Charles Williams

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Charles WilliamsCharles is the senior partner of Burncoose Nurseries.

He also owns and runs Caerhays Castle Gardens and Caerhays Estate. Charles’ great grandfather bred the original x williamsii strain of camellias at Caerhays in the 1920s. Caerhays are the holders of The Plant Heritage National  Collection of Magnolias.

Charles is a member of the RHS Rhododendron and Camellia sub committee and has put forward many new magnolias, rhododendrons and camellias for registration and awards.  Charles is the proud recipient of the coveted RHS Victoria Medal of Honour.

Catalogue Introduction from Charles for 2022!

It has been an exceptional year for the nursery and, I suspect, also for everyone else in the business of selling plants. A resurgence of interest in gardening while we were all locked up.

Such has been the scale and speed of stock turnover that the nursery has never been emptier of plants in our 39 years here at Burncoose. Very frustrating, we know, for those of you finding so many of our plants unavailable online but, when you have sold all that you grew, and cannot obtain more from other trade suppliers, there is no other option but a waiting list for new season stock.

Just to give you a small example; we bought in 40 Sequoiadendron giganteum and put them live on the website at 5pm on a Sunday. By 9am on Monday they had all gone! Our tree lines have been empty for half the year as all UK tree growers had sold out by early last spring. Three crops of herbaceous plants were grown here through the last year rather than one or two.

Now that some sort of normality has returned to our lives we obviously hope that we will not see an equally massive post pandemic downturn in our internet sales. Early signs are encouraging that our many new lockdown customers are staying committed to Burncoose. We hope this reflects the speed and efficiency of our packing sheds and the quality of our plants as well as our prices.

Nevertheless there are darker clouds already looming on the horizon. Trade suppliers who have run out of plants last year feel large price rises are justified for next season. Fuel and electricity price inflation is considerable and many of the other raw materials we use growing plants are in short supply and now much more expensive. 

We hope to be completely peat free for all the herbaceous plants grown on the nursery by the end of 2022. Three years before the government deadline and the RHS ban on all plants grown in peat at RHS shows. Quite how we will ever manage to grow rhododendrons and other rare ericaceous plants properly without using any peat remains to be seen. Perhaps a derogation will be allowed? Peat free compost is not cheaper and creates all sorts of new problems (and casualties) with over- and underwatering using new potting materials in the nursery.

Despite inflationary pressures we have tried very hard to limit price rises in this year’s catalogue to rather below where we think the real inflation rate will be by the end of 2022. For the 11th year running that our UK mainland carriage and packing charges remain unchanged. 

Our response to the pandemic surge in our sales, Brexit making it much more difficult to import plants, and the UK government’s push to plant more trees, has been to invest more into our own propagation on the nursery. As so many small trade growers have shut down we can no longer buy liner plants from them and must develop our own stock plant garden for cuttings. We are setting up a large new seed production facility and intend to increase, even further, the range of camellia 171, azalea 60, rhododendron 98 and magnolia 195 varieties which we are growing on from cuttings and seed from the woodland gardens here and at Caerhays Castle Gardens. This investment will take two to three years to yield results but is the legacy of what the pandemic has taught us.

Our roof water collection and recycling systems are coming on apace as we strive to reduce our carbon footprint. Other investments in the nursery and an extension to the main packing shed have made the movement of plants within the nursery more efficient and less labour intensive.

Some of you will have received our first ever mini catalogue last September which was a response to us not seeing you in person last year at Chelsea (in September) or at Hampton Court (in July). All being well, we will have a normal show season next year.

Your response to my suggestion last year that we might well discontinue our paper catalogue altogether was greeted with horror by many of you who wrote and, particularly, in our annual customer survey. By popular demand the paper catalogue will therefore continue but most of you will receive it in the box with your order rather than by post after Christmas. Again you will find featured here lots of new and unusual plants to try out yourselves in your post-covid gardens.

Over 1.45 million people visited the Burncoose website last year. The paper catalogue only begins to hint at the wealth of plant care articles, videos and general gardening advice which you can find online. Our 600 or so plant videos were viewed for 728 24 hour days in the last year alone.

I hope you can have a little smirk at the picture of Biden and Boris standing amidst five months of our landscaping work at the Carbis Bay Hotel.

Thank you, once again, for continuing to shop online with Burncoose!

Yours sincerely

Charles H Williams  VMH 

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