OR: Please tell us a bit about Stanmer Nursery and the ethos behind what you are doing here. What makes Stanmer Nursery different from other plant nurseries for instance? And what is unique about your location and/or stock?
SC: We’re a modern business that has to survive within a traditional setting. Our location is stunning & unique but we are tucked away. Once people discover us they tend not to shop elsewhere, as we offer a range of each plant categories & within that manage to offer unusual varieties. We are also renowned for spending time with our customers offering plant advice.
OR: At Organic Roofs we are particularly interested in the wild flowers you produce. Could you tell us more about these? What is your favorite species/ plant family / habitat and why?
SC: This derived from my colleague John Gapper and his passion for native chalk downland wild flowers specifically in Brighton & Hove. John started producing plants for the shop which we were priced low to encourage habitats within domestic gardens. He was doing this long before the current trend for wild flowers but the new wave helped the business grow. We then won a grant to produce plug plants for the Nature Improvement project which took it to another level.
OR: Are there any schemes, projects that you participate in or know about that you are particularly proud of or inspired by?
SC: I am particularly proud of playing my part in modernising municipal planting schemes. People used to think of flat, prissy, bedding plants filling areas just to provide colour, I like to think we have changed that in Brighton & Hove by introducing cross category planting, height & pollinators in our schemes. I consulted on The Level planting, which is an excellent example of plant choice but also has a dedicated gardener; a must for maintaining to a high standard.
OR: You are responsible for many of the flower displays in Brighton and Hove’s city parks. What are the best and worst things about working with a local authority like the council? What was your favorite park/display and why?
SC: The difficult thing is being resilient to changing political climates, parties having different agendas & budgets for the parks & open spaces. The best thing is the scale of projects & the impact they have on the public. A well designed planted space can make a huge difference. I had an issue with the old rose beds that took up a lot of space for the return of flowering briefly. I have replaced these with perennial planting which spans the seasons. The best example of this and my favorite spot, is Dyke Road Park. We had resistance to the plans at first, the public, rightly so, can be very protective of the parks but we had incredible feedback once they had matured. Once again, I cannot emphasize enough, a gardener that maintains is of the utmost importance. To sit on the terrace, have a sea view, a fabulous garden to look at & now the BOAT theatre to visit is quite special.
OR: We have been using your seed in our feature plant collection. Could you explain a little more the importance of using locally specific seed and how that supports the wider communities of wild plants in the area?
SC: South Downs a magical place for wildlife. Many of the plants found growing here are unique & support specific groups of invertebrates, particularly pollinating insects. We collect seed from numerous sites on the urban fringe, which ensures healthy, genetic, diversity whilst keeping it of local provenance. We utilise volunteers across the whole process of collecting, propagating & replanting. The sites we are replanting create a link, so all areas of the city have chalk downland meadows, in turn promoting a strong environment for pollination. Local participation encourages interest & understanding in local ecology.
OR: Finally not all seeds germinate successfully. Could you explain why that is and what influences germination?
SC: Recreating the perfect environment in which to grow chalk downland plants is a challenge & each species can have different requirements. The habit of a plant e.g. Upright or spreading, can also effect the germination process. Seed can lay dormant for years then suddenly spring to life. Some need stratification (subjecting to cold) depending on flowering time. The rare plants inevitably are the hardest to germinate but some years we get serendipitous circumstances and get a decent rate of propagation. This is still a learning process for us & it has taken John a long time to come up with a recipe for the compost in which to propagate.
OR: Thank you so much Sarah, see you in the nursery soon!