Magazine article The Spectator

Changing Habits

Magazine article The Spectator

Changing Habits

Article excerpt

I suppose I shall always be one of life's urchins, pressing my nose up against the sweet-shop window. I know the value, superiority and appeal of pineapple chunks over Dolly Mixtures but cannot cash in on my knowledge. Some years ago it occurred to me, as I suppose it must have occurred to many others, that there would be a substantial change in gardening habits and preoccupations in this country, as people adjusted to greater demands at work and increased pressures to 'enjoy' their leisure time. Thirty years ago, people were more philosophical about gardening; it might be damned hard work but that very work brought its own rewards. Who thinks like that now?

A direct result of changing attitudes has been the exponential rise in the popularity amongst amateur gardeners of 'young plants', often called, generically, 'plugs', for potting up, growing on and then planting out in spring. This is in preference to the cheaper but more time-consuming business of sowing seed. The enormous increase in interest in what are loosely, and inelegantly, called 'containers', particularly amongst people who had not heretofore shown a tot of interest in gardening, has hiked demand for easy-to-grow tender plants which you could either look after on a windowsill for a few weeks or put straight into tubs or hanging baskets, and put outside when the danger of frost was past.

Such changes offered opportunities for anyone prepared to grasp them. Yet, did I do anything constructive about it? What do you think? Both entrepreneurial spirit and financial muscle are so lacking in me, that I could never seriously consider buying into a nursery operation changing from, say, increasingly unprofitable tomato production to the rearing of 'plugs'.

Others, often not from traditional horticultural backgrounds, have seen the gap, and headed for it. In 1990, R. Delamore Ltd was a flagging chrysanthemum nursery on good, light fen soil near Wisbech, when it was bought by Peter Wood, a youngish chap looking to get out of commodity broking, and his wife, Ann, a journalist. Delamore's is not a household name, nor ever likely to be, for it is a nursery which raises cuttings to sell mainly to commercial growers, and has no direct dealings with the public. Yet it produces 1.5 million 'plugs' a week between January and August, most of which go to other commercial growers to grow on, but 25 per cent of which are offered to gardeners through horticultural mail-order catalogues, garden centres and, increasingly, the Internet. …

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