You may have gathered that I adore my greenhouse, which Adam built a couple of years ago. The photo above was taken last year and the greenhouse is in there somewhere! Because I have such a ‘thing’ for greenhouses I recently decided to allow North West UK company Gabriel Ash, the only manufacturer to have its entire range endorsed by the Royal Horticultural Society, to feature as a sponsor on my blog because it’s a company I genuinely believe in. I’m originally from the North West too so I was keen to find out more about Gabriel Ash and how they started their company. So, for the 2nd interview in my ‘meet the people’ series I interviewed their sales and marketing manager, Robin Parker…
Q. Hi Robin, I’m really intrigued to know more about when and how Gabriel Ash started its business?
Hi Anna. Gabriel Ash started a long time ago, and actually grew out of our then sister company who manufactured Aluminium greenhouses. We wanted to create a top of the range cedar greenhouse and joined with a Chester joinery company to start Gabriel Ash. We’ve got 70 years of experience manufacturing and engineering greenhouses (I’ve been doing this for 17 years now!) so we like to think we know what we’re doing, and our customers tend to agree, as do the various RHS gardens that house our greenhouses.
Inside the greenhouse at Harlow Carr during my visit before Christmas
Q. What does being endorsed by the RHS actually mean to you?
It means a great deal. The RHS is the pinnacle of gardening in this country (if not the world) and they are massively respected by everyone that knows anything about gardening. To have not only their approval but their endorsement is a huge bonus, not only for us, but for our clients who know that they are purchasing a greenhouse from the ONLY greenhouse company in the world to have their all their products endorsed by this world famous society.
Q. Have you installed your greenhouses at the RHS gardens?
Yes we have, we’ve got greenhouses at a couple of the RHS gardens; RHS Rosemoor in North Devon was the first of the RHS gardens to get a Gabriel Ash greenhouse back in 2004 (before they endorsed us) for their Kitchen Garden. It was one of the larger of our range (a Classic Planthouse) and has now faded to a lovely silvery grey.
The 2nd RHS garden to have a Gabriel Ash structure (well 2 in fact!) is RHS Harlow Carr in Harrogate. In 2009 they asked us to design and install a teaching greenhouse for them as part of their new £3m Bramall learning centre at the gardens, and early in 2010 we installed a bespoke 12ft x 60ft greenhouse that is currently being used to teach the next generation of horticulturalists from all over the Yorkshire area. It makes us proud to know that to date over 35,000 schoolchildren have been weening their horticultural skills in one of our greenhouses. Lizzie Balmforth – the curator at RHS Harlow Carr liked our greenhouses so much that in 2012 they purchased another for their kitchen garden, and appropriately it was our Harlow Carr model!
The Harlow Carr in situ photographed on my visit in January
Q. Do you create designs based on individual requirements, odd garden shapes etc..? What’s the most interesting/tricky greenhouse that Gabriel Ash have installed?
We do manufacture bespoke structures, and I get asked on an almost daily basis if we can replace existing structures exactly as they were in the Victorian era. The reality is that whilst we can manufacture a greenhouse to most sizes and shapes, even Gabriel Ash have their limitations! Sometimes we get a situation that is so tricky that we have to turn the customer down, but not before we’ve given them the benefit of our extensive experience and other options within their garden.
I think the most tricky design we’ve ever installed was a large 6m x 8m structure linking 2 buildings together. It was quite a simple structure, but because of the dimensions everything gets a little trickier as you need to take into account the weight of the structure (and the fact that we want it to still be there in 50 years time!)
Q. What’s your take on sustainability when it comes to using all that lovely wood?
We are quite passionate about sustainability here at Gabriel Ash. We are the only greenhouse manufacturer to have their own PEFC certificate, meaning that not only is the wood that we use PEFC certified but our whole chain of custody is certified to guarantee that any Gabriel Ash greenhouse bought has been made from cedar that is from a responsibly managed forest.
I think you’re right Anna, I think they are becoming more popular as people have more free time and are choosing to spend that time in the garden. Couple that with the increase in food costs and the social desire to be ecologically friendly and ‘grow your own’ and we are seeing that more and more people are buying greenhouses – of all shapes and sizes.
Q. What kind of external factors can affect your business, such as weather or the economic environment?
The weather definitely has an impact on our business. If there is snow on the ground for example then people just aren’t thinking about their garden, which is ironic because its exactly at that time of the year when having a greenhouse lets you go out and enjoy your garden.
The economic climate has effected every company is one way or the other. We realise that whilst we manufacture the highest quality Cedar greenhouses that you can buy, we don’t sell necessities (unless growing is a necessity!) so therefore when customers have their finances squeezed it is the discretional spend on items like greenhouses that will suffer.
Thankfully Gabriel Ash has a good following and because we are such high quality we have managed to weather the storm and we’re starting to see the green shoots of recovery now.
Q. What is the best thing we can do to care for our own greenhouses?
Keep them clean and tidy. It may sound obvious, but clean windows let in more light than dirty ones. Wooden greenhouses need very little maintenance if they are made from Western red cedar (like Gabriel Ash’s) so just keeping them clean is the key, and normal soap and water – or even just water and a brush – will mean your greenhouse lasts longer.
Q. Thanks Robin! Can you give us some more top tips for our greenhouses and cold frames over the next few weeks?
Well thankfully the weather seems to have picked up and whilst we’ll still be getting some frosts the greenhouse should be getting nice and full now. Remember in the summer plants are like people, they need lots of water on hot days, and make sure you open the windows when it gets really hot – unless you’re lucky enough to have a Gabriel Ash greenhouse, in which case the autovents should work just fine.
Well, I certainly found the snoop into Gabriel Ash and the world of greenhouses really very interesting. As for the top tips and care advice I always wash my greenhouse with soapy water and air it before I put my spring seedlings in there. I’m also really enjoying opening the greenhouse in the morning, really makes me feel like summer is on the way!
I can’t wait to do my ‘what’s growing on update’ because there’s lots happening in my greenhouse but I need to find some time to do it! I’ve not stopped sowing and pottering and planting out since the weather got milder and with a new dog to take care of too, writing is somewhat suffering! Reading blogs is my favourite pastime though and I’m missing getting round to reading and commenting on all my favourite blogs so hopefully I can make time for that soon. If only I could get an internet connection in my greenhouse…hmm…now there’s an idea!
How do you make time for blogging and gardening? What’s your best greenhouse top tip?