Updating the website

It has been two years since the last update to the Paddock Plants website, so we felt it was time we did something to bring it more in line with current design trends. (Rob always likes to kid himself he is on the cutting edge of all things IT and Joanna doesn’t like to disillusion him.) The first job was to upgrade our Prestashop installation which turned out to be a little trickier than expected despite calling on the services of a web design student: but, then, when did anything to do with computers ever go as expected? The next step was to install a new template, the basic criteria being that it should be clean and simple in design, look good on mobile devices (very important these days!), be attractive but not over fussy or complicated, and make the business of ordering easy and straightforward. The end result (desktop version) you can see below.

website_nov_2016

We think it does a great job in making the product, ie our plants, the hero through the highly visual style. We are particularly pleased that it it is a fluid design, so avoiding that all too familiar columnar effect, with lots of wasted space on either side of the screen. The lack of a top menu also makes the site a little different from most other online shops, with that being replaced by a static sidebar on the desktop version and a hamburger menu on mobile devices. Rob, bless him, has been having lots of fun fiddling round with bits of code and adapting font sizes and other minor details to pander to his OCD tendencies.

pp-website-front-pageThere has been a Paddock Plants website of some sort for well over a decade now, the first site being Rob’s own clumsy effort using Dreamweaver, and a Prestashop-based site has existed since 2010, we think. A screenshot of that original 2010 version can be seen here, and it is quite interesting to see how taste in websites has changed in a mere half a dozen years. Sites with lots of text, detail and columns have given way to bolder, cleaner affairs, with a much greater emphasis on the use of visual imagery. The recent rise of mobile phones and tablets has reinforced that trend, of course, so we are unlikely to see a revival of the old style in the future.

Anyway, it up, it’s running, we like it, and we hope you do too. Or that, at the very least, it will grow on you.

Rob & Joanna – December 2016

As seen on tv

Andy Warhol once famously said that everyone would have their 15 minutes of fame. Well, we didn’t quite achieve that much fame, but yesterday evening, Tuesday 26th July at 9 pm, Rob enjoyed a fleeting five seconds’ exposure on national television, along with the Paddock Plants van, on an episode of ITV’s Love Your Garden, presented by Alan Titchmarsh. A little later in the programme, one of the plants we supplied, an Eryngium Jade Frost, was given a slightly longer allocation of screen time, with one of the presenters caressing her lovingly and extolling her qualities.

Love_Your_Garden_Unload

How this came about was all rather sudden. Around ten days before the episode was recorded – in nearby Eastleigh, where a cruise-ship themed garden was to be created for a much-loved paediatric nurse – we were contacted by one of the programme’s producer who asked if we would be able to supply some plants. An initial exchange of e-mails led us to feel we probably weren’t in a position to help, but the producer was quite insistent – in the nicest possible way – and we agreed that we would deliver some suitably nautical plants in the form of some sea hollies, including Eryngium Agavifolium, Eryngium Big Blue and Eryngium Jade Frost, along with some graceful Luzula Nivea and some Incarvillea Delavayi, which were doing their full trumpety thing at the time.

Love_Your_Garden_Ery_JFWhen Rob turned up with the plants on the appointed day, the person he was due to meet was attending to some off site emergency and the planned filming of Rob unloading plants from the undeniably photogenic PP van looked to be in jeopardy. Rob stood his ground, however, and did quite a lot of waiting until a cameraman became free to capture the great unloading. Apparently in the tv world  the mantra is ‘Hurry up and wait’. Good job he was stubborn, as his cameo did eventually make the final cut.

And, after a few weeks of eager anticipation, we watched the episode last night and were pleased to see the moments described. Quite surprised, in fact, as Rob fully expected that his unloading scene was destined for the cutting room floor. But we were glad to have had an involvement, however small, in creating what was a rather lovely garden for  a clearly very special lady.

Postscript. The best bit, however, has to be the moment earlier today when Rob was giving his e-mail address to someone over the phone, who suddenly exclaimed ‘Oh, I saw you on television last night!’ Fame at last.

April is the cruellest month

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

Well, spring rain there has been in abundance, but the dull roots haven’t been doing a lot of stirring as of yet. It’s just been too cold for the poor little things. Our show calendar, however, cares naught for such poetic fancies or meteorological realities, and so we have been out and about over the past month or so, despite struggling to find much that is looking good and in defiance of the weather’s best attempts to encourage the gardening public to stay at home in the warm.

Our first outing this season was over the Easter weekend, our usual three-day visit to Somerley Park for the Craft & Garden held there each year. Easter being early, the weather was less than kind: cold (though not as cold as a few years ago when the plants froze in their pots) and very windy. Storm Katy hit the south of England on the Sunday night and, come Monday morning, two exhibitors had to retrieve their mangled gazebos from two fields away! We were not that surprised, all things considered, that sales were modest, but we were impressed  by the resilience displayed by our own gazebo, which took the worst of the elements in its stride.

MARLBOROUGH_SPRING_FAIR_April_16

The following Saturday saw us – or, rather, Rob, as Deb was otherwise engaged – in the familiar surroundings of West Street, Fareham, for a farmers’ market which was graced by some decent weather and enough interested passers by to make the sortie a worthwhile one for us. Conditions were not quite as kind the next Sunday when we set up our stand in the quadrangle at Marlborough College for the Spring Fair: it didn’t rain, as it did – horizontally – last year, but it was pretty damn cold and an icy breeze discouraged much in the way of loitering to admire the plants. But it was certainly better than last year, and for that we can be thankful.

Another market on Sunday the 17th, one of the regular Andover Farmers & Craft Markets, was our next port of call on an actually quite pleasant day (though the temperature never got high enough for Rob to take his padded gilet off). There was a good turnout of traders and the atmosphere was a lively one, but we continue to get the impression that the events aren’t as well known as they should be among the residents of Andover. A pity, as we like them and the setting by the Guildhall.

RDA_Plant_Fair_April_16

The final Sunday of April saw us head back up to Marlborough, and then beyond, climbing up on to the top of the downs to Barbury for the RDA Plant Fair, which is held in what must be one of the most spectacular settings we go to during the season. Despite its remoteness, enough hardy souls find their way to the fair to make it a highly worthwhile day for the various stallholders, and we drove back down into civilisation with a fairly empty van. The weather is remaining resolutely wintry despite the fact that May is but round the corner, but we cling on to hope that our big May bank holiday weekend events will prove sufficiently successful to offset some of the big early season bills that blight this part of the year. We will see.

Top Tens for 2015

We are perhaps a little late this time in compiling and publishing our top ten lists for the year recently ended, but if you have been avidly following us on Twitter, Facebook or Google+ (you must have a lot of time on your hands if you do!), you will already be well clued up on these matters, as we have been releasing the exciting news on those sites over the past week or so. It is quite interesting that the top ten best sellers and the top ten most searched for plants are two very distinct lists, with only one plant in common, the recent introduction Summerina Orange, also known as Echibeckia (it’s a genetic cross, so work it out). So here are the lists:

Firstly, the top ten most searched for plants on our website are:

1   Drimys (syn. Tasmannia) LanceolataCampanula_Pink_Octopus_PP1
2   Campanula Pink Octopus
3   Echium Russicum
4   Thalictrum Rochebrunianum
5   Cordyline Charlie Boy
6   Summerina (syn. Echibeckia) Orange
7   Geum Tequila Sunrise
8   Lobelia Tania
9   Sphaeralcea Childerley
10 Tetrapanax Rex

Drimys, the pretty evergreen shrub from down under which tops the rankings seems to make this list every year, but is up eight places from last year. The other plants with staying power are Echium Russicum, last year’s number one, Geum Tequila Sunrise (must be something in the name) and Sphaeralcea Childerley with its gorgeous apricot flowers. Of the rest, it is interesting to note that, despite all the fancy new varieties that abound,  old favourite Thalictrum Rochebrunianum is the one that is up there.

But the more important list has to be the best sellers and here it is in all its glory:

Summerina_Orange_PP11   Erygium Graham Stuart Thomas
2   Actaea Black Negligée
3   Delosperma Jewel of the Desert Garnet
4   Delosperma Wheels of Wonder Orange
5   Summerina (syn. Echibeckia) Orange
6   Delosperma Jewel of the Desert Peridot
7   Geum Mai Tai
8   Geum Cosmopolitan
9   Dicentra King of Hearts
10 Primula Francisca

The thing that is striking here is the preponderance of delospermas and geums, making up half of the top ten, no less. We can understand why, though, as they are all vibrant long-term bloomers. Delospermas Garnet and Peridot are back again this year, but the WoW Orange we won’t be growing, as we felt that its growth habit was a bit too floppy for our taste. No surprise in finding Geums Mai Tai and Cosmopolitan here (the latter is Rob’s all-time favourite geum), nor, indeed, Primula Francisca which always sells well, despite its rather marmite-like reputation. Actaea Black Negligée is simply gorgeous, so deserves its high ranking, and we are pleased that the hugely reliable Dicentra King of Hearts creeps into the top ten (it just goes on flowering from spring to autumn!). And there, at the top of the charts, sits the charming little Eryngium Graham Stuart Thomas, delicate but undemanding and a worthy winner. We guessed it might be up there, as it accompanies us to virtually every show we do from March to September and always proves popular with the buying public.

And there we have it. With lots of new plants coming on to our catalogue for 2016, it will be interesting to see, in 12 months’ time, if any of them can shake up these lists.

Rob & Joanna – February 2016

Plant List for 2016

Is it really that time of year again? Well, yes it is. Christmas and New Year out of the way, and it’s onwards and upwards into yet another new season, with all its hidden promise and exciting potential. And, of course, the most exciting bit about a new season is the plants, particularly the new ones. So, without further ado, here is the Paddock Plants list for 2016.

Unusually, we have removed more plants from the list (82) than we have added to it (68), but there is a degree of rationalisation in that. Among the 82 we are saying goodbye to are a large number of aquilegias, which seems wise in light of the spread of aquilegia downy mildew, a disease that has caused such widespread problems for the genus. Among the 68 newbies are some really nice campanulas, such as Iridescent Bells and Silver Bells, an exciting new cross in Rhodoxis Fairy Tale, the remarkable recent introduction Sambucus Black Tower, and a return to growing some hostas, which have not featured much on our recent lists.

We will try to highlight some of the new additions on this blog before the season gets fully underway. Mind you, since things usually start to get busy come February, that doesn’t leave long, does it? Happy New Year to you all and here’s to an exciting 2016!

Winding down

And so, six months after it began in the icy March winds of Wiltshire, the roadshow season has wound its way to a balmy end in the sunbathed depths of Dorset. Seems only yesterday we were setting up in the courtyard at Marlborough College ….. well, no it doesn’t actually, being realistic about it, but nonetheless each season on the road does seem rather to speed by at an alarming rate, leaving us once again to contemplate the descent into winter and all the tidying up, ordering, booking and staring at a computer screen that that brings. The last leg of the 2015 tour saw us in three rather different settings.

NHMF Plant Fair at Longstock

The first of these brought us back to the lovely surroundings of Longstock on the Leckford Estate near Stockbridge on the occasion of the Autumn Plant Fair organised in support on the North Hampshire Medical Fund. Just as at the spring event held there, those attending are generally knowledgeable gardeners who know their species and subspecies and who – thankfully, given the time of year – don’t need a plant to be in full bloom to prove its worth. The fact that it was rather on the grey and cool side didn’t seem to discourage them too much, and our sales were brisk, especially before lunchtime.

ANDOVER_FARMERS_Sept_15

Brisk is not the adjective we would choose to describe things the following weekend, when we went up to Andover for a third time this year for the Farmers & Craft Market by the Guildhall. Perhaps the public couldn’t find us in the grey mist that enveloped things until late morning, and when they did, they didn’t seem to be much in the mood for plant buying. Ah well, it was mid-September, and it is a fact that, despite early autumn being a great time for planting perennials and shrubs, most people prefer to wait until spring to do so.

ATHELHAMPTON_Sept_15

And so to the curtain call for 2015, once again the Plant Heritage Dorset group plant fair held in the shadow of Athelhampton House, and in our particular case in the shadow of the grandiose stone dovecote, which provided an interesting background soundtrack to our day. The weather was perfect, a golden late September day of gentle sunshine, but for some reason the denizens of Dorset failed to arrive in the same numbers as last year, and, although we seemed to do rather better than some others, we sold little more than a third of what we did in 2014. Perhaps it was the date, two weeks later than last year, perhaps it was the effect of there having been a plant fair at Mapperton House, not a million miles away,  just a week previously: whatever the reason, it was a disappointment for the organisers after all their hard work and for the stall holders who had managed some pretty impressive displays despite it much harder to find things in bloom rather than in, say, June. But you have to take the rough with the smooth, as they say (rather smugly and annoyingly ….. ) and it would be pretty curmudgeonly to complain about spending a sunny Sunday in the picturesque grounds of a 15th century manor house.

UNLOADING_LAST_TIME_Sept_15

So all that remained was to unload the van for a final time, and that was how Rob spent his Monday morning, returning plants to the growing area or using them to restock the sales and display area when he could. In all we have spent forty four days at some event or other in the course of the past six months. That’s six more days than in 2014, so it’s been a busy season. Whether it’s been a more profitable one remains to be seen: once Rob has completed his spreadsheet, all will be revealed. There were times that it all got a bit frantic, with one show merging seamlessly into the next, and potting on and other necessary ongoing jobs getting neglected, which has led us to wonder if it might be better to advertise a bit more and encourage more direct sales from the nursery rather than hare off at every opportunity to some far flung point in Dorset, Surrey, West Sussex or wherever. Perhaps we can ponder that in the coming dark winter months.

Rob & Joanna – September 2015

A summer come and gone

The last time we posted here May was just underway & we stood on the threshold of summer. It is now the best part of two weeks into September and that summer is pretty much on the way out, if the weather forecast for the coming days is to be believed. And those good intentions about posting on a weekly basis through those golden sunny days? Paving the road to you know where, as you might expect. So ….. a rushed recap of the past four months it is then.

ST_JOHN_FAIR_May_15_2

May sees some of our biggest sales days: the St John Garden Fair and the Plant Heritage Fair in two consecutive flat-out days at the start of the month, and the Solent Gardeners’ Fayre right at the end (usually the first Sunday in June, but moved this year so as not to clash with the Garden Show at Stansted). A couple of other events turned out to be bigger than anticipated too. The WoW fair, held on a Thursday at Dummer Cricket Centre, was for once blessed with fine weather, and Rob had to cope on his own with queues of ladies lining up with armfuls of plants. Which was nice. Rather bitter sweet, as it turns out, as the charity has decided to discontinue the event. Which seems an odd decision, given that good weather saw a much improved turnout. Ho hum. Ours not to reason why, we suppose. The other surprise package was the Milford on Sea Gardeners’ Club event held on the village green on a Saturday morning in mid-May. Again Rob was operating in a solo capacity, as Deb decided that getting up at the unearthly hour required to get there and set up before parking regulations came into force was not on, given her work commitments during the week. It was queues and armfuls again, as it turned out, and Rob was happy, if exhausted, at the close of play. We had a new event in the two-day Plant Fair at Upton Country Park in Poole, held in the sub-tropical setting of the walled garden there. There was a feeling among the stallholders that it might have been better advertised: perhaps so, but we weren’t complaining about the brisk business we seemed to do.

UPTON_PARK_FAIR_May_15

Into June, traditionally another big month, but with some new events this year alongside old favourites such as the Unusual Plants Fair at Selborne, Fareham gardeners’ market and a Rare Plant Fair at Birtley House. The opening weekend was in fact a brand new event, Toby Buckland’s Garden Festival at Bowood House in Wiltshire, a successor to his initial foray into event organisation in 2014 at Powderham Castle. We thought it was a splendid location and the show had the makings of a truly great event, as there was lots for visitors to see, do and buy. Some other exhibitors muttered in their beards that they hadn’t done that well, but we were pretty pleased, if a bit windswept in our particular location. Also in its first year was the Craft and Garden Fair at Breamore House in Dorset, held on the final weekend of the month. Again, a fabulous location, and we had a good weekend sales-wise.

BOWOOD_HOUSE_June_15_3

The first weekend of July saw a weekend off the treadmill: hurrah! As ever,  plans to catch up on lots of fronts, e.g. potting on, came to naught, and all too soon we were back in the fray. Parham was a lovely affair as ever: who couldn’t be happy selling plants in such a location (visit the acres of walled gardens, and you will see what we mean). The other pillar of July is of course the Garden Show at Loseley Park, which sees us venture up into Surrey for three days. This year the weather was as mixed as it possibly could be. Friday and Sunday were basically horizontal rain, with the visitor numbers and sales statistics that you might expect given such conditions. The Saturday in between, however, was as gorgeous a summer day as you could wish for, and the throng of customers didn’t just linger over the plants, they bought them too. We did feel sorry for the seven coachloads of gardeners who came on the sodden Monday: they just picked the wrong day to book by 24 hours. We also returned to Andover for another of the series of Craft & Farmers’ markets (or, rather, Rob did). Which was fine, apart from a keen breeze blowing racks over during set up: not a great start to the day.

LOSELEY_PARK_July_15_2

The start of August saw another new event for us in the two-day Poole Town and Country Fair, held at Upton Park, though not in the walled garden this time, but in the rather wider expanses of the park itself. It turned out to be a lovely family-oriented event, with lots going on. We had a monopoly of plant sales and consequently did quite well for the time of year: we were just glad that there was no other competition. The following Saturday saw the Ellingham Show: back in our now usual spot on the entrance and exit avenue, we were kept busy throughout the long day, and Rob was especially pleased to find a fresh fish stall that provided him with lobster and crab to take home. Heaven! Yet another new show followed: the South Downs Show in a fold of the (yes) downs in the Queen Elizabeth Country Park near Petersfield. Once again we were masters of all we surveyed and, if visitors wanted plants, we were the only source. So we did fine in the circumstances. Rob’s highpoint – literally – was the epic climb with Penny, Deb’s little Jack Russell, right to the top of the escarpment above the show venue to enjoy the far-reaching views to the coast.

ELLINGHAM_SHOW_Aug_15_3After another free weekend (well, we deserve it) the very last day of August (Bank Holiday Monday) brought us, or, rather, Rob once again bereft of support, to the Emsworth Show. Another new one on us, as it happens. It had been, shall we say, a damp weekend, and Noah, were he still with us, would have been preparing the ark and getting in the animal provisions. So Deb’s phone call at 6.30 am to announce her withdrawal from proceedings wasn’t entirely unexpected, and Rob was entertaining some serious doubts about the whole thing as he set off in sheets of rain en route to West Sussex. However, the further down the M27 he went, the less torrential the rain became, and setting up the pitch in light rain was about the worst of it in the end. Emsworth mustered enough hardy souls to make it all worthwhile, and the only real victim of the rain turned out to be the burger van which got stuck in the mud attempting the leave the field at the end of the day.

And so it is September, and we have just had a show-free weekend before embarking on a mad dash for the off season which starts in October. Perhaps with all the free time that beckons, more regular updates might be on the cards? The jury is still out on that one.

Rob & Joanna – September 2015