Interview - Rosy Hardy, owner, Hardy's Cottage Garden Plants

In two weeks' time, Rosy Hardy could be crowned the most successful woman in Chelsea Flower Show history. With one more gold to add to the 14 in her trophy cabinet, she would outstrip Jekka McVicar to hold the title on her own.

Interview - Rosy Hardy, owner, Hardy's Cottage Garden Plants - image: HW
Interview - Rosy Hardy, owner, Hardy's Cottage Garden Plants - image: HW

Should she reach the magic number it would surely be doubly satisfying given the challenge posed by this year's weather. "It's going to be like a very difficult early Chelsea because the plant material is not coming through and maturing properly," warns Hardy.

"If we do get gold this time we will be the most successful, but we have got a much bigger stand this year - the most difficult year we have had to grow plants - and we are on a bigger stand. It's always the way, but that's life."

Despite the challenging conditions, the show plant area at Hardy HQ in Hampshire is packed with immaculate material. It is bursting with new growth and arranged into plots for various projects. It is supplying the Yorkshire Hardy Plants Society exhibit, Philippa Pearson's Victorian Aviary Garden and David Domoney's Ace of Diamonds offering, not to mention the 20-plus shows Hardy's will be at this year.

"There is a lot coming up," she explains. "It's all growing now, but it still isn't rooting yet. There are a lot of pots that look like they have fantastic plant material in them, which they have, but it's still not rooting down and filling up the pot as fast as you would expect it to. It is because the nights are still so cold, so the pot temperature is still quite cool. It's nowhere near what the ambient air temperature is."

But Hardy's is used to such tribulations, managing whatever the weather has thrown at it for nearly 20 seasons. Perhaps that is why Hardy ranks determination as the key quality for any aspiring Chelsea exhibitor, though she claims it is her husband, Rob, who gets the most pleasure from doing the shows.

"It's one of those shows that you have this love-hate relationship with because it's always difficult to get everything ready," she admits. Once you've done it, the accolade that you get, there's nothing else that can beat it. I would love to stop doing it, but it's one of those things that you have to do - it's good for the nursery, it's good for us. So however much you hate it, you have to do it."

One aspect Hardy says is particularly difficult is the attention that winning brings. Far from basking in the glory, she dreads waiting by the stand to be complimented. "I don't know whether it's my upbringing and being typically British, but I'm always thinking, 'That's fine, let's go on to something else'," she says.

But her modesty should not be mistaken for shyness, as she says she loves small plant shows where she can engage with enthusiastic gardeners. She defines herself not as a gardener, but rather a plantsman, claiming the home garden is nothing to behold but an untidy collection of plants.

"I enjoy growing plants, I love seeing how they grow and I can tell people how to grow them themselves in the garden because I know what they do. I have watched and studied them and seen how they react to different conditions. But it's like painters and decorators - their houses are the worst to go into because they are never decorated, like our garden - it's not really a garden."

Despite the accolades it heaps on her, Hardy can be critical of the RHS. Although she says that she is a member of the herbaceous committee, she quickly adds: "For now."

"You can't complain unless you are inside and you know what's going on, so you might as well be in there and find out. We'll see how long I stay on and do it. At the moment it seems to be fine, but it will depend on what the RHS strategy is and what's going to happen there."

Among her concerns is the management of Hampton Court, where she fears the new marquee's position could cause problems, chief among them flooding. She is also critical of its magazine, The Garden, which she says is too similar to other coffee-table offerings and no longer focuses on horticulture and good gardening sense.

"It should be an informative magazine on things like how to do your pruning, far more so than just the little bit at the back on pests and diseases. A lot of people have forgotten the basics, or were never taught them. I mean a lot of people were never taught to dig properly - it's as bad as that.

"The RHS has got to get back to basic horticulture. It should make sure its own gardens are kept up properly and that it uses modern techniques because it is still not up to date. It still goes on and on about things like splitting plants with forks. There is no need to. As nurserymen we never do things like that - we cut things up."

She has praise for the gardening body too, though, acknowledging the new show at Hyde Hall, an idea she has long championed in a bid to get the organisation to cut the cost of shows and promote its own sites. Chelsea's new plant award also comes in for cautious praise - indeed, Hardy's will likely enter its two new varieties this year.

1981-84: Writtle College, HND commercial horticulture
1984-85: Joins West Coast Growers, growing carrots, sprouts and cabbages
1985-86: Works for Emmetts of Windsor
1986-87: Moss End Farm Shop
1987: Begins selling plants at car boot sales
1991: Sets up Cottage Garden Plants at Laverstoke Park, Hampshire
1992: First year at Chelsea, wins silver
1995: Moves company down the road to Whitchurch under name Hardy's
Cottage Garden Plants

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Sign up now
Already registered?
Sign in

Read These Next

Business planning - Managing price volatility

Business planning - Managing price volatility

There are options to help you manage the impact of exchange rate fluctuations when buying from abroad, Neville Stein advises.



The range of colours and flowering times makes for cheerful and economic displays, Miranda Kimberley reports.

Pitches - seeds and consumables

Pitches - seeds and consumables

The right seeding and inputs are essential for keeping grass in top condition and ensuring that pitches look and perform at their best, says Sally Drury.

Opinion... Standardisation good for the trade

Opinion... Standardisation good for the trade

Horticulture could benefit from streamlining in the supply chain.

Opinion... Get rid of plastics in Horticulture

Opinion... Get rid of plastics in Horticulture

Blue Planet II eloquently showed the rich tapestry of life in the oceans. It also focused public awareness on plastic pollution damaging wildlife.

Opinion... Gardening needs better promotion

Opinion... Gardening needs better promotion

British horticultural firms and organisations have not been the best at working together to promote our industry.

Follow us on:
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Google +
Horticulture Jobs
More Horticulture Jobs

Horticulture Week Top 60 Ornamentals nurseries

See our exclusive ranking of ornamentals nurseries by annual turnover. 

Tim Edwards

Boningales Nursery chairman Tim Edwards on the business of ornamentals production

Read Tim Edwards

Pest & Disease Tracker bulletin 

The latest pest and disease alerts, how to treat them, plus EAMU updates, sent direct to your inbox.

Sign up here

Are you a landscape supplier?

Horticulture Week Landscape Project Leads

If so, you should be receiving our new service for Horticulture Week subscribers delivering landscape project leads from live, approved, planning applications across the UK.

Peter Seabrook

Inspiration and insight from travels around the horticultural world

Read more Peter Seabrook articles