Hedging Plants Direct has enjoyed an uplift in sales of some 40% in 2020. With a well-established online plant shop and clever use of promotions via social media, husband and wife team - Will and Kylie Bodsworth - have seized the opportunity to increase production to meet the surge in online demand.
“I took to walking around the site with my camera and posting pictures of crops that were looking particularly good,” says Will. “In the past platforms like Facebook seem to have had little impact on our online sales, however, this season it is proving to be a great promotional tool.”
Hedging Plants Direct supplies quality shrubs and container and field-grown trees and hedging. Very much a family business, it was set up in 2009 as the online subsidiary of Original Landscape Design. Established and run by Wills’ parents - Gwynne and Roberta Bodsworth his company supplies retail and commercial customers in Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk with shrubs and trees as well as landscape design services.
With a joint 5ha production area - complete with greenhouses, polytunnels and shade tunnels - Hedging Plants Direct has supplied over 50,000 plants this year via its online portal. Buying in bare-root transplants, the production team pot up and grow on all the stock in containers on-site.
From self-mix to bespoke mix
“We used to self-mix the growing media incorporating our green waste,” explains Will. “Using a 400litre compost mixer purchased back in the 60s, my father worked on the principle that small batches of different mixes were best - rather than one mix fits all.
“In 2018 ICL’s Stuart Gammage persuaded us to trial four pallets of a Levington Advance Solutions mix,” recalls Will. “We used it to grow Lavenders and Fuchsias. The results were so impressive we made the decision, there and then, to switch over completely. We haven’t looked back and now order by the artic lorry, rather than pallet.”
Hedging Plants Direct now use two bespoke peat-based Levington Advance Solutions growing media mixes – a finer one for shrubs and a coarser mix for trees. Among the other ingredients are the fourth-generation controlled release fertilizer Osmocote Exact Hi-End, Micromax premium for trace elements, ICL’s advanced wetting agent H2Gro and Exemptor* (Thiacloprid) for vine weevil control.
Gwynne, who started out as a biochemist before setting up the business, has always put his trust firmly in Osmocote.
“I’ve never felt the need to trial other products,” he says. “Osmocote has proved over and over again to be highly reliable and delivered what we want and need to grow quality crops. While it is perhaps not the cheapest on the market, it saves lots of time and produces a great end result which makes it highly cost-effective.”
Since moving to a bespoke mix, the Bodsworths have moved from Osmocote Exact to Osmocote Exact Hi-End. “With an 8-9month longevity – it is really well tailored to the needs of our shrubs and trees,” says Will. “We no longer have to topdress in the first year.
“For longer term crops, when necessary to top up the nutrition we apply Osmocote Topdress FT. While other products have to be reapplied every six weeks or so, with Osmocote Topdress FT we make just two applications a year. If the crop is over watered or there is heavy rainfall, we know the nutrition is still there and isn’t going to run out prematurely. And, with its Fusion Technology sticky formulation, if the pot falls over the granules remain in place and are not wasted.”
According to Gwynne the Levington Advance Solution mixes have transformed production on the nursery - a sentiment shared by his son. “Since switching to our Levington Advance Solution mixes we’ve seen a massive improvement in quality and our crops are far more uniform,” says Will. “We’re seeing less fungal issues and less mildew – particularly in the Hydrangeas. Delivered in 3m3 bags, we can move it around the nursery with ease to where the team is potting.”
Looking ahead to 2021, the Bodsworths are working closely with the ICL team to overcome a couple of new challenges – peat-reduction and the imminent loss of Exemptor*.
“We will be working with Sam Rivers to begin trials of peat-reduced mixes,” says Will. “Although perhaps the greatest challenge will come from the loss of Exemptor*. Having switched over in 2018 vine weevil has always been well controlled on our nursery – we’ve literally not seen the pest since,” he says.
“In the future we will have to adopt an IPM approach. We produce lots of relatively small batches of different species in different size pots which can also be spaced differently – which all adds to the challenge. In preparation, we’re discussing a new IPM strategy with Sam and his colleague Martin Donnelly.
“The advice from ICL is consistently good,” says Will. “You don’t feel like you’re talking to a salesperson. We’ve worked with three members of the technical team - all have good growing experience. It’s reassuring to know you’re getting advice from a source that has genuine first-hand experience of the challenges as well as the products.”
* The final date for Exemptor disposal, storage and use by all end users 3 February 2021.
Last orders for Exemptor incorporation in the Levington Advance is 22 January 2021 for final delivery by 29 January 2021.