspiration for their own garden. As I too have been watching some of the BBC's Chelsea Flower Show with them, I was very excited to receive the opportunity to interview Colin Dale, head gardener at Notcutts

Notcutts, for those of you who are unknown to them, are a large garden centre company founded way back in 1897 when Roger Crompton Notcutt bought a nursery in Woodridge. Roger later went on to win a gold medal at Chelsea for his Azalea Garden - one of Chelsea's first gold winners. The company has continued to flourish and have excelled in winning various awards at Chelsea, and becoming one of the biggest garden centres, supplying plants for gardens all across the country for over a century.

Below is my interview with Colin Dale:

Colin Dale
How would you describe your role as Head Gardener of Notcutts?
As the Plant Buyer for the group I ensure we purchase the vast majority of plants from UK growers, (over 90%). I choose to buy from UK growers, simply because I believe that they produce a better grown plant, with longer lasting feed in the compost, and tend to be more winter hardy. I would say that my main responsibilities are to provide a good range of garden plants, ensure inspirational displays are created and well maintained and make sure that all the plants we bring into our garden centres should perform well in our customer’s gardens.

Have there been any significant changes to the Notcutts business over the years?
The main changes have to be the development and expansion of the company. We have grown our brand not only by our online presence but have recently opened a new garden centre in Tunbridge Wells, which looks incredible. If you are in the area, I would certainly recommend visiting this garden centre.  It is a garden centre that places gardening and plants at the heart of the shopping experience, reflecting our rich horticultural heritage and expertise.

In regards to changes involving Chelsea; since 2008 Notcutts stopped exhibiting at The Chelsea Flower Show after gaining an impressive 50 gold medals, and I have to confess I’m missing being involved in the planning; build and manning of the exhibitions. You never know what the future holds, but I do continue to visit the Chelsea Flower Show to pick up on trends that our customers might be influenced by.

What got you into horticulture – does is remain to be your favourite part of your job?
I used to work for an independent family owned garden centre in Hertfordshire, which enticed me to attended Pershore Horticultural College for three years. Since then I have worked for Notcutts and within the 30 years I have been there, I’ve had the chance to work on seven different sites. I have worked many different roles, learning many different aspects of horticulture; I’ve managed planterias, managed a garden centre manager and now I’m a plant buyer. I’m very lucky to have worked and continue to work in an industry that I love.

How does your personal garden reflect your work within the business?
It doesn’t. My opinions and tastes can be extremely out of touch with some trends that come through, which is perfectly fine for my personal garden, but not so much when it comes to buying plants to sell in the garden centres. I very much try to keep personal and professional separate, but when you are that passionate about horticulture sometimes, every now and again my personal opinion seeps through. I take note of trends that I personally like and will try to incorporate it into the garden and take note of the trends coming through that I believe would influence the Notcutts customer – to me they are two different things.

The 100th anniversary of Victory Gardens is coming up; do you think this will ignite even more interest in growing your own?
Most certainly, it is a part of our history. It is something our families have done to help make sure rationings could go further and I think a lot of people want to reconnect with that. There is a great pleasure to have when you see your family eating and enjoying the food you have grown with your bear hands; it’s quite romantic if you think about it.

What vegetables could we all be growing now if we were to create some raised beds?
The world is your oyster when it comes to growing vegetables in raised beds and containers. You can grow anything from beetroot, carrot, cauliflower, dwarf french beans and garlic to lettuce, onions, parsnip, radish, spring onion and swede.

Are there any other gardening trends we should know about?
There are three off the top of my head that I think are really important. The first one is high impact planting. It seems as though a lot of people are looking for plants that are visually stunning, yet are easy to care for and are of good value.

Edible flowers such as thyme and pineapple mint are continuing to grow in popularity. People want to create meals in their garden, and seasoning them with herbs is an aspect that has gained a lot of attention. They can also be aesthetically pleasing and give off a wonderful perfume.

The biggest one though, that has made quite an impact is planting with wildlife in mind. Growing meadows and wild flowers, and then taking enjoyment from seeing nature interact with your garden. Ponds and water features are also a great way to entice nature into your garden.

What plants have you seen to be popular this season, particularly in relation to Chelsea Flower Show? 
One plant that I’m very pleased to see has experienced a great revival is the Japanese Maple. They are small trees that offer beautiful autumn foliage; they are known as graceful plants and I couldn’t agree more.

In your opinion what would be in the easiest way to incorporate this into our gardens?
Many varieties are dwarf so these can be grown in a container, decorating a patio with its beauty. When they are young, ensure they enjoy afternoon shade, are protected from strong winds, are kept in consistently moist soil and are also protected from late spring frosts.


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