Steering a plant nursery through an age of unprecedented change, with Melanie Asker of Greenwood Plants

Melanie Asker was recently promoted to managing director of Greenwood Plants, supplier to new-build property sector, but increasingly, commercial work and infrastructure.

Listed at no 27 in HortWeek's Top 100 Ornamentals Nurseries ranking, the nursery grows "pretty much everything you can think of" but, a 'G' range comprising the "top 350 plants across most of our orders".

2022 was a record-breaking year for the grower, a year when it changed from an owner-led firm and introduced a management team, developed a new business strategy, a 5-year growth plan and brought sustainability "to the fore of all our corporate values and all we wanted to achieve".

While nurseries and garden retailers continue to wrestle with the prospect of going peat-free, Greenwood Plants made an early decision to get ahead of the curve and has plans to be 100% peat free by the end of 2023:

"It's progressing really well. It's got its challenges, I'm going to be totally candid about that. It was a really big decision for the business - we debated it really heavily at the start of last year... We decided we needed to be completely committed to it for it to work so we had to jump in with both feet which is what we've done."

"It sounds like the change is all about the growing media... but the bigger change is about how we cultivate and grow our plants, that's where the real, resetting of the mindset comes in and that's what we're going through at the moment." With ericaceous and other plants that struggle with peat-free compost, "we just have to tackle them one by one", she says.

She also reflects on the move to peat-free in the context of the general horticulture sector, clients, the supply chain and the wider marketplace. 

Greenwood was named "Sustainable Business of 2022" by the Central South Business Awards, largely down to Greenwood's comprehensive and ambitious sustainability plan which incorporates water efficiency, recycling, peat-free, community 'payback', energy efficiency and renewables, plastic reduction and sustainable packaging.

The nursery has also placed a greater focus on biodiversity benefits lately and in a fast-changing world, the nursery endeavours to "keep abreast of everything from a topical and trend perspective" maintains "as open lines of communication as possible" with clients to help them do that.

Melanie outlines other business initiatives including "Greenwood Choice" sales and collection outlet and speaks about her enthusiastic involvement as a founding member of Women in Horticulture which aims to provide networking opportunities for women in the industry and share ideas.

And finally, she has to make her choice, from a very wide selection, of her Desert Island Plant.

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

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