Wholesale nurseries moving into retail sales

New approaches adopted as wholesalers Hortus Loci and King's Nurseries expand

Straver: Hortus Loci relaunching its Whitewater centre - image: Hortus Loci
Straver: Hortus Loci relaunching its Whitewater centre - image: Hortus Loci

Two contrasting wholesale nurseries are moving into retail sales to meet demand from local customers for specialist plants. The Plant Centre at Hortus Loci in Hook, Hampshire, is the new name for the former Whitewater Nursery & Plant Centre. Hortus Loci set up at the site in 2011 and is a well-known supplier to garden designers, including at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

Founder Mark Straver says Hortus Loci inherited the retail side when it bought the nursery. The Whitewater plant centre needed work and a refresh so it is relaunching under the Hortus Loci name, which he says has a strong reputation because of its Chelsea work. "We're surrounded by five or six big garden centres so we decided for us it's all about plants. That's what we do," he adds.

Hortus Loci grows perennials and is also going more into supplying soft landscaping as well as selling bigger trees to retail customers. "We sell much bigger stuff on the wholesale side but you would be surprised what sells at retail as well - a lot of bigger trees to the general public," says Straver. He adds that 50-year-old olive standards can do well while garden centres tend to sell much smaller specimens.

Hortus Loci is working with Crocus for the first time at Chelsea this year, supplying four RHS/BBC Radio 2 gardens that were announced at the end of March to feature on Royal Hospital Way. "It's a joint venture between us and Crocus to supply the plants at short notice," he explains. "It's nice to be working together."

Straver formerly worked for Crocus before setting up Hortus Loci, which is also supplying Charlotte Harris's RBC garden, Andrew Wilson/Gavin McWilliam's Wellington College garden, Lee Bestall's Covent Garden garden, Nigel Dunnett's show feature and Catherine MacDonald's Seedlip garden at Chelsea this year. He says plants in demand are "very varied" but the nursery is growing licorice and big hops for the first time.

King's Nurseries

Meanwhile, King's Nurseries in Garthmyl, Wales, has outgrown its previous wholesale growing site and moved to a new site where it has 65,000sq ft of new glass to grow for wholesale and a new retail market. Co-owner Marcus King says funding came from HSBC after attempts to secure grants from Welsh Government agency Business Wales proved unsuccessful. He wanted grants for water storage towers and thermal screens but says he feels funding usually goes to agriculture before horticulture.

Co-owner Claire King explains that they moved on from a site they had run for 20 years and other rented areas to meet demand. The bank saw how the business has grown over the years so was keen to support it, she adds.

The nursery grows bedding from March to June and opens to the public for direct sales at those times. Otherwise, it contract grows for amenity nurseries such as Dingle - where Marcus King worked for 11 years - Wyevale and Boningale.

He says retail is more profitable than wholesale and the two can run together. He wants to expand wholesale supply in the area now that he has the capacity. Current wholesale bedding customers include market traders and hotels. His advice to those who want to expand is: "Go for it." He adds: "We started small and gradually expanded. Don't get too big too soon."

Straver says Hortus Loci is "the UK's most experienced plant sourcing operation", "the most comprehensive service in the business" and "the fastest-growing horticultural wholesale nursery in the UK" on its 17-acre site.

At Kings, four new jobs have been created in the local area as a result of the development - one full-time role and three part-time seasonal roles.

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