Welcome to my substack, where I will be talking (and gossiping) about new plants.
As some of you may know, I was with Thompson & Morgan for 18 years, up until moving to freelance six years ago. During my time at Thompson & Morgan, I was the new product development manager, bringing in tons of new plants, and inventing a few myself. I will no doubt tell you more about those over the next few months, as I develop my substack. Is it cool to refer to it in that way, by calling it a substack, or should I call it a newsletter?
Regardless… I now have a varied portfolio of work, and work for many companies, creating content, and basically sniffing out new ideas, and new plants to share with my followers. I’m still on the road quite a lot, visiting trial grounds, getting behind the scenes at breeding grounds (i like to refer to it as getting into the kitchen!), and trying to find the best flat white in a garden centre.
I’m aware that I see a lot of new plants, and probably have more ideas than the Instagram algorithm would be happy with me sharing, so at the risk of spamming the social media sphere, here is where I will indulge myself in yapping on about new plants until the cows come home. If you’re from overseas, you might not get that phrase, and you’re probably think I’m crazy.
When somebody asks me what my hobby is, I feel quite two-dimensional, because all I can say is ‘plants’. My career is my passion, my passion is my career, that’s how it works.
Before I start gossiping on about new plants that I saw on my recent trip to The Netherlands, I think it would be useful for you if I just update you on my career thus far…
As a child, I really loved plants. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents, and this was their passion as well. I often wonder, if their passion had been something different, like sheep, would I be a shepherd now? I do like plaid.
My earliest memories are to do with plants, in fact, my very earliest memory attached to a plant is really quite tragic. We grew some cuttings of Tradescantia at school, in the classroom. We rooted them in water, and then potted them all. We got to take the plants home, and I thought it would be a nice idea to plant mine into the garden, despite it being a houseplant. Anyway, I dug the hole, stepped back, and destroyed the plant under my shoe. I cried for hours. It’s still kind of difficult to think about it now.
So, I soon planted lots more things. I was amazed at the vegetables that my dad grew, peas, radishes, runner beans. And I was soon doing the same. I even had a peach tree. It always had peach leaf curl, so we would spend most of the summer picking the leaves off by hand. I don’t think it ever recovered, in any season. Let alone give us our favourite emoji.
I really loved plants. I also really loved money. And I think I’ve always had quite an entrepreneurial spirit, even from a young age. Or perhaps it was because my parents didn’t give me much pocket money. I started to sell the plants, at the end of the driveway, and at the local market. My grandparents did the same, so I guess I was just copying them. But it was really good for a young person - to be encouraged to make my own money in this way.
I was the only teenage male member of the local WI market. Make of that what you will!
School wasn’t that much fun, so it was great to have the refuge of plants at weekends and evenings. I guess this gave me even more of a passion, and I’m really grateful for that as I sit here today.
Believe it or not, we actually worked on the school garden. But it wasn’t a cool thing to do, so we hid it from our school friends. Youngsters these days find it hard to believe that plants were really NOT cool, once upon a time! Oh well, I was happy selling plants, and making more money than my school friends had, so that was good.
Visiting the careers advisor wasn’t really that fruitful, they just suggested florist or landscape gardener, which is great but doesn’t really represent the breadth of careers that you can have in horticulture. So, I just stumbled forward, not really knowing what to do. Luckily, in my local area, there is a horticultural college. So, naturally, I signed up.
A national diploma in horticulture; that’s what I did. It was quite general, so there was tonnes of stuff I wasn’t good at, but I always thrashed the others on the plant identification and biology lessons! Take that! It was a two year course, but I still wasn’t a confident young man, so I didn’t really plan ahead, and didn’t fancy going to university. So I kind of just stumbled towards the end of the course…
So, one day, I opened up the local newspaper, and saw a competition to design a garden at Thompson & Morgan headquarters in Suffolk, in conjunction with BBC Radio Suffolk. I put an entry together, filled the borders with plants that were raised in the Suffolk area, and won the competition. This was fab. I didn’t win a job though. However, a week later, I wrote a letter and asked for one.
I was taken on as a horticultural apprentice, shadowing the horticultural manager. Within the first week, we drove to London to collect a black flower delphinium. Within a month, I was flying to Scotland on my own to collect a star shaped Petunia. I also had to get a passport in order to go on my first trip to Holland, to seek out new plants with my manager!
I was soon helping out with many new plant introductions, and putting together catalogues myself as well. I got to know a lot of suppliers, members of the press, and how the industry worked. I learn how to find new plants, how to recognise new plants, and how to market new plants. I was writing catalogue copy, seed packets, and preparing press materials. You could say this was a dream job… well yes, it WAS a dream job.
As I write more substack editions, I will tell you more about the new plants I introduced, as it went on for years. Not just brand-new plants, but new ways of looking at existing plants. This also pushed me into media work, something shy me would never have considered. However, as the guy going out and finding the plants, I was the best guy to talk about those plants.
I was so nervous when I first started doing TV, but with everything, you soon get used to it. Practice really does make perfect, as they say. I usually try to avoid cheesy sayings, but there you go.
It just kind of ballooned from there, more TV happened, social media was invented, I signed up, and the rest is history...
After a few years, I was inspired to see how I could develop my portfolio into a mixed bag of work. So, I was ready to spread my wings. I have now been freelance for about six years, and do a whole range of jobs. I also use my social media as a visual CV, showing what I do, and people will book me for work on the back of that.
I’m also very good at saying yes to anything. Even things that I can’t do. But, that’s the only way you learn! And I haven’t come unstuck, yet…
From creating a jungle suite in a hotel room to teaching Japanese students about English container planting, I’ve ticked a lot of horticultural boxes!
I’ve developed some really great relationships in the industry, and I love to share new plants and trends with my followers and audience. We don’t talk about new plants enough. New plants with a purpose are the best type, plants that improve the ones we already have- which could benefit you, and your wildlife.
I’m still popping up on TV from time to time, and I like to make sure I include a few new and unknown plants, not the usual ones would be seen in the DIY store. Although I am partial to a nice ombré Hebe! I really like to support the industry, and make sure that people see and appreciate commercial horticulture. You can see me ranting about this on LinkedIn from time to time too, if it takes your fancy! ;)
So, I really hope you will choose to sign up to my substack, where we will be gossiping about new plants, the industry, and developing trends and ideas.
There will be tons of confidential information here (perhaps!), so I hope you lap it up! And, take a few ideas home…
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Will I have to pay for this?
Great to see your substack/newsletter/whatever and find out more about you and I'm sure plenty of plants that will be new to me