A family-run nursery with a history stretching back five generations, Neasham Nurseries produces over 1.4 million quality seasonal and perennial plants on its 4-acre site near Darlington. Together with wife Suzie, Colin Sanderson – the founder’s great-grandson – specializes in producing the highest quality pot and pack bedding, patio and basket plants. Recently the couple’s son Ben returned home to carry on the family tradition.
In the 1890’s the business set out growing top fruit and vegetables supplying local wholesale markets. By renting in land, in its heyday the fruit and vegetable business grew to 120acres, supplying thriving regional wholesale markets in Middlesborough and Newcastle. By the 1980’s, following the rapid rise of supermarkets, these markets were declining fast.
On leaving school in 1979, Colin joined the family business. Relying on growing expertise handed down through the generations, he began to successfully steer the business in to ornamentals.
Today Neasham Nurseries has 2.25acres of protected growing and produces two main pack bedding crops − approximately 150,000 units in spring and 70,000, mainly Pansy/Viola, in the autumn. Busy year-round, the team produces approximately 220,000 pot, basket and patio plants in 9 and 10.5cm pots. And, as of 2019 has diversified in to 1litre perennials – producing around 40,000 in the first year.
Quality is absolutely central to the business ethos and has led to a loyal customer base.
“We aim to grow a genuine quality product and supply discerning ‘smaller’ customers – ie large independent garden centres and contract grow for Local Authority,” explains Colin. “With little time to devote to marketing, we have traded off our reputation and grown the customer base through recommendation.”
The nursery has a long history of using Levington growing media and relies on two mixes.
In the spring the Sandersons use approximately 350m3 of Levington Advance Pot & Bedding M2 mix. Designed to grow a wide variety of pot and bedding it contains 1.5kg of base nutrition providing quality nutrition for up to four weeks. At this time of year the plugs are actively growing and in July turn around can be as little as two weeks.
“For the last few years we’ve been using ICL’s Pansy and Primula mix for all our autumn/winter production – taking delivery of around 120m3,” says Colin. “It’s a case of horses for courses. Slightly courser in texture and lower in nutrient compared to M2, it promotes a safer, more open root environment and better root establishment.
The Levington Advance Pansy and Primula mix contains Osmocote Bloom controlled release fertilizer (2-3 month longevity), which promotes compact plants. “This is important as it gives us the option to move plants outside in September knowing they will hold and stay a healthy green colour,” explains Colin. “Previously, moving stock outside in the autumn was risky due to possible nutrient leaching. If there was a sudden downpour the plants could often look unhealthy within a week.”
“At one point we switched away from Levington for a couple of years but weren’t happy with the results,” explains Colin. “The growing media just didn’t perform consistently so we switched back to Levington and haven’t looked back. All in all we remain very happy with our Levington mixes – they have been shown to work well in weather extremes, which increasingly seem to have become the norm.
“When growing a quality product, growing media quality and consistency is key - as is supply. With Levington we have the confidence that loads will arrive when agreed and we are always kept well informed - the communication is very good.”
Until recently the facilities and site layout at Neasham’s necessitated growing media being delivered as bulk loads, tipped in to a shed for storage. Recent site improvements have enabled the installation of an Urbinati bale breaker.
“With hindsight I wish we’d done it sooner,” admits Colin. “The bale breaker is saving us time and labour and giving us a better pot and pack fill. Overall it’s doing a much better job as we can now take delivery of our Levington Advance growing media in pro-bales, which helps maintain moisture - rather than the growing media being sat, drying out in a shed."
Over the years the Sandersons have built up a good working relationship with their ICL’s technical area sales manager, Ian Todd. “We tend to see him at least twice a year,” explains Colin. “As well as providing good information and advice, Ian helps keep us abreast of new developments in growing media, nutrition and plant protection. While we’re currently reliant on peat-based growing media, he’s actively encouraging us to start experimenting with peat-reduced mix. On the very odd occasion we have had an issue, Ian has responded quickly - we know he’s always there.”
Having recently completed a commission in the Navy, Ben is currently working alongside his parents gaining valuable practical hands on experience. Meanwhile he’s also studying for a business degree – new skills to complement his families growing credentials honed over five generations.