After weeks of sunshine I’m not quite sure why I visited the Dobies plant nursery on the first rainy day, but I did. Did I say rain? It was more like a monsoon. Thunder was rolling around the Devon hills and low cloud obscured the view down to the coast. But, the weather was soon forgotten as there was so much of interest to see.
So far this year we’ve despatched roughly 250,000 plants, shrubs and trees from our 9-acre nursery at Occombe, near Paignton. Some of these plants are bought in, for example, the citrus trees come from Spain, but many are grown and nurtured on site. And our objective is to grow more and more plants ourselves.
The nursery is looked after by true plantsmen, with many years’ experience and a great passion for what they do. This means that the plants are properly cared for in that they are potted on or cut back when necessary and the pots are spaced in such a way as to allow the plants room to grow and breathe. Thus, reducing the risk of stress and disease.
Coming across a grouping of tall tomato plants shrouded behind white netting Miss Haversham from Great Expectations came instantly to mind. However, these were no jilted brides but heritage tomatoes on the verge of extinction being grown on so that we can return some seed to the Heritage Seed Library for safe keeping. The tomatoes are netted as they are open pollinated and need to be kept true.
Other tomatoes are being grown as a trial to find the best ones to offer our customers next season. The tests will be both subjective, e.g. taste and flavour, but also objective in terms of nutritional content and growth quality.
One glass house is full of perennials, recently sown. Large seed trays are filled with compost by hand and then the seeds are sown by machine. Dependant on variety 1 to 4 seeds are sown per cell and then they are kept at just the right temperature and light level to germinate and grow on. The great sea of trays made me pleased not to be involved in pricking them out!
Outside on the terraces my senses were hit with colour and perfume from a wide mix of plants. Some fairly young plants in 9cm pots and other more mature specimens in 2 litres. I noticed a few deadheads on some plants but my goodness there were plenty of buds to come. Every effort is made to keep the plants healthy and happy prior to despatch.
In the packing shed I noticed that some plants were being despatched with a few roots poking out through the bottom of the pot. This is evidence of a strong root system and of a plant keen to get growing! As soon as these straying roots are removed the plant will begin to lose moisture. So, for the sake of the plant we prefer to leave these stray roots for the customer to remove just prior to removal from the pot and planting. The damp soil will soon enable those roots to spread out and establish.
Likewise, at this late stage of the season some plants will be cut back. This helps to strengthen the root-ball and to encourage new growth. With perennials remember you are not just growing for this year but for next, and the next and the next.