Garden School:

Garden School:
Teaching this week: nothing other than self-reliance, as I'm on holiday all week, yay!

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Plant Passports: possibly the final word?

After a hectic week of the "small" plant growers of the UK collectively shouting at APHA (Animal and Plant Health Authority) concerning the unworkable and unenforceable new Plant Passports (PPs) Directive which, as it stood, was the DEATH of plant sales in the UK - cheers and applause, APHA have changed their guidance.

For a while, they were telling us that we needed to undergo Registration (free, quick, easy) AND to also apply for Authorisation to Issue Plant Passports (PPs), which is potentially very expensive.

This is now their policy concerning the new Plant Passports (PPs) Directive, as it applies to those of us who propagate our own plants at home:

" For all these situations you would only be required to be registered. (ie You are growing the plants yourself, and selling them face-to-face; you are growing them yourself, advertising them online, but handing them over face-to-face with money exchanging hands on the doorstep; you are growing them yourself, advertising them online, taking payment online (ie Paypal etc) then handing the plant over face-to-face.)"

In a nutshell, if you sell plants by post/courier, ie not local, then you need to do Registration, and you also need to go through the (expensive) Authorisation process as all plant movements require the plants to have PPs.

However, if you sell plants face-to-face, ie from your garden, at boot fairs, locally, then you do need to do Registration, but you don't need to issue PPs.

Thank heavens for that! A huge sigh of relief is now wafting up from all the millions of specialist "amateur" growers, the hobbyists, the clubs, the charities, and all of us who supplement our jobs/pensions with selling a few plants on the side.

The email finishes:

"Our guidance on this has changed following feedback and a review of the application process. As we deal more with the application side rather than the specifics of policy, we can only follow the guidance we are given, but I apologise that the initial guidance you were given on this has changed."

Yay! That beeping sound is APHA reversing their decisions, changing their minds, responding to our somewhat heated feedback, and amending the restrictions! So hooray for common sense, and well done to everyone who pestered APHA with endless emails!

Sunday, 19 January 2020

Salix caprea - dead or alive?

I had an email from a chap called Eddie yesterday - Hi, Eddie! *waves*.

He has a couple of really sickly-looking miniature weeping willows (the grafted ones) and he's wondering if they'll be  live again, or whether they are dead.

Here's the first photo, and oh dear, it does look a bit sad, doesn't it?

Mind you, almost everything is looking sad, or beyond sad, at the moment, which is not unreasonable considering that we are just about in the middle of winter.

(What do you consider Winter to be? I think Winter is Dec, Jan Feb, spring is then Mar, April, May: summer is June, July and Aug, and autumn is Sept, Oct and Nov. Seems fair to me?)

Here's the other photo, the right-hand tree is also looking very sad.

So, what do I think?

Well, first the good news: there are some small branches there, Eddie, which are pale brown in colour, can you see them? There's one going across in front, in this picture. Those are almost definitely still alive.

More good news: all willows look like this at this time of year. Usually they drop the dead leaves, so they don't look quite so alarming.

So, what would I advise?

Firstly, "wait until spring" - whatever you do, don't be tempted to chop anything off, just because it looks dead. With these little grafted trees, cutting them back ruins their form, and if  you are too heavy-handed, you could lose all the lovely weeping branches altogether. So don't try to "tidy up" the upper part.

But in the meantime, you can make them look better by very gently cupping your hand loosely around each branch, and running it downwards to gently nudge off the dead leaves.

Sweep them all up, get rid of them.

Then look at the surface of the pots - they are both covered with green stuff, and from this distance it looks like mostly Marchantia, or Liverworts. This is really not helping the trees, as they are stealing all the nutrients and a lot of the moisture, and willows need their water!

So, get something like an old pencil and see if you can get rid of them. I'd put the pot up on a bench or table to make it easier to work with, and wear eye protection or just be careful not to get a branch in the eye. Lever our the top layer - you'll probably find that you can peel off whole slabs of Liverwort, which is strangely satisfying.

Get it all off, then very carefully and gently check around the trunk, at ground level, to make sure you got it all. If you leave just one bit, it will regrow. You might need to use a fingernail to very, very gently remove the Liverwort from the base of the trunk. I'm trying not to use the word "scrape", as you really don't want to damage the bark.

Top up the pots, as you will have removed a good inch of the top layer, with some fresh compost, and maybe a layer of mulch on top.

Remove those labels: labels with elastic ties can often strangle a small plant, because the wind makes them twizzle round tighter and tighter, and those plastic tickets will degrade in sunlight, so one day you'll come back to find bits of fractured plastic all over the ground and no sign of the label.

I always suggest that people get themselves a Garden Notebook, in which they can make notes of when they buy plants, stick in the labels and the receipts, print out photos and stick them in, write comments about parts of the garden which are really good one year, or which are not so good, etc. So pop the labels in your Garden Notebook. 

Then replace the pots, having taken the opportunity to sweep away all the debris around and behind where they were standing.

If you can barely lift the pots because they are so heavy, put them up on a couple of bricks to aid drainage. (Or those nice little decorative "feet" for pots.)

If they are so light you nearly drop them in surprise, then after mulching, give them a good watering.

Now wait until spring, and see what happens. Willows are very tough, and will do their best to recover from any amount of damage and/or neglect, so there is every chance that they will produce buds and then leaves, and  be lovely again this year. Be patient!

Oh, and you might like to reconsider where they are standing: to be covered with Liverworts like that suggests that they are somewhere a bit damp, and a bit shady. They might grow better and recover faster, if they get a wee bit more sun?

I hope this helps, Eddie, and do send me pictures in spring!

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

How to be a successful self-employed Gardener

I'm delighted to say that the WFGA have again asked me to run this one-day workshop:

To book, follow this link to the WFGA website .

This is a great chance to really hear about the nuts and bolts of taking up this profession: so if you've ever thought about it, if you've ever gazed wistfully out of your office window and wished you were working outside in the fresh air....

.... and if you can get to Grove, Oxfordshire, then come along!

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Selling plants - Working with plants - new Law - what you need to know!

 In an amazing victory of common sense over policy, APHA have changed their minds about the following.  I'm leaving the post up for now, as people have linked to it, but do please now also go and look at this newer post, which contains updated information.

 Heads up, folks: a new law came into operation on 14th Dec 2019 and ALL OF US who sell plants and ALL OF US professional gardeners need to know about it, and understand it.

DISCLAIMER:  This is the best information that I have as of today, but cannot be taken to be legally binding in any way!! Don't take my word for it, don't base your opinion on what "other people on the internet" are saying, go and read it for yourself.

Here's the link to the Directive:

Like all government statements, it's badly written, and at first sight is contradictory, confusing, and frustrating, but stick with it and read it all the way to the end. 

Right, have you read it? Are you crying quietly, or sobbing wildly? Never mind, be strong, we will find a way to work together to make things right, but let's start by running through the basics.

There are two points to this that need thinking about - selling plants, and working with plants.


 This bit affects all of us who sell a few plants as a hobby, as a small off-shoot of our business, or for charity.

What does it mean? In short, every plant now has to have a Plant Passport (PP), so that its movements can be tracked. That means into and out of the country, and movements within the country.

Who is doing all this?  APHA = Animal and Plant Health Agency,  the organisation responsible for implementing this Directive.

So what do we have to do?

It's a two-stage process:  Registration and then Authorisation.  All plant sellers have to be registered, and many of them have to further be authorised to create the Plant Passports.

What, all of us?

Yes, even if you only sell a couple of plants a year.
Yes, even if you sell for charity or not to make a profit.
Yes, even if you propagate them yourself. Especially if you propagate them yourself!
Yes, even if you are a hobbyist, or a specialist, or a small business, or self-employed, or a small nursery, (or a big nursery!), or a club or group: if you do it as a hobby, as a business, as a way of earning a few bob on the side. In ALL of those cases, the plants now have to have Plant Passports.

What plants are included?

All of them. The Directive starts off (misleadingly) by saying "Plant passports are an EU official document to move regulated plants and plant products within the EU. If you’re based in England and Wales and you’re moving plants or plant products in the EU they may need plant passports." (Scotland is having a similar but slightly different system)

Many people are reading that first paragraph, and pick up the phrase "regulated plants", and say "ah, but I don't sell any regulated plants, I only sell common everyday plants, they're not on a regulated list". Wrong! Further on, the Directive states that regulated plants includes:

"all plants for planting
- some seeds
-  seed potatoes
-  some fruits with peduncles attached"

I think we can all agree that "all plants for planting" covers everything from annuals, perennials, bulbs, shrubs, trees etc. No loophole there, sorry.

Isn't it just for online sales?  No, that's an internet myth brought about by APHA not understanding that the thousands or millions of us "little" people who sell plants generally do our own propagating.   They have been advising people that face-to-face sales don't require PPs, but they have assumed that in all cases, the plants were bought in from a retailer.

To clarify it, I asked about three specific scenarios, and whether each would require registration, reg+authorisation, or none.

1) You are growing the plants yourself, and selling them face-to-face. (or at Plant Fairs, boot fairs, stall in your front garden, local farm shop etc)
2) You are growing them yourself, advertising them online, but handing them over face-to-face with money exchanging hands on the doorstep.
3) You are growing them yourself, advertising them online, taking payment online (ie Paypal etc) then handing the plant over face-to-face.

They replied:

"The requirements for each situation you outlined are as below:

1. You would need to be registered and authorised (as you are growing the plants yourself)
2. You would need to be registered and authorised (because you are growing plants)
3. You would need to be registered and authorised (because you are growing yourself and selling online)

"If you are growing plants yourself, and selling them in any method, be that online or face to face, you would need to be registered and authorised.

"If you are buying your plants from retailers, you would need to be registered (as they will come with a plant passport). The only circumstances in which you would need to be authorised if you were buying from a retailer, is if you were to re-sell them online or distantly and/or you buy a tray of plants and divide them up before selling onwards, effectively making them no longer meet the definitions of their original plant passport."

This should probably also include buying in plug plants and growing them on, clearly something else that APHA don't know about.

This response makes it pretty clear that they are out to catch the GROWERS of plants, in order to get plants passported as soon as they appear. Once passported, we're ok to resell them face-to-face, although we would STILL have to be registered... as long as we don't divide up a tray of plants, ie no more buying plugs and bringing them on.

I am sure this will continue to change... in another email, APHA have said:

"We are currently seeking a greater level of clarity regarding the legislation in relation to non-professionals from Defra Policy, as we have noted that many people are struggling to understand the circumstances where they are required to issue Plant Passports. Our aim is to develop a definitive FAQ guide that will answer all questions on this topic."

It would appear that they have been inundated with small growers, amateurs etc asking them questions, so they are now responding mostly with the above, as a sort of "form" response to put us on hold until such time as they have sorted out some answers.

In the meantime, what do we do? Well, in theory at least, we should stop selling plants until such time as the rules are clarified.

Luckily they chose to do this in the middle of winter, and as most of us don't really sell many plants until the summer, hopefully it will all be sorted out by then.

"But ebay and facebook still have lots of plants for sale with no mention of PPs, why shouldn't I carry on?"  You're on your own on this point: I can't offer any advice, it's up to you.  Personally I'm not actively selling anything until I know what's going on, but it has been said, with fair accuracy, "how on earth are they going to know?"

So, how do get these Plant Passports then? Good news: we can issue them ourselves. Bad news: to do so, first we have to "Register" as Plant Sellers (free, easy, do it online, quick) then we have to apply for "Authorisation", which is a licence to create PPs, and that part is hideously expensive and complicated. The application itself is quick and easy, you get approval in 5 days, BUT then you have to be inspected. And the inspection could cost as little as £123.16, but could cost a great deal more, as - get this - they charge for inspections at a pile-it-up rate of £61.50 for every 15mins of the inspection, INCLUDING travel time (bastards), and doing the paperwork afterwards. Others have already worked out that if you are a long way from one of the APHA offices it could cost as much as £900 for an inspection, and they occur 2-4 times a year. Once inspected, and approved, you can then print your own PPs, which are very specific, and are described in detail in the Directive.

So, to summarise: this is DEATH to plant sales.

I can't think of anyone I know who sells enough plants to make it worth while getting authorisation.  I'm not even going to mention the hoops you  have to jump through regarding the physical PP -  bearing in mind that most of us have struggled and failed to find good, cheap, quick plant labels just for the name!

What about us Professional Gardener who buy plants for our Clients, or for our neighbours if they can't get out? Well, it doesn't matter if we make a profit on the sales or not, it's all to do with the plants already having a PP.  APHA say:

 "You are ok to buy for your neighbours and for your clients, as you are essentially the “end user” of the Garden Centre, so they do not need to supply you with one." [ie PP]

APHA seem to count that as a separate transaction - so buying them from the garden centre is one face-to-face transaction, no PP required, then we sell them to our Clients, face-to-face, no PPs required. As long as we don't split up a tray, grow on plug plants, or divide a bought plant before passing it to the Client.

Points of note: this is an EU Directive, that means it was created by the EU but don't start with the "oh but we're leaving the EU" , because a) virtually all EU directives are being transferred to UK law as we speak and b) we, the UK, and specifically the HTA (Horticultural Trades Association), are the ones who asked for this Directive.

What exactly is a "Directive" and is it actually law?  "Directives lay down certain results that must be achieved but each Member State is free to decide how to transpose directives into national laws" so the directives turn into laws, usually pretty much unchanged

"What idiot asked for this?" see above - we did!

"But why?" Remember Ash dieback and how we all screamed about imported plants bringing disease into the UK? That's what prompted it, so let's not all whine too much about it, it's for our own protection.

I know it seems heavy-handed (and it is) but it's intended to provide full traceability for all plant movements other than very local.

And if, like me, you're pulling out your hair and screaming "why did no-one tell us about this?" well, it was put together and issued THREE YEARS AGO.  If you've followed my link, and actually read the thing, you will have  noticed that the webpage in question was published on the 29th July 2015.

So the government gave us all well over 3 years grace to get ready for it. Pity no-one actually publicised it, eh? If you want to know what the government is going to introduce in the way of new laws, you have to be extremely vigilant, persistent, and have a private income because you would need to spend all day every day trawling the government websites to spot new things as they go through the system. It's simply not practical for us, at ground level, and I must say I'm pretty pissed off with people like the RHS and the various gardening organisations, for failing to even mention this to their members.

Oh, and a final annoyance: what are the penalties for non-compliance? Well, they're not stated, are they, so they could be anything!!


There's another aspect of this wretched Plant Passports business that has slipped by: I was just looking idly at the registration form, and look what I found:


the very first line is:

"You will need to complete this form if you are professionally involved in planting, producing,
breeding, moving, storing, dispatching or processing of plants or plant products."

Errr, doesn't that mean that every Professional gardener in the UK will have to do Registration?

To my knowledge, no-one in the gardening world has mentioned this over the past three years - not the PGG (Professional Gardeners' Guild - mostly for employed Estate gardeners), not the GG (Gardeners' Guild, I think this one  is just for self-employed gardeners), not the WFGA (fantastic charity gardening organisation for amateurs and professionals alike, focusing on training and improvement), nor, to my knowledge, anyone else.

Maybe I was wrong, then: surely the government can't introduce compulsory Registration of all professional gardeners without telling them about it beforehand? So I emailed APHA and asked:

"Does this mean that every single professional gardener in the UK, whether self-employed or employed, needs to individually register?"

And they responded:

"You are correct, all professional gardeners in the UK, need to register.

"You can register to become a Professional/Registered Operator or to become the former and an Authorised Operator.

"To register and become a Professional/Registered Operator, you will need to complete one form, Application for Official Registration form.

"To register and become a Professional/Registered Operator and an Authorised Operator who is authorised to issue Plant Passports, you will need to complete two forms, Application for Official Registration form and Application for Authorisation form."

Typically, this response does not make it clear whether they are saying that we have to fill in the PP Registration form - the one in the picture above - or whether being a "Professional/Registered Operator" is something yet different again.

So I've emailed them to ask for clarification - I'm not keen to fill in any of their forms before I know that I have the right one!

It might be a while before I get an answer: it would seem that they are somewhat inundated with emails asking questions and - no doubt - complaining bitterly about it, to the point where they are now apparently responding to emails with the form response I mentioned above.

So do please keep coming back to this article to check for updates.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Why is the lawn not full of Cotoneaster seedlings?

Exhibit One, M'lud:

This is the lawn under a spreading Cotoneaster tree - probably C. waterii, I'm not sure.

And just to remind you all (I'm grinning at my current Trainee, who struggles with this one), it's pronounced K'Tony-aster.

Not cotton-easter. K'Tony-Aster.

Every year this K'Tony-Aster  produces hundreds of berries, which blanket the ground underneath the tree - it's partly in a shrubbery, partly overhanging the lawn.

I rake up the berries on the beds with ease, but it's a lot harder to get them out of the lawn, and a lot of them get "squashed" into the grass as people walk over them

So why is this lawn not knee-deep in Cotoneaster seedlings, I wonder?

In fact, I wonder this every year! I have yet to see a single seedling, in the lawn or in the bed,  which seems odd, bearing in mind the sheer volume of them.

There is a Sycamore tree in next door's garden, and every year we have hundreds and hundreds of Sycamore seedlings: they pop up in between the patio slabs, in the beds, in the lawn, everywhere: I regularly spend several hours in early spring just weeding the patio!

So why isn't there an equivalent Cotoneaster  seedling forest?