Magazine article Management Today

The Sharp End: How Green Was My Day

Magazine article Management Today

The Sharp End: How Green Was My Day

Article excerpt

Pricking out and potting on, Dave Waller sings the petunia Wonderwave blues.

I'm off to flex my green fingers at Hyde Park's plant nursery. I don't have high hopes. My desk plant, Henry, the only living thing I've ever nurtured, vanished during our last office move. He'd clearly had enough and uprooted. My day starts at 7.30. Early, but it's not so bad strolling across a dewy Hyde Park, with leafless trees silhouetted in the mist. A few straight-backed toffs trot past on horses, in full riding gear. Clearly, popping out to get some milk takes a different form in these parts.

The nursery is 100 metres north of the Serpentine, the park's landmark lake, but it's well hidden by trees. I locate the gate and find myself among a hectare of greenhouses. It's a surreal experience, stumbling on a covert horticultural enterprise in the middle of a huge park, itself an oasis in our bustling capital.

Mike Jones, the nursery's manager, tells me they nurture 1,200 different varieties, producing 500,000 plants a year. As well as supplying the Royal Parks, he has to grow the 12,000 geraniums that brighten the grounds of Buckingham Palace, perhaps the world's most photographed flower beds. And these have to be an exact match for the red of the guards' uniforms. 'Get it wrong and it's the Tower for us,' Mike quips.

We tour the greenhouses and, through row after row of plants, Mike displays an encyclopedic knowledge of Latin names. Some varieties aren't grown anywhere else, the nursery essentially acting as the gene bank It's a vast logistical exercise, a balancing act that involves holding some plants back, pushing some on and guiding others. 'Thank god for computers,' he says. 'I'd need one hell of a fag packet to write all this on.'

My first job is pinching out, moving from plant to plant to pluck bits off and encourage bushier growth. It's like painting the Forth Bridge, says Mike. Looking at the endless forest stretching off into the distance, I can see the challenge.

My fellow pinchers are a mellow bunch. Molika, like most of Mike's team, was a summer casual who stayed. He's a softly spoken African who 'just likes plants'. He likes Catherine Tate, too. But anything must seem entertaining after a day's pinching. It's hardly taxing work. Backed by Capital Radio, I settle into a rhythm, with Will Smith urging me to 'get jiggy with it'. …

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