We’ve decided to write a series of posts on the subject of starting your own plant nursery business. Partly in reply to the many emails we receive on the subject and partly because we derive so much pleasure from growing plants.
As we have so much to say we’re presenting the materials as a series of posts to ensure we get across the really valuable stuff in some detail so you can gain the most benefit.
Part 1 – The basics
I’m not even sure what we are doing really amounts to a plant nursery as such. I guess you’d call it a sort of part time hobby that has grown over the last few years. Not only it is great stress buster it also brings in some welcome funds. It won’t make you a millionaire, at least not overnight, but if you are prepared to work hard I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with what you can achieve.
My advice is don’t stretch yourself too much in the beginning. Perhaps start with maybe a handful of plants and feel your way from there. It’s fairly simple to get to started and if you’re anything like us you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it years ago!
You see I firmly believe small growers like you and I can compete with the larger garden centres at so many levels. The most obvious advantage we have is we don’t have hundreds if not thousands of pounds of overheads.
That to me is the secret, only invest what you can afford and never borrow money to start your business. You don’t need to, just keep it small and when it’s going well plan for something much bigger. If you’d prefer to grow just a few varieties of you choice then that’s also fine. Above all enjoy the experience … it’s meant to be fun!
You might even consider branching out (excuse the pun) into selling your plants through a small web site? There are several tools out there that make it easy to set up your own shop on line so do your research and you can started for free if you use PayPal for example. PayPal will take around 3% in charges which I think is a small price to pay given you are using an established payment provider and all the benefits that go with it.
Where to begin?
You are going to face a few decisions along the way and perhaps the most challenging is how do I get started?
When we started we both did loads of research on plants and more specifically learning the various plant names. We set ourselves a target to learn the names of at least five plants a week. Appreciate this doesn’t sound like a lot but setting realistic targets makes it more likely you will achieve them. So be fair with yourself or you’ll get fed up before you’ve even started.
I know John read lots of books and researched other people’s stories and what successful growers were doing right and where the not so successful ones were going wrong.
We also spoke to lots of people we knew to find out how and why they buy plants. The results were interesting, most replied it was therapy wandering through a collection of plants and imagining how the plants would look in their own garden. They also said when they head to the garden centre they’re usually already prepared to spend money, which is great news for the small grower. All we need to do is persuade them to buy from us instead.
What should I grow?
That’s an easy one. Grow what your customers want which isn’t quite as simple as it sounds, but you can help yourself by getting a head start. Take a trip to your local garden centre and wander around taking a sneak peak in the trolleys. This will give you a pretty good idea what people are buying. Let’s call it homework. 🙂
The garden centre industry spends literally millions of pounds a year on researching what’s in and what’s not, so if they have loads of Japanese maples dotted around (as they seem to at the moment) then there is surely a market for Japanese Maples.
If you’re planning on keeping your nursery small it’s probably a good idea to focus on one plant type. Choose something your really passionate about and grow lots of varieties, including a few rare varieties. It will help you to remain focused and it’s easier keeping one plant group healthy than managing lots of different ones.
Perhaps you have a passion for roses, or rhododendrons, or maybe you’re into trees? All I would say when it comes to trees your going to need to be prepared for a lot of heavy lifting and you’ll need plenty of space so perhaps they’re best left to the big growers.
Is it legal to sell plants from my back garden?
Yes but you can’t simply propagate anything and expect to be able to sell it. You need to learn about Plant Breeders Rights and then forget all about it. I’m serious, don’t waste time working out if you are within the law, simply invest in the older varieties as they tend to be pre-PBR and you should be fine. Always check the label on the plant before you buy and if that doesn’t help jump on the Internet and see what information is out there on the variety. Last but no means least you can always ask the garden centre or nursery where you bought the plant.
But what if no one wants to buy my plants?
It can be quite daunting at first and we all experience doubts when kick starting a new venture. The way I look at it is if you don’t make a start how can you expect to succeed? We were exactly the same three years ago when we started growing our own plants, but after much effort we’ve created what you might call our own little plant nursery right in our back garden which is stocked with a range of shrubs and old fashioned cottage favourites ready for anyone that wants to buy. I firmly believe if you build it they will come … now where have I heard that before?
Next time in part 2 we’ll look at how to set up your growing space, how to kick start your collection from softwood cuttings and the equipment you’ll need to get you started.
Hope you found this useful.