Ever wondered where all those lovely bedding plants come from? The chances are it’s this rather large greenhouse in Cumbria.
If you’re lucky enough to own your own greenhouse, you’ll know how much effort goes in to maintaining it. So imagine the work that goes into keeping a five-acre greenhouse in year-round production – which is exactly what the Blomfield family do. Their vast glasshouses – 11 acres in total – set near Whitehaven in Cumbria, stretch almost as far as you can see and produce literally millions of plants all year round.
Anthony Blomfield grew up on the site and now heads up the business. “My grandfather started the nursery in 1949, growing salad crops for local greengrocers,” he explains. Back then, it was a three-acre site with an acre of glass – these days, the site is roughly ten times its original size and cheery yellow Blomfield’s trucks deliver bedding plants the length and breadth of the country – including all the Dobbies stores – all year round.
Pictured above: Anthony Blomfield, pictured second from left with his wife Jayne, daugher Lucy, and parents Mabel and Robin
A growing business
“When I first joined my parents in the nurseries, we did everything by hand between us, but things have gradually evolved over the years,” says Anthony. “We’ve taken on more staff, replaced and expanded the glass, and brought in more technology. Now we have computers to monitor conditions in the glasshouses, machines that fill pots with compost and computerised planting machines – but there’s still a lot done by hand, including all our hanging baskets.
“We all live on site and to be honest we need to, because you’re on call 24 hours a day in case there’s an issue here or with the delivery trucks,” says Anthony. “If there’s a frosty night and something’s broken, we could lose a whole crop, and if there are strong winds we need to keep an eye on the glass –so it’s good to have the family involved and on site because we’ve all got the knowledge to deal with it.”
Despite a lifetime of living alongside the plants, Anthony doesn’t take them for granted. “It’s lovely to see them growing on this scale and because they change with the seasons I never get bored of them.”
Seasons may change, but tastes stay the same
When we visited the nurseries in February, the glasshouse was full of primroses but this will soon change to violas, and then the marigolds and begonias will begin to come through. All this is planned months in advance – for example, Anthony was sowing lobelia and marigolds in February, ready for the end of April.
It seems that our tastes don’t change much when it comes to bedding plants. “Pansies, violas and primroses have always been popular, and after the winter we all seem to want bright colours – they always do much better than the pastel shades,” observes Anthony. “The one thing that’s changed in recent years is a bigger demand for dianthus – that’s really taken off.”
It’s all in the timing
The trickiest part of Anthony’s job is making sure each plant is ready at the right time to meet customers’ demand. “For example, if we have a really wet week, no one will want to buy bedding plants so we need to hold them back and keep them in tip top condition for when the weather clears and everyone gets out into the garden again. Every plant has its own needs and it’s got to be right when it goes out to customers.”
In fact, the business has its own fleet of trucks to ensure its plants arrive at their destination in the best possible condition. “We can load up one of our trucks here and it will deliver plants to Dobbies in Ashford, Kent eight hours later. It’s more expensive, and more work, than using hauliers, but it’s worth it,” observes Anthony. And given the work that goes into growing these beautiful bedding plants, you have to agree.
Image Credit: Will McAllister