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Charles 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 2023!
A year in which our business returned to normal annual growth rates after the excesses of the pandemic years where homeworking led to an explosion of orders and a reduction in stock levels on the nursery that we have never seen before. The nursery is now fully restocked and we have never seen more of our mail order customers in the nursery itself while holidaying in Cornwall.
So what has been our response to price rises for 2023 bearing in mind the massive inflationary increases in the cost of compost, electricity, fuel and packaging? You will be pleased to see that our catalogue prices, especially for all our herbaceous plants, have increased very little. Obviously there have been small price increases where we now offer larger sized plants. Customs duties and paperwork costs have also impacted on some of our plant imports from overseas. Despite the fuel surcharges imposed on courier deliveries our UK mainland packing and delivery costs remain unchanged for the 12th year running. As you will see there are some small price reductions in the catalogue as well.
Why have we been able to afford to do this? In late 2021 and early 2022 we restocked the nursery at pre inflationary times where we were also able to benefit from currency movements in our favour. The pandemic forced us into radical change in our packing shed processes and back office computer systems. As a result we have emerged from covid leaner, fitter and more efficient. Mechanisation has made the movement of plants quicker within the nursery. Other investments have taken place to capture and store roof water as well as expanding our own inhouse propagation team in terms of staff and facilities. We are growing more of the rarer ericaceous trees and shrubs than ever before and our stock plant beds have been considerably expanded as many small growers of specific liner plants did not survive the lockdown years.
It takes time to produce saleable sized plants from our new seed propagation house. Our objective is to expand our production of rhododendron species and Cornish bred rhododendron hybrids over the next two to three years. Rhododendron production from seeds and cuttings is, however, a slow process and there can be propagation disasters along the way. Cressy Knuckey, the granddaughter of Burncoose Nurseries’ original partner, the late David Knuckey, is now leading our propagation efforts with drive and determination. You can begin to see the results in the increased number of new plants added to the catalogue this year.
Another great achievement in the last 18 months has been to pot all our herbaceous plants in green waste compost, produced by a local firm, rather than peat. Not every type of herbaceous plant likes being peat free. Peat free compost also means different watering regimes, less compact compost in the pots and new types of weeds and fungi in the nursery.
We have also stopped selling peat based composts to nursery customers or using peat as a soil improver in gardens which we design and plant in line with government policy.
So far so good, but that is by no means the end of the story. The RHS intend to ban all plants grown in peat from Chelsea and all other shows from 2025. The current government/industry consultation on peat use envisages a total peat ban by 2028. The problem is that all ericaceous (acid loving) trees and shrubs die in more alkaline peat free composts as all our and other people’s experiments have shown over many years. We are not just talking about rhododendrons, camellias and magnolias but virtually the whole range of plant species originating from Chinese, Chilean or New Zealand mountain slopes. Acidic, peaty soils in the wild and that is exactly what they need here to thrive and grow well.
The RHS and the government offer no peat alternative which recognises this specific problem and works. The struggle now is to persuade the authorities that there must be derogations from the forthcoming peat ban for certain specialised categories of plant. Otherwise UK nurseries face being swamped by European growers exporting plants grown in peat. Several European countries rub their hands at the thought of a peat ban here as we have tried to explain to George Eustice, the recent Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and our local MP.
We welcome the new government grants for nurseries to expand tree production in the UK. Our objective here is to grow more saplings of rare and unusual trees which are adapted to climate change and disease resistant. This list is published on our website.
A Chelsea gold medal this year in May reflected the strong performance of our youthful show team after two years of absence from London in May.
The 800 detailed care articles (with photographs) are now fully live on the website after five years hard work. Around 10% of our customers place their orders directly from the care article. The viewing figures for our 600 or so YouTube and website videos of topical tips and ‘how to do things’ remain staggering. 724 (24 hour) viewing days were spent last year alone by online visitors. Our website now acts as a one stop for all your garden advice and information about every plant which we grow.
A nearly inflation free year for our customers in these inflationary times. Please do enjoy some of our new plants yourself for your own garden.
Charles H Williams, VMH