Interview - Paul Rochford, owner, Rochfords Nursery

The Rochford family has been involved in horticulture in the Lea Valley area since the mid 19th century. Joseph Rochford Gardens opened its gates in 1974 with 1ha and as Rochfords Nursery has since grown to around 20ha. It was taken over by Paul Rochford in 1976, growing hardy plants for supply to the landscape industry.

Paul Rochford, owner, Rochfords Nursery - image: Paul Rochford
Paul Rochford, owner, Rochfords Nursery - image: Paul Rochford

Rochford has climbed peaks including Aconcagua, Elbrus and Kilimanjaro, and this spring attempted his toughest challenge yet, North America's highest mountain, Denali. His target is to raise £25,000 for Tree Aid and the Kaniyke Project. See www.justgiving.co.uk/paulclimbsdenali.

Q: What was the climb at Denali like?

A: Denali is an incredible place. I'm quite old now and it was the most difficult climbing I've ever done. It was -35 degsC on two or three mornings and you felt your eyeballs freezing. I was on the mountain for three weeks. I was fortunate in only spending three days snowed up where you couldn't do anything. Our group was the first organised group to get to the summit this year on 21-22 May because the weather was poor.

Q: How do you fit expeditions in with your work?

A: I have a good team working for me. That makes such a difference and more power to their elbow. They looked after things fantastically well and kept things ticking over.

Q: How much time does your training take?

A: Most training I do early in the morning and late at night. I was training for this one for four months and did some courses including a weekend of winter mountaineering to get more experience. I could have done with another two months training. I was already fit but you need to be a hard nut.

Q: Are you planning more expeditions?

A: In my head I will do more, but quite where the rest of the (body's) structure comes into it, I don't know. Sweating up a face of ice hanging off a rope with an ice axe and you think: "What am I doing here?" But in the camp when you are warm in your sleeping bag you think: "I've done that - it's amazing." It's a real contrast of emotions a lot of the time.

Denali was the biggest mountaineering challenge I've ever had. Up to 11,000 feet, it was a whiteout. But on the way down for five days there were clear evenings when the sun was setting and you look down a strip of glaciers with mountains rising on either side and the light is incredible, so beautiful, such an experience. You take photos but they're worthless because there are too many shades of white in one shot. So it's all in the head. It's good to be back as well.

We had a family wedding in Arizona so I went from Alaska to Phoenix at 108 degsF.

Q: Do you plan to climb Everest, Carstensz and Vinson, the remaining three highest mountains on each continent?

A: I do see them as targets. I didn't get to the top at Denali because it was getting late and I was going too slowly to get back so the guide called me off. That means that I probably have to do that one again as well, but who knows?

Q: How are the fundraising efforts going?

A: I've raised £8,000-£9,000 and am looking at a fat one on this one in case it's the last.

Q: How is business at Rochfords Nursery?

A: Quite reasonable on the landscape side, but on the cash and carry probably a little bit down on 2011 and maybe not quite so buoyant. The commercial landscape side is steady to reasonably good.

Q: What do you think are the reasons for this?

A: I don't know. Just keep my fingers crossed and hope that it carries on. Having said that, this has been a poor year for plant losses. We had late frosts in February that were devastating and knocked out a lot of stuff. It could be worse than 2011. It was -12 degsC in the Home Counties last year and this year we had -13 degsC after a pretty mild January and things had started moving. Our defences were better than 2011 with good-quality fleece but we lost more stuff and damage has run on and on. It kept turning up. Even when I was away, a bit of heat brought out the last things to die. So we had big losses on stock - with things such as laurels we were selling with the best will in the world and they were coming back.

Q: Do you have expansion plans for the nursery?

A: We had some expansion plans lined up but they were thwarted. The biggest issue going forward is water security really. Because we can't be absolutely cast iron sure on water security, we have to pay more attention to that, which is hampering progress. We have reservoirs but it is getting to the stage where we will have to build more.

CV

The Rochford family has been involved in horticulture in the Lea Valley area since the mid 19th century

1974: Joseph Rochford Gardens opens with 1ha

1976 to date: Owner, Rochfords Nursery - nursery is now 20ha


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