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Updates about the Horticulture Wales project, along with industry news and opinion.

Environmental Excellence Award 2014 Winner – Quinky Young Plants

08 December 2014

The winner of our Environmental Excellence Award 2014 is Quinky Young Plants, a wholesale nursery growing alpines and herbs peat-free and without the use of any pesticides. As well as its eco-friendly growing method, the business was also praised by our judges for its reuse and recycling, along with its owner’s commitment to promoting a ‘Grown in Wales’ ethos that will help to shorten supply chains…

Horticulture Wales Environmental Excellence Winner - Quinky Young PlantsLocated in picturesque Cilgerran on the Pembrokeshire-Ceredigion border, Quinky Young Plants might be small in scale – the nursery comprises three polytunnels, an outdoor growing area, and limited land for future expansion – yet its ambitions are anything but, with its owner Charles Warner passionate about educating garden centres and their customers about the quality of plants grown in Wales.

Working in the industry for more than three decades having trained at Pershore College and Warwickshire Agricultural College, Charles used to work as Propagation Manager at a large-scale nursery in the West Midlands and was shocked at the amount of waste generated by the need to over-produce in order to satisfy garden centre demand – heated beds were de-rigour, and lorry loads of peat and plastics were wasted. This same period of time – the late 1980s/early 1990s – was also the height of what Charles describes as a culture of “if you have a problem with pests, you spray it with chemicals”, an approach he fundamentally disagreed with, and one he would reject when setting up his own business soon after.

Very much a hands-on plantsman, Charles believes “if you grow a plant hard, and outside, it can deal with it” and Quinky Young Plants sees this principle put into practice. Focusing on alpines such as Phlox, Sempervivum, and Rhodohypoxis that tend to be ignored by larger plug producers, plus a range of culinary herbs, the nursery doesn’t buy in any plugs itself, with all plants self-propagated from cuttings (a set-up which is claimed to be unique to Wales).

Grown in Wales sign (300px * 161px)Quinky sign (300px * 161px)

All plants are grown in peat-free compost containing a slow-release fertiliser and Met 52 bio-insecticide to protect against vine weevil, with artificial heat and light kept to an absolute minimum – a small heated bed is used for some of the herbs when absolutely necessary, but the temperature is kept as low as possible and the bed is always full to capacity. Charles prefers to water by hand, a system he finds is more efficient and uses less water than automated irrigation systems. Similarly, he pots plants by hand rather than using any energy-intensive machinery.

Where possible, plants are grown outside, exposed to the elements to produce a product that is robust and far more capable of surviving in UK climates compared to plants grown overseas in glasshouses or under artificial lighting. Due to this natural hardiness, pest control is hardly an issue at the nursery – slugs, thrips, and aphids don’t cause any lasting damage to the plants. And because pests don’t need to be controlled, the nursery has become a thriving example of biodiversity attracting an increasing number of birds, snakes, and lizards.

The business sells wholesale to other nurseries and garden centres, and Charles operates a merchandising system where customers only invoice for the plants they sell – this means that, particularly during busy periods, he has to restock garden centre benches every week or two. As Pembrokeshire County Council accepts green commercial waste, any plants returned unsold from the garden centres are recycled into soil improver or compost. Other methods the nursery adopts to cut waste include using recyclable trays – purchased at quite an initial expense – reusing plant pots, and passing on old plastic polytunnel skins to a neighbouring builder, who re-uses them as covers.

Charles Warner Quinky Youg Plants

Quinky Young Plants’ customer base spreads from Aberystwyth across to Welshpool, Rhayader, Bridgend, Ross-on-Wye, and Brecon, where its largest single customer is based. All deliveries are carried out by the nursery using its own van, although multiple drop-offs are arranged (as many as six in a single trip) to minimise mileage. One additional recent change has also helped to reduce the impact of transportation – the nursery has shifted from round to square-shaped plant pots, which means it can now take twice as many plants per delivery than it previously could.

The main area where Quinky Young Plants, and Charles as its driving force, really stands out from other nurseries is its wholehearted adoption of ‘Grown in Wales’ as a philosophy. Incorporating bespoke Welsh dragon plant labels and bilingual signs, the nursery actively promotes the concept of ‘Welshness’ and the quality of plants that can be produced here compared to the millions of pounds worth that are imported into the UK, something that Charles himself passionately promotes on social media, through his own blog, through wearing t-shirts emblazoned with slogans such as ‘Peat-free and proud’, and face-to-face with buyers and end-customers when restocking his benches at garden centres.

This quest to educate the general public (and the industry) is best explained by Charles himself, as taken from his blog:

“My guess is that most of the people that shop in garden centres are unaware of the industry that supplies them. They have never seen a glasshouse watered by a computerised gantry system, or a potting machine, or a robotic transplanter. Most people are not aware that the little plant that they buy could easily have started life in a highly-mechanised glasshouse in Israel or Italy or even Africa. Some of these plants are great quality. Some of them are not. Some are grown in conditions approximating those of the UK. Some are not. All of them have been transported vast distances by air and road on the route to your garden. My guess is that very few of them have been grown with the care and consideration that our small, enthusiastic team lavish on our plants.”

Click here to read more about the Horticulture Wales Awards

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