Save Our Small Nurseries.
Let’s start 2014 fighting! Fighting for our rights to the little things in life. It’s often these little things that give us such rich variation, such pleasure and such wonder and, little by little, they are being taken away from us.
Save our Small Nurseries is, obviously, one fight that I feel strongly about. I have a very vested interest and I’m happy to admit it. It is what we stand for at our plant nursery – good old-fashioned variety - so that we don’t all become vast look-alikes. It’s happening all the time; small individual shops disappear into seamless commercial centres,; village shops, post offices, schools all steamrollered into ‘bigger and better’; old wrinkly varieties of fruit and veg, bursting with flavour, but fighting for survival; even our streets and promenades are lined with monobloc plantings which then topple to plagues.
The European Commission makes some enormous blunders – we can all spout classic and glaringly idiotic cases. Well their latest is that they want all plants for selling to be officially registered with full botanical description, legally precise, tagged with individual labels giving detailed naming and growing requirements etc. This type of scheme is already in place but only for plants that are patent protected by Plant Breeders Rights. An immense amount of paperwork and man/hours would be generated. The cost of it would amount to approx. €500 for each variety. Whether propagated from seed or cuttings, the same ruling would apply. It has been calculated that it would mean the death of 95% of small nurseries – myself included.
Now, I know that a pink-flowering plant in a pink pot with its pink label looks very pretty and, maybe, if it’s for a present, ok. But the majority of plants we sell are destined to be taken home and planted in the garden and all the pink trimmings end up in the bin. And, of course, all that pinkness (or whatever colour!) has significantly increased the cost of the plant. Do you really want that?
At my garden centre we do label and price our plants – but as a group thing, not pot by pot. I insist on that because it’s vital to know what you are buying. Furthermore, myself and my staff are available to advise on plantings and help with selections. Wouldn’t you prefer that to a cardboard label that has been mass-produced and tells you that a plant will take full sun – whether you’re in Greenland or the Sahara?
We are fed by lots of small growers (because the large growers all grow the same old things!). These growers are struggling badly – so much is stacked against them nowadays. If one of these growers grows – say – 1000 different varieties, it will cost him half a million euro to comply with this proposed legislation.
Most of these people growing a diverse range of plants are total enthusiasts – they live, breathe and die for their plants. They are not producing in huge numbers but they are passionate to retain diversity. Many are a touch eccentric but their love is there to see. Do we really want to take that away? Imagine garden shows such as Chelsea without its huge diversity of plants – unimaginable, yet possible.
Within Europe, we have access to approximately 75,000 varieties of ornamentals plants through our garden centres but, of those, only around 2000 already have the necessary paperwork. Varieties which are not great sellers are likely to be removed from catalogues simply because the registration cost is not worthwhile. The threat is that we will be left with just a few mass-produced clonal plants.
Ok, it is aggravating when our plants are either un-labelled or incorrectly labelled, when a yellow rose opens up white but it’s a relatively small problem being addressed with a sledge hammer solution. And mistakes will still occur. Don’t we often buy simply because we like the look of a plant – we don’t need or want its pedigree and passport? Some of the pleasure, after all, is in the experimentation!
The directive states that this is for protection of consumers but, all I can see happening is that the conglomerates will push out the little guy, diversity will plummet and prices will, of course, rocket. Who gains from that?
Our gardening heritage of innovation and initiative will be threatened, certainly diminished and probably lost. We need to campaign and lobby for the rejection of this plan. Let’s hope that the (properly-labelled) seeds of this European Garden Initiative will fall on barren ground or our gardens may never be the same again.