From elite football to elite horticulture - ambition and high standards with Creepers' Michael Buck

At the age of 15, Michael Buck, was busy destroying plants in his back garden kicking a football around as at that time he was already getting paid to play and was contemplating a future in the professional game. But he transferred his ambition to the world of horticulture and as head of horticulture at Creepers Nursery, is not beyond singing to plants to get them to flower.

Creepers, which serves a client base predominantely made up of landscape and garden designers and developers, supplied plants for Hamptons Mediterranean Garden at the 2023 RHS Chelsea Flower Show. These included structural shrubs and trees including a 1800-year-old Punica granatum - and other "serious specimens" sourced from Italy in January.  Coaxing the Punica into flower in this year's rather cold, wet spring was a particular challenge:

"We don't have 14m-tall glasshouses so we try to create a microclimate within the nursery - we put them inetween buildings to create the warmth and a good feed".

He discusses the benefits to nurseries of supplying Chelsea show gardens though he admits "I can say there's no benefits health-wise! The stress and strain of being involved insuch a show is vast." On the upside, it bestows, of course invaluable prestige and publicity.

Mediterranean is "a big part" of what Creepers does and naturally the nursery is having to pay close attention to the threat of Xylella fastidiosa, which has ravaged olive and other hosts in countries like Italy and Portugal.

As a result, says Michael, "we have an 'open door' policy [with Defra], we have Defra in once- a week; we are very much on board with them coming in whenever them want. They take create care with imported plants and liaising with clients. "Xylella is bigger than the whole industry, as soon as it comes into the UK, there are big problems".

Import-related issues include delays in hauliers, phyto-sanitary checks slowing down supplies but he says the key is planning and communication through all parts of the supply chain through to the customer.

He talks about shifts in plant fashions and discusses the plants currently in high demand.

In common with the rest of the sector, Creepers Nursery is wrestling with the transition to peat-free growing. Michael talks about how they are approaching it as the mooted peat ban deadline of 2026 nears.

On the skills shortage, Michael sums it up as "challenging" and he explores some of the reasons for it, the way Creepers are handling it and what might help ease the crisis for horticulture. 

As for the future, Michael is looking at bridging his elite-level footballing past with his horticultural present with the idea of Creepers becoming "a centre of excellence" in training relative newcomers to horticulture to "make sure our horticultural standards are the highest they can be at all times".

Presenter: HortWeek senior reporter Rachael Forsyth
Producer: HortWeek digital content manager Christina Taylor

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