The National Plant Specification (NPS) is "slowly but surely" gaining traction across the industry, partly thanks to demand from "discerning" landscape architects, according to Coles Nurseries key account manager Vince Edwards.
The scheme allows for exact specifications of plant size, ensuring that nurseries’ quotes are like-for-like and buyers receive what they pay for. Edwards told Horticulture Week that as high-end work has picked up following the recession, the importance of landscaping in building schemes has been recognised.
"People want a lasting landscape that’s able to stand up to planting from day one. They want plants to have substantial height, age and maturity," he said. "Architects are becoming more forthright about their designs and it’s great to see more and more drawings now that plants are to be supplied according to the NPS."
However, the landscape trade still seems reticent to use the NPS, he added. At Coles Nurseries’ open day on 3 September, Edwards reminded attendees how useful the NPS can be if they want to be sure that they will get value for money. Coles runs NPS training courses to help buyers understand the system.
He explained: "The NPS is a tool for the buyer to manage numbers and purchases, and get exactly what you’re paying for. It can be a tool to manage budgets so you can show the client costs and also gives you uniformity of product."
A larger pot is "no guarantee" of plant size and could hide a weaker root system, he said. "The container size is just how much compost we’re selling you. Plants don’t always grow as we would like them to each year and sometimes they exceed our expectations. It’s about being honest and truthful."
For some schemes — such as public planting — cheaper, smaller plants may be appropriate, Edwards suggested. "But if we see a drawing with specific heights and grades and sizes, we can quote as accurately as possible. If you ask for a two-litre geranium or lonicera, that’s like walking into a pub and asking for a glass of red wine. Do you want the house plonk or the Burgundy? You have to be specific."
Demanding commercial or residential clients are less understanding if plants are not up to scratch, Edwards pointed out. "When you’re on site there’s no wiggle room in terms of time. The client wants everything to happen that day and if the size of the plants delivered is wrong on the day, that’s too late."
However, Edwards told HW that the NPS is not a perfect tool. He is gathering industry members’ opinions on whether elements such as multi-stem specifications could be tweaked. "Any system like this needs to be kept live and reviewed to keep the NPS fit for purpose."
The NPS is a voluntary scheme and Coles is "probably penalised" upfront for using it due to the higher costs of growing a quality plant. But that is worthwhile over the long-term for the nursery’s reputation, said Edwards, especially when competing on price with European nurseries.
He said he would like the NPS to be mandatory, but suggested this is would never happen because it would be too costly to monitor. However, should end users continue to specify the NPS and reject plants that are not up to scratch, it will become the industry norm, he added.
The NPS is available for free online through CS Design Software. The company also offers additional tools to integrate the full plant lists and specifications into their planting palettes, plans and output in their designs.