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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.

Every year we produce our plant catalogue, which is available by post or you can download the catalogue from our website.

February and March 2018 will be remembered by gardeners for the arrival of ‘The Beast from the East’. Asiatic magnolia flowers were reduced to brown ‘dog messes’ on sticks, evergreen trees and shrubs were so defoliated that there was a spring leaf sweep on the garden paths, and the nurseries saw the worst cold and snow for 30 years or even 40 years.

The resilience of our customers in such adversity and the bounce back in order numbers in April, May and June to beat all previous records was an unexpected surprise. In May alone, our Burncoose website was visited by 202,000 people with the highest order conversion rate which we have ever experienced in the spring season. Thank you all for your support, interest and confidence in our business.

Our website is not simply about selling plants. Many of our customers have used our annual mail order catalogue as a reference point for decades but, now, more than half of the visitors to our site are simply seeking advice about how to grow and care for their plants.

To this end we have put a great deal of effort in the last two years into writing new care articles about hundreds of the individual plants from the many different genus and species which we offer backed by new photographs of how these plants grow and perform in the garden. We have also invested considerable time in showing you which plants might grow well together in herbaceous or shrub borders and woodland gardens alike. These new care articles are backed by scores of new videos giving practical information and advice on everyday problems, worries and issues for all serious gardeners. We are trying to establish the Burncoose website as the modern equivalent of the wonderful Hillier’s manual in more pictorial terms and with new ideas for planting combinations which you might consider. It will take a year or two more of work to produce the end result.

The reputation of mail order plant suppliers is only as good as their packing sheds allow them to be in terms of the speed of despatch of your orders. We are delighted to have been able to process and deliver 89% of your orders in less than 5 days from receipt in the last year. This is rather better than the turnaround times which we quote online of three to five working days.

This has been achieved by modernisations and logistical improvements to our packing sheds for smaller, larger and pallet delivered orders. These prevent delays and logjams in the busy spring season. ‘Click and collect’ direct from the nursery is becoming increasingly popular too and it is good to welcome so many longstanding mail order customers to the nursery for the first time. If you are holidaying in Cornwall in the spring, summer or autumn please do pay us a visit and enjoy a look around our free to enter 30 acre woodland gardens.

We are now moving ahead with a revamp of the main sales area of the nursery and construction of a large new extension to the shop which should be ready by the middle of the year if the planning process proceeds smoothly.

Magnolia 'Purple Globe'Some of the new herbaceous plant introductions to our catalogue this year are featured on the back cover. We are also making a conscious effort to increase the range of rhododendrons which we now offer in response to the closure of other specialist nurseries growing these plants. As usual, we have a whole crop of new magnolia hybrids available which are still relatively unknown but the connoisseurs will hopefully be tempted. Magnolia ‘Purple Globe’ is exceptional and Magnolia ‘Goldfinch’ is performing admirably in the garden here.

Amongst the hundreds of new plants on offer alongside some which are ‘returners’ to the new catalogue do have a look at the pictures of Sorbus folgneri ‘Emiel’ which is stunning in all seasons, Rosa ‘Tuscany Superb’ and Lonicera setifera. I readily admit that these are just a few of my own personal favourites but, hopefully, you too will identify something new which you ‘must have’ for your own garden. That is, of course, the real fun of gardening in experimenting with new and previously unknown plants.

Our new plant labels and plaques enabling you to record or celebrate a major event with a tree or shrub planting is a new idea we hope will support the sale of our larger and more expensive half standard trees.

The number of people following my daily garden diary continues to grow apace (http://thediary.caerhays.co.uk/). Each day I feature a few things flowering or happening in the gardens at Caerhays and Burncoose with photographs on my blog. This has been ongoing for the last three and a half years with me but The Garden Diary actually records garden events way back to 1895 on each day of the year. A little bit of garden history which you can also enjoy. It is a great pity that my father, great uncle and great grandfather did not have a camera to record what they wrote about during that time.

As ever we are most grateful to our Chelsea sponsors; Guy Hands and Terra Firma Capital Partners.

Our wonderful staff in the office, who customers talk to, in the packing shed and on the nursery itself have responded exceptionally well to the continuing growth in our business and make Burncoose Nurseries what it is today.

What a season of contrasts 2018 has been! Very cold in early March, then a very wet spring, then a summer to equal the drought of 1976. More essential early morning watering than I can remember for decades and very similar plant losses from the summer heat as from the earlier March cold. Such is our horticultural ‘lot’ and nothing ever really changes when dealing with plants. Success and disaster in equal measure as we all well know!
Thank you all for your continuing support.

Yours sincerely 

Charles Williams 
December 2018

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Burncoose Nurseries: Gwennap, Redruth, Cornwall TR16 6BJ
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