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Meet the people – interview with Robin Parker of Gabriel Ash!

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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.

harlow_carr_new_greenhouse_insideInside 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!

harlow_carr_new_greenhouseThe 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.

greenhouse_tomato_seedlingsQ. Do you think that greenhouses and cold frames are becoming more popular nowadays and why do you think that might be?

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.

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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?

Pink Onions – finding Rosanna at another local market

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I’d never heard of pink onions but as part of my quest to ‘shop locally’ I visited another market in Leeds last weekend and made the discovery. Slightly different to The farmers market at Horsforth, Kirkstall Abbey deli market is actually set in the grounds of a 12th century Cistercian abbey and the stalls include everything from crafts to cheese.

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There was a large selection of produce based loosely around the local theme. I was happy to see Thistlemist Farm who I met at Horsforth last time and I restocked on their amazing soups! They use a combination of home grown and locally sourced farm veg and the soups are made in Leeds, which for me can’t get any more local.

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I was disappointed there were no vegetables for sale? Perhaps a deli market isn’t the place for veg even though the sign for the market kind of indicates there would be some? Never mind, I went to Horsforth market yesterday and did my ‘big shop’ there!  I’ll definitely be going back to Kirkstall though because markets are clearly the way forward and especially in such a lovely setting. Plus, if I visit Headlingley market next weekend that that will be 3 weeks in a row that I’ve managed a weekly shop at a market instead of a supermarket – result!

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One stall that immediately grabbed my attention was the Kirkstall allotment society. I took half a dozen ‘Rosanna’ onion seedlings. I was sold on the fact that they’re ‘not white, not red, they’re pink’. It was enough for me to become interested and then I googled Rosanna for more information when I got home.

Key’s of Lincolnshire describe the pink onion as having, “delicate pink-coloured outer skin and beautiful pink flesh and is exclusive to Key’s of Lincolnshire”. Then Tesco announced last year that they were the exclusive suppliers of this onion that had been grown in the Stour Valley on the Essex/Sussex border by Stourgarden. Exclusive hey, well not anymore.

They are still fairly elusive though with the only seed supplier I’ve found for Rosanna being Thompson & Morgan. I wish I’d bought more seedlings now and I’m very excited to see how they grow and taste. I’m keeping them in my greenhouse until they get considerably larger and will plant them out only when we’re frost free.

kirkstall_deli_market_5Loving the hop box bar!

Speaking of onions, I was hoping to plant my onion sets and potatoes out last weekend, the sun was shining but the ground was far too cold. It wouldn’t have damaged my veggies but they wouldn’t have started to grow, so instead I pottered around and I got my plastic poly tunnels out to start warming up the ground.

As I hoped, this weekend was just brilliant! The ground is warmer and I planted all my onion sets, one row of potatoes, some new perennials from my favourite local nursery B.Whiteley and continued sowing. Two full days of gardening right into the evenings and I’m feeling a few aches! As the saying goes, I’ll sleep tonight!

Have you planted your onions or potatoes out yet? How are your seedlings getting on? Have you had some spring-like weather?

Meet the people – Judi the gardener!

Judi's-first-day-in-Joanna's-garden-Sept12

I love meeting and talking to fellow gardeners and so my new series ‘meet the people’ is a perfect way to do more of it! I’m going to attempt to conduct interviews and publish tips from expert gardeners and fellow allotmenters over the next few weeks.  My first interview is with blogger Judi Samuels from ‘judithegardener.co.uk’. I enjoy reading Judi’s blog and am intrigued by her day job as a professional gardener, which I assume is far more exciting than my office job. On Judi’s ‘about’ page she introduces herself as, “bonkers mad about plants” and her passion for them even comes with a warning!

Q. Hi Judi! I’m intrigued to know more about your passion for gardening? Can you tell us a bit about how and when it all started?
I was about ten when I first put my hands in the soil, my mother used to ask me to pick the stones out from the flower beds. Ever since, I have developed a relationship with gardens. Wherever I’ve lived I have always nurtured whatever there was in a garden and enjoyed adding plants. I have turned a passion, which has grown and grown, into a profession. I studied garden and planting design at Capel Manor in 2008 and this really helped me to build horticultural knowledge and the studying process completely immersed me in my love affair with gardening.

judi-the-gardener-dingly-dell

Why did you choose gardening as a career?
Gardening was the natural progression for me after redundancy in 2010 from an office-based communications job. It was a scary leap but I knew I wanted and needed to make it. I have never looked back and I learn so much each and every day, because there are so many discoveries to make. I also love working with the diversity of people, who I share the joy of gardening and horticulture with.

I do thrive on the independence of running my own small business, I even enjoy all the background work and sometimes it feels like ‘playing shops’, just as I did when I was a young child. There’s always marketing and paperwork, monthly accounts and keeping a constant eye on all the online communications and reading to be done. Believe me, updating my web presence alone could be a full-time job in itself.  I manage my professional profiles on Twitter, Facebook, Shoot Gardening, Landscape Juice Network (LJN), LinkedIn, Skills Pages, Google Place Page and my own blog. Using all these communications seems an integral part of any business these days and is expected, maybe that’s my marketing communications background coming through

Was it expensive to start your own business?
Setting up a business takes time and money.  I have begged and borrowed tools, books and equipment and slowly over time I have replaced them. I try to be diligent about cleaning and sharpening my tools to keep them in good shape for as long as possible. I have developed a penchant for old wooden tools and treated myself to two good pairs of Felco secateurs, which I lovingly look after. I have spent money on marketing, but do use as many free opportunities as possible, most of my work comes to me by word of mouth. I have always felt that if you give people a good experience, then people will want to talk about that with friends and family.

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What’s it like being a gardener in winter?
Winter is a really tough time. I still have the usual bills to pay but without the same level of income. I am currently developing my gardening workshops and would love to secure some more teaching and writing work. I have kept myself busy this winter by working on promoting the Dingly Dells ™ and planting plans, as well blogging and giving gardening workshops. I advise anyone thinking about setting up a gardening business to think about their expenses during the winter and identifying possible income streams. It is a wonderfully comforting feeling when the phone starts ringing again and email notifications of new opportunities start flooding the inbox.

How much time do you spend on your own gardening projects?
I am always developing my own garden in my mind and whenever I’m not working on other people’s gardens, I am longing to get into it. There is a great crossing over between labouring and loving in my own and clients’ gardens. I take just as much pleasure in working in a client’s garden, (especially when I am commissioned to develop it by adding new plants species or creating a Dingly Dell), as I do with my own garden. I enjoy encouraging and enthusing about the relationship clients develop with their gardens. ‘I am bonkers mad about plants and my enthusiasm for them is infectious you have been warned’. This is not just my brand message; this is how I genuinely feel!

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Do you grow any vegetables or herbs? If so, why is that important to you?
In November 2012 I began working with the Prospects Project (a recovery and reintegration project) based at the Welcome Centre (a homeless charity) in Ilford. I am helping them with their allotment site. It’s a huge project that I love and I’ve been giving classroom based learning in basic horticulture along with inside and outside gardening tasks. I asked fellow Twitterers for some seed sponsorship recently and people were amazingly generous with their seed donations.

We are planning on growing herbs, fruits, vegetables and flowers at the plot and just last week made our first indoor sowings of tomatoes, chillies, jalepenos, aubergine and onions. We do have many more seeds to sow over the coming weeks and months. I keep a photo diary of the classroom-based workshops and outdoor activity, which I turn into a blog post each week. I often wonder if anyone reads what I write (still feels a bit self-indulgent) and I am reassured that I am being read, by the fact that you [Anna B] wrote to me after reading my blog and invited me to be interviewed…and here I am!

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Do you think gardeners should plant for wildlife, i.e. bees, birds and butterflies and what do you feel about UK gardeners planting more UK native plants?
In my own and client’s gardens, (when making recommendations for pollen-rich plants) I compile plants lists that includes both native and non-native species, plants that will attract pollinators, such as: Anthriscus sylvestris (Cow Parsley), Osteospermum (Cape Daisies), Scabiosa (Scabious), Astrantias (Masterwort), Echinacea (Coneflower), Achillea millefolium (Yarrow) , Buddjela davidii (Butterfly Bush) but to name just a few. I am a great fan of Graham Stuart Thomas and his book ‘Colour in the Winter Garden’ which in its essence, provides an abundance of plants (including trees) recommendations, that will supply the winter garden with not only scented blooms and coloured stems, but berries and over-wintering insects, so that birds have access to food during the harshest season.

What are your top tips for this year?
I think planting for all seasons would be my greatest wish (therefore, my top tip) I do believe in the richness of diversity and the abundant joy that it brings. Happy Gardening!

Thank you Judi! I hope you enjoy the spring and I look forward to reading more about your projects.

~ ~ ~
I’ve picked up some great tips there on planting for wildlife and about what to consider if you’re going to set up your own business. I hope you enjoyed the interview!

It’s snowing again here today, not quite what I had in mind for the start of spring! I think I’ll do some more seed sowing and hope that by the time they’re through I can pot them on, move them to the greenhouse and then get them outside. What’s the weather like where you are? What will you be doing this week?

Good gardening reads

beancropGardeners are often happy to share..

Something I think gardeners have in common isn’t just a love of gardening itself, but a love of collecting gardening books! I’ve got more gardening books than I have room for. In my early days of gardening I went for ‘how-to’ books but now my collection ranges from 101 easy ideas for your veg garden to learning Latin plant names! So, when I heard that fellow garden blogger Ricki Grady had published a book, I jumped at the chance to add another one to my collection. I ‘met’ Ricki through Blooming Blogs community and downloaded her book Bebop Garden for my kindle.

Bebop Garden

Ricki starts her book with an interesting comparison between gardening and jazz and I must say I really had no idea what to expect at that point but I was happy that this wouldn’t be any ordinary gardening book! I thought it might turn out to be a full on novel but it’s not that and yet it’s not an instructional book either. Ricki glides her way through her past, blending stories from her garden with the things she’s learned. I particularly loved reading about her early days and how she made her garden into what sounds like a wild and creative artistic haven, inspiring her local community with her choice of plants, including some edibles.

Another thing I think gardeners have in common is that they love sharing. From the moment I started mixing with fellow gardeners on my allotment the seeds, plants, veg produce and advice came flooding. Whether gardeners are new and enthusiastic, or older and experienced the passion for their hobby comes across. This is the same for Ricki, she shares her experiences making this an interesting book for beginners and seasoned gardeners.

I could really sense how gardening has nourished Ricki’s life, from the plants she’s grown and collected, to the friends she’s made and even the animals who share her space. She emphasizes the fun of gardening over hard work, promoting gardening for pleasure which is a means for her to become lost in her own world for an hour or for an entire weekend. I would love to actually see Ricki’s garden back then and now, photos are missing from the kindle but I’m not sure if there are photos in the paperback version.

I really enjoyed reading Ricki’s book and I’m always happy to hear about fellow bloggers projects. So, on that subject my next read will be by garden blogger Out of My Shed, her book Veg Street comes out on March 7th and if you want an early insight then Wellywoman has just reviewed it and so has Veg Plotting.

Are you a ‘gardening book collector’ too?

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